Truth be told, I don’t really follow Tooth & Nail anymore. I know they’ve signed a few bands over the past couple years, but I certainly couldn’t name any part of their roster on the spot. Most of the artists I follow are typically unsigned, and I’ve lost interest in most labels as a whole. Nonetheless, sometimes talented bands do get picked up by labels and Off Road Minivan is certainly one of them. Fronted by bassist/clean vocalist of Fit For a King, Ryan “Tuck” O’Leary, the band showcases a more restrained and indie sound. I think the band may have shot themselves in the foot a bit with branding between the pop-punkish name and a somewhat-cheap looking cover – but if anything, that only makes the music all that more stunning.
“Spiral Gaze” sits alongside a few other albums in terms of style – So Long Forgotten’s self-titled, sosaveme’s “The Garden”, and My Epic’s early discography. It’s heavier and grittier than typical indie, but it’s also not saturated with a 2006 post-hardcore atmosphere either. It’s balanced, dynamic, and cinematic. The sound is always full, even in the quieter moments.
The EP is fairly brief at 17 minutes long, but it doesn’t feel lacking. The title track is certainly a highlight and definitely puts the five-piece in a good light. Bass is audible but not overbearing; crashing guitar chords drive the chorus; vocals are passionate; drums help to complete the mixture.
Light Up the Room continues the momentum of the first track. The intro is fairly barren, but things pick up a bit. “Close your eyes, say my name. You can feel me in the rain,” is repeated several times and the underlying music is different for each repetition. It’s a powerful creative choice. Ultimately, the song certainly is anything but stale – there’s certainly a progressive core for the songs on this EP. One of the best things of the EP is the translation of “live” energy through quality production – listeners definitely get hints of what to expect from a show.
Glow has all the elements of a closing track – the ending is layered and complex, with keys, female vocals, and a whole lot else going on. It’s dense and passionate. However, the EP is closed out by 17 Years, which, while still a strong track on its own, is lacking the same sort of cinematic end. It might be minor, but I wish the placement of these two tracks had been swapped.
Overall, “Spiral Gaze” cuts out a nice space in Tooth & Nail’s roster for band that could seemingly go toe-to-toe with My Epic in terms of musical style. Lyrics are a bit more personal and at times ambiguous, but Tuck’s vocals are dynamic and passionate. Off Road Minivan reminds us that we can’t simply judge music based off labels and imagery – and delivers a surprisingly-strong indie album that is sure to be a highlight of 2018.