Album: Erase You
Reviewer: Ryan Panny
For Fans of: The Black Keys, Buckcherry, Royal Blood
In 2016, Rock music is like the Republican Party. While the genre may not have utterly imploded like the GOP has, it has become so visibly fragmented that its identity is nearly impossible to pin down. No longer a cash cow in the wake of the mainstream Trap and EDM takeover, record labels have little incentive to manufacture an assembly line of mopey Post-Grunge and Alt-Rock acts in order to pay the entire A & R department’s salaries with halftime Chevy commercials. Which is a good thing. But this leaves an uncertain void – what even IS a generic “Rock band” nowadays? The possible answers to that question are as scattered as they have ever been.
If you were born before 1970, retro blues-rock bands like Wolfmother, Rival Sons, and Scorpion Child are all the rage, executing the Zeppelin-Sabbath-Aerosmith formula to a T like a wide receiver studying passing routes. If you’re a teenager seeking edginess without diving all the way down the Metal rabbit hole, there’s Halestorm, Theory of a Deadman, and Papa Roach holding down the Active Rock charts. And perhaps most noteworthy, there’s the Indie Rock explosion, with bands like the Black Keys and Arcade Fire winning over the hearts of hipsters at the intersection of The Strokes and Queens of the Stone Age. Oh, and there’s Pop-Punk too. And yet none of these factions seem to want anything to do with each other.
Somewhere in the middle of all this is Canadian Alternative Rock outfit Bleeker, whose third major release Erase You plays like a microcosm of Rock’s identity crisis. Erase You is the sound of a band still experimenting and searching for individuality, directing their creative gusto at several different audiences at once. That they’re so unsure of themselves makes for an uneven and occasionally confusing listen, but more often than not, the songs are undeniable.
Album opener “Highway” is a stadium-sized fist-pumper in the vein of Black Keys’ “Gold on the Ceiling”, kicking off the LP with pounding rhythms, an infectious chorus, and boundless exuberance. Sure, it ought to be held accountable for thinly veiled grasps at sleaze – namely, lyrics like “I can’t slow down” and “let’s burn this town” – but it’s a fun and exciting start.
Soon after, the sassy, uptempo “Free” follows suit, featuring a monstrous bluesy guitar riff in the chorus, which collides head on with some prominently mixed bass guitar and subtle bursts of double bass drums. Though the two songs are not identical by any stretch of the imagination, “Free” conveys a similar swagger to “Highway”, and it starts to feel like Bleeker’s brand of blues-y Alt-Rock is revealing itself.
But then the latter portion of the album jets in every direction like a Kindergarten class playing hide and seek. “Radio Radio” is mostly a Pop-Punk affair, retreating from the snarling riffage of previous tracks in favor of something a bit more juvenile. The guitars are minimized to a Green Day-style chug, and even vocalist Taylor Perkins sounds different – his inflection is cleaner and less theatrical. The song itself is decent – in particular, the glossy keys and pulsing bass underneath the hook really bring it to life – but it’s a stylistic shift that reads less like experimentation and more like an inconsistency. And then on the melodramatic “Close Your Eyes”, Bleeker suddenly become a schmaltzy Pop/Rock band, relying on a trite piano line to carry the song.
Where sentimentality does pay off in spades is on the album’s anthemic apex, “I’m Not Laughing Now”, a well-placed ballad with an absurdly catchy refrain. Perkins does a brilliant job delivering lyrics like “don’t be fake to keep me happy” in an appropriately worn-out, downtrodden manner, begging the waving of thousands of lighters – erm, cellphones.
Meanwhile, “Emergency” is like a Weezer-tinged We the Kings, favoring a Radio-Rock approach packaged with a bit of poppy cuteness. Compared with the stomping Hard Rock of earlier cuts like “Getting Out”, “Highway”, or the title track, it’s hard to believe that the whole LP is played by the same group of musicians. It’s not that songs like “Emergency”, “Close Your Eyes” or “Radio Radio” are inadequate, they’re just egregiously at odds with what came before them.
Bleeker clearly know how to craft a solid rock tune. They know how to craft several kinds of them, actually. And versatility is usually a positive trait, but to become the powerhouse that they seem capable of, more cohesion is crucial. What is the core of Bleeker’s sound? Is it the perky spunk of Royal Blood? Is it the bluesy excess of Buckcherry? Is it sensitive, chart-bound Pop/Rock? On Erase You, Bleezer present us with all of these options and more, but in the end, it’s up to them to decide.