If there was one word to describe Ellicott City’s Yesterday’s War, it would be formulaic. And while some may consider such a label derogatory, in the case of this quartet’s self-titled EP, being formulaic isn’t the worst thing in the world. Are the three songs that make up this release predictable? Sure. But do they also double as a competent showcase that suggests the idea that there is a strong ability to craft some fairly solid rock songs behind all of this? Why, of course.
The decision to go with three tracks here serves the band well, and that’s not just because it allows less room for error. What Yesterday’s War — a group originally formed in Westminster — do with these three songs is clever: They break down their collective strengths into a triple-threat-style offering that highlights how diverse and able the group really is. Think of this more as a tutorial on the depth of the band, rather than a proper, made-for-record-store-shelves release.
It starts with The Rock Song, “Pineapple Doorbell.” Backed by a solid radio-ready alternative groove, the track kicks into gear as singer Denny Norris’ polished voice commands a stage that probably has fireworks and strobe lights somewhere behind it. As the chorus opens up, the immediate comparison may jump to the Foo Fighters or Fuel, though as Norris stretches his singing abilities, the most accurate resemblance he bears may actually be Dexter Holland from punk rock stalwarts The Offspring. The pop-punk echoes quickly cease, though, as the song’s bridge gives way to a Velvet Revolver-esque guitar solo, making clear the fact that these guys are far more Matthew Good than they are Good Charlotte.
From there, the set takes a somewhat unexpected turn as the quintet offers up The Pop-Reggae Song, “17 Months.” While again a bit watered-down, the track comes across as a surprisingly successful take on the rockier side of the pseudo genre (think 311, but less produced, or O.A.R., if O.A.R. tried to be Bush). Again, Norris’ voice stands above all else as he makes the case for the band to eventually consider going full-on Sublime — his crooning could carry it. Yeah, the hook gets a little Weezer-y, but that shouldn’t be held against them. These guys take the power-pop formula and make it just interesting enough to remove themselves from being labeled a bona fide rip-off of their contemporaries. If nothing else, it can certainly quench your sweater-rock thirst if you’re out of Jimmy Eat World records.
And then “643” rounds out the EP as The Pop-Metal Song (alternate title: The Power Rock Song). Swirlingly muted guitars and a pounding double kick drum pattern reveal a side of the group that is almost as unexpected as the dip into reggae. Like its predecessors, the track doesn’t really break any ground musically, but it does prove how proficient these four guys can be when it comes to producing likable original material. Rob Holt’s guitar work here is understated in its relevance as the song’s aggressive undercurrent makes everything else seem secondary. That said, a deeper listen reveals how intricate and necessary his work is to the end product, which, in this case, is a pretty accessible power rock tune.
What’s exciting about Yesterday’s War and these three songs is that they single-handedly exemplify the notion that you don’t have to be expansive to be good. Because such is a tremendously common misconception when considering popular music these days, coming across four guys who merely like to play rock music isn’t just a breath of fresh air, it’s also an encouraging sign that — locally speaking, at least — simple music isn’t dead.
Yeah, if you had only one word to describe these guys, it may just be formulaic. But whenever a band forces that battle-tested equation into sounding like something this fresh, it’s imperative for music fans from all walks of life to take note. It may be a compliment of the highest form, then, to say the following: We’re still listening.
*** 3 STARS OUT OF 4 ***