I’ll open this review with two bits of information: I find Nirvana severely overrated and annoying and I find The Chariot to be largely overlooked and incredibly innovative. 68′, the brainchild of ex-The Chariot vocalist Josh Scogin, falls stylistically between the two. “In Humor and Sadness” saw release in 2014. Now, the duo returns to the fray with “Two Parts Viper” – but does it live up to expectations?
Eventually We All Win opens with some sort of strange percussion and filtered vocals akin to, and I’ll probably get some level of flack for saying this, Arctic Monkeys. This alt-influenced begins is quickly buried under gritty, fast guitar and aggressive drumming. The chaos fades temporarily back toward the pattern of the opening, before again taking full force. There’s plenty of dissonance (and the track even ends on feedback), so fans of The Chariot should feel at home with this track.
The next track, Whether Terrified or Unafraid, is a bluesy number with a fair share of southern rock influence. In some ways, it’s similar to a Cage the Elephant song. It’s slower in some ways, giving it a sludgy feeling. Scogin vocals are passionate as usual, and there’s a brief section where the vocal flow gets pretty close to rapping. Add in plenty of pentatonic riffing and occasional shouts of “Woo”, and you get the sense that the band is actually enjoying what they’ve written. It’s a unique feeling that most bands aren’t able to convey on a recording. Finally, there’s the triumphant line, “I could have been anyone from anywhere. But I chose to be me from right here.” It’s a reaffirmation of identity and a great close to the track.
Without Any Words (Only Crying and Laughter) seems to be a reference to the previous record. Also, it does actually have words. This is the first song on the album that feels like classic grunge. The best comparison I can muster would be Nirvana’s Dumb. It’s more vulnerable than its predecessors, with less overdrive and natural vocals. “Revolution is small but it matters to me,” Scogin cries. Thankfully, the duo knows how to take Nirvana’s style and translate it to a more bearable format. It’s ultimately an emotionally-open track that serves as a nice break from its counterparts.
Up next is the album’s premier single, This Life is Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue. It opens with a dissonant beginning that convalesces into a Red Hot Chili Peppers-esque bassline and more bluesy guitar lines. This is also the first track where Scogin unleashes his trademark screaming, though it’s used sparingly and in the midst of otherwise impassioned vocal lines so it’s not unexpectedly abrasive (that’s my way of saying non-metal fans can enjoy this, too).
No Montage is a slightly-eery track with a waltz mood. It’s another softer track, but that doesn’t stop Scogin from belting his heart out. If you liked The Chariot’s Speak, this track should be up your alley.
I never thought I’d give an Elvis comparison, but if there’s one to be made, look no further than the schizophrenic opening of No Apologies. It stands as one of the more experimental tracks on the album, which plenty of diverse, unique parts. The center of the track is a spoken word section that sounds like an old radio show, surrounded by noise on all ends.
The Workers Are Few bursts into full force in the matter of seconds. The chords are full and heavy. The chorus is bold. And, like many of the other tracks, there’s plenty of genre-defying experimentation in place. There’s a familiar feeling here, though it’s hard to pinpoint. Again, 68′ is able to draw upon their influences without being defined by them. As a result, this is one of my favorites.
The low end-driven Life Has Its Design is a radio-friendly number that combines alternative and industrial elements. It’s an interesting diversion from more punk-based and blues-based songs.
As the album approaches its end, Death is a Lottery proves the band hasn’t let go of any of their energy. Even in the midst of gritty guitar, there’s certainly still a level of pop sensibility. The chorus is catchy, even in spite of its heavy lyrical content. A piano outro is equally unexpected and welcomed.
The album’s closer is the aptly-titled What More Can I Say. It’s another softer track seeping in alt influence. Tape echo permeates the emotional context of the song, driven primarily by Scogin’s vocal which start as a vulnerable singing that crescendos to passionate yelling. It’s only at the three-minute mark that full band instrumentation enters, and its arrival is beautiful.
In my opinion, the best albums are capable of converting the naysayers. Let’s refer back to my intro again. If I weren’t reviewing this album, I might have passed on it entirely. But it’s evident that 68′ has grown beyond their first release. They are not some odd The Chariot/Nirvana hybrid. Admittedly, the album draws more from blues and alternative than it does grunge and hardcore. Yes, there’s still plenty of experimentation present – but it’s executed in a manner that’s often still catchy to some degree. I haven’t referenced drummer Michael McClellan overtly in this review and that’s intentional – he’s not noticeable in the sense that he lends his talents to each song in a way that’s natural and does not compete against the other instrumentation for attention. The mix is fine-tuned. The emotion is immense. The band clearly communicates the emotions surrounding each track. Essentially, 68′ has crafted a record that’s definitely going to make my end-of-year highlight list.