Entering the indie-rock arena for the first time in 2006, The Drowning Men (the heavily bearded and mustached five-piece from Oceanside, CA) started out as a little-known trio, adding two others before releasing their debut EP “Kill The Matador” to their soon-to-be-acquired fan base. After recording their first full-length, 2009′s “Beheading Of The Songbird,” and traveling the successful tour that followed, with bands the likes of Flogging Molly and Alkaline Trio, the band regrouped and added key positions such as keyboardist and mixer as they began writing for their next album. What originally began as a modest EP in the eyes of The Drowning Men, with the help of producer Billy Mohler (Macy Gray, Jimmy Chamberlin Complex), the band began writing songs tailored for an entire new full-length, which would become “All Of The Unknown.“ Currently signed to Flogging Molly‘s personal label, Borstal Beat Records, there was an immediate interest to see what the band could muster up for their sophomore record.
The band’s lead songwriter and singer, Nato Bardeen, at some point wrote that “a band without passion is a band without a soul” — and that really rings true with this effort. “All Of The Unknown” doesn’t seek to appease its listeners with cheap musical trickery and shallow lyrics and instead lays everything out in full view; every passionate wail, every effects-laden guitar and toe-tapping bit of percussion. There is also quite a fair share of theatrics and diversified instrumentation on the album, with the addition of things like carnival-influenced riffs and spooky guitar effects on “Bored In A Belly” as well as every song that includes Nato’s mandolin or Gabelani’s wealth of keyboard variants, it really gives The Drowning Men that extra edge to outlast and “out indie” their peers.
One of the more balanced and catchy songs featured on the record is the graceful, four minute, ethereal track “Smile,” where a slow-burn tempo and atmospheric riffs echo to the insight-fully touching passage “Don’t you ever let it starve. Don’t you ever let it die. I could never been ashamed for. Having a cup full of tears. I just wanna smile. I wish to disappear. In fact the only place I’d rather be, is in a room with a piano.” But even outings that don’t fall under the label of being “catchy,” still invest so much amorous emotion that even tracks like the slow-building haunting verses and punky chorus crescendos on “I Am The Beggar Man” still feel so potently honest and impacting, you don’t even notice that it wouldn’t get much radio air time or be able to be picked up by listeners as easily as other acts.
So much about “All Of The Unknown” unfolds in the background and after multiple listens so, like exquisite art, it must be experienced several times with close inspection to notice all the purposeful intricacies and hidden instrumental backgrounds. This of course means that if you don’t have the time, this record will fly right over your head. Which is fair seeing that no one has a week to spend to fully understand one song, but it doesn’t make their music any less fascinating. Fans of Manchester Orchestra and the lesser-known States may find The Drowning Men a worthwhile endeavor, also noticing that TDM requires more patience and attention than your average indie band, as a brief or one song glance of this group won’t do them justice. Those who love pleasantly slow-burn indie filled with ringing pianos and echoed guitar effects, along with an eclectic songwriter and team of vocals that relay their passionate and elegant lyrics with such fervor, will find something truly special with this record. All others can work on their attention spans. [Staff]
Score: 4.5 (out of 5)
Release Date: July 17th, 2012
Record Label: Borstal Beat Records
RIYL: Manchester Orchestra, States, Picture Atlantic
1. Lost In a Lullaby
2. The Waltz
3. Bored In a Belly
5. A Fool’s Campaign
6. I am the Beggar Man
7. Life In the Willow Tree
8. A Long, Long Walk
9. Fix Me Love
10. Questioning (A Big Ole Sham)
11. A Better Place
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