The thing about the rock and roll being played on the radio or released by the big studios these days is that there seems to be such a lack of depth, musically and lyrically, in so much of the music. While rock and roll admittedly didn’t start out as a necessarily intellectually challenging art form, the fact is that rock and roll originated in the depths of the soul of the blues musicians who pioneered rock. You could FEEL rock, and at times through the years, gifted musicians have been able to add to this striking feel of rock intelligent lyrics and creative arrangements. Yet, there seems to be fewer and fewer bands that are able to capture this sense of literary achievement in their lyrics, not to mention evoking that feel of rock where the band wears its soul in the music. Thankfully, Toccoa, GA’s They Sang As They Slew is a band that is in many ways the anti-thesis of current rock, as they poetically shroud their ideas in a haze of passionate rock on their full-length Get Well.
Get Well is neither pop-punk, post-hardcore, emo, psychedelic, or straight-up rock and roll, yet fans of these sub-genres would likely find moments on the CD that would please them. The CD opens with “Her Left Hand Rocks The Cradle”, as strains of samples and noise bits, which, after a minute or so, finally give way to ethereal guitars and sublime yet raw vocals of Jamey Bozeman. The gentle melody explodes into a furious explosion of guitars and vocals for the chorus, highlighting in one song this band’s ability to play a wide range of dynamics. All through the song, the passionate vocals and perfect melody convey that sense of rock feel that is nearly extinct in today’s music. Of course, any positive impression that this first track leaves with the listener is amazingly surpassed as it bleeds into “Her Right Hand Rules The World”. In what might be one of the most effortless and dramatic beginnings to a song I’ve heard in ages, a wild processed percussive sound surrounded by picking guitar heralds this song’s beginning. The sounds build quickly to an explosion of feverish live drums, guitars, and Bozeman’s excellent vocals, as he declares: “She kills with words on fire…”. The song is a study in aggression, as the listener gets the sense that the band is just on the verge of losing utter control of their runaway emotions. This song is one that the listener just gets lost in, and in the midst of its bitter lyrics and loud guitars, the experience is oddly beautiful. Next is the accessible “I Can See With My Eyes Closed”, with its fun tempo and memorable melody. The band does not forget its rock passion, though, as the chorus descends into a rock and roll fury. They Sang As They Slew gets technical with the next track, the mathy “Death in the City”. With a complicated drum rhythm, played by the talented Aaron Baber (one of my new drum heroes), and equally deft guitar lines, this song struts the band’s talent. Yet, “Death in the City” is not all technical showing off, as every component of the song unites to present a zealous performance. Completely changing the tone of Get Well, “Bleeding to Death”, finds Bozeman sensitively crooning over a bed of drones and other gentle sounds. Yet, the song works, even in the midst of the louder rocks (perhaps due to Bozeman’s own admission that his band’s songs are written softly, only to be recorded aggressively).
The instant classic “Palace Arms” follows, with its smart melody, beautiful strummed acoustic guitars, and 6/8 timing. The song builds to an impressive and impassioned climax, which it augmented again by crisp drum work and uninhibited guitar work. The 9 minute “One Day I Woke Up” then comes on, as the band plays a more intuitive stripped down ballad, sounding like almost like a high quality live outtake. The band experiments with a simple melody fused with back-tracked sample of what sounds to me like “Her Left Hand Rocks The Cradle” on the title song, contrasting to the more stripped-down mood of the previous song. Returning to a fuller sound, “10,000 Candles” earns its place as the remarkable emotional highlight of Get Well. Featuring what sounds like a double-tracked recording of Bozeman’s vocals and exquisite guitar sounds on the bridge of the song, “10,000 Candles” blasts the listener with a cacophony of sound as it builds towards its overwhelming pinnacle. “It Goes On” provides a satisfying denouement to Get Well, as the band plays a mellow song with effected vocals, acoustic guitars, and experimental sonic flourishes.
Lyrically, Get Well is both intriguing, and elusive. Binding themes such as spirituality, longing, literature, and a hint of social commentary, the lyrics of the CD are thought-provoking to say the very least. Witness the first words of Get Well, sung so gently by Bozeman: “The skin’s not thick enough to fight off the blows, feel my spine crack as I pick teeth from the floor”. That such menacing words can be sung in such a caressing way is indicative of the thought that They Sang As They Slew has put into their lyric-craft. The final cry from Bozeman in “10,000 Candles” also deserves a mention:
God bless the kids in the USA
sometimes they creep, sometimes they cry,
sometimes they sold the serpent’s lie,
sometimes they give, sometimes they take,
sometimes they claim they can’t relate,
sometimes it’s bread, sometimes it’s wine,
sometimes it’s famine robed in the fine,
sometimes they bleed, sometimes I bleed,
sometimes we bleed.
Truly, such lyrics, accompanied by the suitable music that They Sang As They Slew writes, are a revelation to the listener. Taken as a whole (lyrics, music, and the finely designed artwork), Get Well is an overwhelming release of musical expression.
Of course, the careful reader of this review would note that Jamey Bozeman is a member of the seminal Luxury, a band that captured the hearts of a sizeable cult following (and who are reportedly in the midst of recording their first album in 5 years for Northern Records,They Sang As They Slew’s label). Fans of Luxury will probably flock to buy Get Well due to this connection, but They Sang As They Slew, as evidenced by the description in this review, is certainly not Luxury with a different lead singer. Get Well finds this band playing less melodic, but more aggressive and perhaps even more adventurous music than any Luxury recording. They Sang As They Slew has crafted a consistently relevant, thought-provoking, and affective work of art with Get Well, combining the deeply felt spirit of true rock and roll with witty lyrics and technical playing.