It’s just so raw. It’s just so … good.
D.C. rock act Calm & Crises claim that their debut LP, “In A Real Good Place,” was recorded between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. and it makes all the sense in the world. Sometimes, it’s sloppy. Sometimes, it’s loose. There are moments so simple, yet so poignant for reasons impossible to fully explain. Other times, it just sounds like three dudes jamming in a basement very late at night, all inhibitions be damned.
Yet no matter how you cut it, no matter how you look at it, once these 11 songs conclude, it’s just so hard to have any other reaction than, “It’s just so raw. It’s just so … good.”
It begins the only real way it could: With Jake Diamond’s driving drums and an unforgiving guitar riff that rocks harder than your uncle’s Nine Inch Nails tour t-shirt. “Moving Parts” hits all the right buttons, complete with backing gang vocals and a faded falsetto hook that won’t leave your head. Even the few moments of imperfection are forgiven — a mis-hit kick drum here, a cracked vocal there — because they actually enhance the production. Add in a bridge that shines a light on Andrew Jordan’s bass soloing skills and these guys immediately win your heart.
That’s mostly because singer Peter Bonaventure gives you his. It starts with a line like “All of my friends from back home are moving away/Everybody’s changing, me I’m just staying the same” on “Moving Parts” and it ends almost 40 minutes later with the anguished repetition of a passage like “I’m barely here.” The guy has a little Jesse Lacey in him, the way he can break from whine to scream on a dime and the way he forces you to believe every single note that leaves his lips. It’s an anxious energy not easy to come by, especially in the current indie rock world.
But he gets there, especially on songs like “Life of the Party” and “Traffic.” The former is downright subversive, moving at a slow-burn 6/8 time-signature driven by easy bass and drums. Yet when the palm-muted guitar opens up, so does Bonaventure, before dropping everything except the four-string as the trio’s leader hushes “I’m the life of the party and it’s eating me up” over brilliantly placed background hoots and hollers. Throw a chorus of vocals behind it, and the track becomes a call to arms, a chant you only wish you could yell.
Meanwhile, the latter kicks up the pace to a double-time train-beat groove more commonly heard in contemporary bluegrass. It’s a road-trip meditation that follows a protagonist through all the various lonely emotions a road-trip typically brings. He hates everybody. He loves everybody. And there’s no one on the road but him. It’s an obvious metaphor, but it works, especially as the second verse turns from bluegrass to punk. By the time Bonaventure boils over toward the song’s end, his passenger seat deserves to be filled.
It works when it’s quiet, too. “Cabernet Sauvignon” is the requisite acoustic song, but the group’s leader weaves a tale worth your time. Filled with heartbreak, wine and Lou Reed, the song becomes as intoxicating as its namesake, floating through the speakers with whimsy yet cutting just as deep with a line like, “The source of love and suffering is sitting on my bed.” Sure, the track is perhaps the set’s most tender moment, but don’t underestimate this lyricist’s ability to paint pictures.
And don’t underestimate this band’s ability to rock. “Alone in the Sea” takes from mid-1990s alternative radio and updates the formula slightly, bringing the grunge from one Washington to the other. It’s the record’s longest and most accessible track because of the guitar pattern alone. “Abandon Ship” is a subtle piece of groove split into two parts, the second act turning the trio’s omnipresent angst and energy way beyond a mere 11. And “Penultimate,” in addition to being a sly wink toward the end of the album, culminates with Bonaventure shouting “Life is something I can live without” and you wouldn’t expect anything less.
That’s because “In A Real Good Place” taps into all the feels you thought you left behind when you canceled your subscription to “Alternative Press” magazine. Love or hate what they’re going for, Calm & Crisis are awfully good at what they do, and what they do is combine the in-your-face ethos of traditional punk with the updated accessibility that allowed the genre to go mainstream in the mid-2000s, all the while staying true to a grunge aesthetic. Or, in other words, they don’t care what you think; they just want to wear their hearts on their sleeves and rock the hell out. And frankly, they’re all the better for it.
So raw. So good.
*** 3 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 ***