Saturday, May 31, 2014

Review: War Poets - American Police State EP

When we last encountered the Minneapolis, MN-based pop rock outfit, War Poets, they’d just released their two-disc opus, Dulce et Decorum Est. Boasting seventeen songs, that project saw the band staying true to their messages of social justice and equality and matching it with solid musicianship throughout. However, the sheer breadth of the record presented some problems, showcasing some chinks in the armor which resulted in a record that was certainly good, but not great.

With their latest release, the American Police State EP, War Poets seem to have really taken those early criticisms to heart and have really worked at filtering their vision into a much more accessible space, in this case five solid songs of pop-rock intensity. The powerful lyrics and messages are there, this time finding the band tackling issues like income inequality, Native American rights, and gun violence as is the strong musicianship, these arrangements continuing in line with their signature sound that’s earned them comparisons to Fleetwod Mac and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Things get off to a rocking start with “Better Place,” Rex Haberman taking lead vocals right off which he holds throughout the whole of the EP, as a thoughtful rhythm presses the song along while he sings, “I look to my left/I look to my right/I close my eyes and see a better place/Take me there, baby/To a better place/It doesn’t matter/I don’t know the way.” Rolls of rich electric guitar fills lend bonus emotion as do Jenny Case’s soulful backing vocals, leading into the staccato rock of “Closing In.” Haberman seems to chew off the lyrics, raging guitars roaring around him, even mimicking a siren of sorts as he tells a tale of forced insanity and of those forced to a place of self-medication in order to simply get through the day. The frenetic arrangement is rocking and serves the song’s lyric well.

“8:05 On a Saturday Night” is a surprising track, opening things up with a mid-tempo jam, fueled with a swelling horn section and a killer groove that eventually flows into a spoken word/hip hop flow that closes out the track, ending things on a note that carries the song to the next level. It also deals with the topic of gun violence, which Haberman and company are passionate about, sharing, “What is a gun really for? It’s for killing people. I realize I have strong opinions on gun violence, but we’re musicians, not politicians. We put our views out there by singing so people can think about this.”
The next track asks a poignant question, “Where Has Love Gone?,” bridging into multiple issues while a rocking arrangement carries things forth. It’s a solid message that is buoyed by a great guitar and saxophone solo, showing some strong musicianship that undergirds the lyric while “Red Lake” closes out the record with more simmering angst and rock although it’s the least successful of the bunch, the lyric a bit too wordy throughout, losing its overall punch.

With American Police State, War Poets continue to beat their drums of protest and outrage but do so in a way that is much more concentrated and controlled than with previous efforts. The result is a more consistent set of tracks that are much more accessible which serves both the listener and the message equally well and that leaves one wishing for just a bit more, which is a good thing.