Coming of age around the middle of the grunge scene heyday was probably what eventually drove me away from mainstream music after the scene had been flooded by stooge bands that record executives at the time were looking to use as pawns and puppets in hopes of cashing in on a sound that likely wasn’t even on their radar.
Excepting Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, the two loudest forces of guitar driven rock at the time, most every other high level grunge act I can remember was, in retrospect, kind of a snooze fest. But underground were guitar rock influencers like Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, the Replacements, the Pixies and one of Cobain’s favorites The Meat Puppets.
Five-piece Saratoga Springs, New York guitar rock outfit Angels on the Fourth embrace this period of ‘90s grunge rock though I wouldn’t categorize them as a grunge band fully. Sure their guitars are caked with sludgy feedback and the drums keep time pounding with equal parts taut snare and shimmery cymbals but there’s a polished elegance to their songs which I can tell must have been practiced over and over until their fingers bled. Plus I can’t recall many grunge bands that had an electric violin/keyboard player.
Speaking of bleeding fingers the first song on their debut EP Breaking Skin is called “Breaking Skin” and it features all of these aforementioned instruments along with singer Kane Grogan’s straightforward sing-speak lyrics. And there are some witty gems here like “Most beautiful things come from shit” and ‘You call it rock bottom, I call it Tuesday” just to cite a few of my favorites.
Next up comes the high energy pop punk infected “Tuesday” which sounds to me like a head bobbing, hand-horns throwing radio hit if I ever heard one. It leads into the sometimes punchy grunge-punk, sometimes soapbox ballad “Everytime” which gets a boost from guest vocalist Dave Gutter. Bordering on six minutes long it’s like a corn maze of rock that slows and speeds up at will.
Angels on the Fourth pulls out the guest vocalist again on “End of the World (Again)” a tight and jangly dreary rocker featuring vocals from MaryLeigh Roohan. It’s a slow slog through the tune, which displays the orchestration Angels on the Fourth are so good at. The guitars and bass work in tandem with the bass and drums while Jeff Ayer’s violin sears along in solo with Brad Thibodeau’s guitar. The band takes it out in full force on the heavy and angsty closer “Sunsets.”
With Breaking Skin, Angels on the Fourth have established themselves a second coming of grunge, albeit with a twist. Their songs definitely have a footing in the time of their forebears, but Angels on the Fourth have forged their own sound that sounds wholly new while still being true to their influences.
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