Slaughter Beach, Dog – Safe And Also No Fear (Big Scary Monsters)

Slaughter Beach, Dog – Safe And Also No Fear (Big Scary Monsters)

Slaughter Beach, Dog began life as the solo moniker of Jake Ewald, member of the deservedly revered and much loved emo outfit Modern Baseball. Masters of succinct gut punches of indie rock, Modern Baseball delivered fevered reflections of their fans inner turmoil, detailing an all too relatable anguish and angst wrapped in fuzzy guitars and shout along choruses.

Unfortunately being an integral part of a group that means so much to so many can often be a shroud from which to crawl when branching out into new projects. Ewald’s first foray into solo territory came on Slaughter Beach, Dog’s debut Welcome. Moving away from the collaborative writing process that had, for the most part, been at the heart of Modern Baseball was a step outside of his comfort zone while remaining within relatively familiar territory, the hallmarks of Modern Baseballs sound still casting the faintest of shadows. It was on 2017’s Birdie that Ewald began to emerge as a songwriter with his own voice. Delving into classic songwriting structures and fully embracing his pop sensibilities it nodded to a quieter and more contemplated approach, but more assured of its purpose.

His growth as a songwriter is cemented on Safe And Also No Fear. Here on his third and strongest record, he takes a step further into the unknown, inverting his previous writing techniques and inviting outsiders into his process. The foundations for change were laid at the outset. Whereas before Ewald was solely responsible for writing and recording, he has now built a band around himself. Bassist Ian Farmer (Modern Baseball), guitarist Nick Harris (All Dogs), and drummer Zack Robbins (Superheaven) were all fully involved from the start of the writing process resulting in a shift in tonality and level of dynamism not heard before.

Ewald has evolved to wrap his music with an abridged wholesomeness. Even at its darkest, it retains the comforting echoes of home. At times driven by the nostalgically strummed acoustic guitars, the real key to the companionable feel of the record is Ewald’s voice. There are now few traces of the raw nasal delivery synonymous with Modern Baseball, a trait that at times made it difficult to tell him apart from the band’s other singer Brendan Lukens. His voice is now richly controlled, a rescuing remedy from the struggles he sings of.

While Birdie was positioned as the tales of others told from his perspective Safe And Also No Fear seems to contain more of Ewald himself within it. It is a record of poetic normalcy, tales of everyday trials and the resultant exhaustion. Even at their most oblique the lyrics contain within them resonating vignettes to which you can attach your own memories. Ewald wrestles with pretence “I play the game / I go out and live it up” and the burden of building walls around yourself “Deep breath don’t let on the truth / It gets to you”, painting the picture of a loose knot praying not to come undone.

Slaughter Beach, Dog ‘s influences are varied and not always easy to pin down. Perhaps the most fitting comparisons would be to the thoughtfully literate solo work of The Weakerthans frontman John K. Samson or the barbed reality of Fred Thomas. Acoustic guitars are cathartically hammered away on, tightly wound bass lines bask in the glow of pop punks golden era and 00s garage rock guitar licks reminiscent of The StrokesRoom On Fire burst and trill as evident on one of the albums standouts ‘Tangerine’.

Safe And Also No Fear is full of moments of beautiful simplicity. From the spine tingling arpeggios of ‘Map of the Stars’ to the closing moments of ‘One Down’. Following its shoegazing climax, it simmers back to just Ewald and his guitar to deliver the final verses. The evocative closing lines “You pet my head / Put me to bed / A hundred million years lit up / And turned to dust” are quietly heartbreaking, an attempt to repatriate a feeling that has slipped away.

The words of ‘Black Oak’ are spoken with a dead eye stare, the masked menace of its lyrics rescued by reverb drenched guitar patterns. In the second half of its near seven minute sprawl an effected vocal line, barely detectable, melodically sputters through the tremble of guitars, fading out in an unending search for a semblance of sanctuary.

If Ewald ever sounds beaten down or jaded, he is quick to look to the power of friendship as a light at the end of the tunnel. The optimistic repetition of the words “Any day now” on ‘One Day You’ll Be Good’ becomes like a mantra as the song progresses and Ewald declares “…do not soon forget / That I still loved you / Long before.” The album’s closer ‘Anything’ with its warm swell of synths is a condensed self-help manual. It is an observation of someone who on the surface has it all but is tormented all the same, fighting life’s little battles. “It’s not as easy as it seemed when you were younger / It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.” The idea of keeping friends close enough to effect a change prevails as we are left with the records closing words “I can promise I will be a friend to you / If you will be a friend to me.” It is a hand thrust into the darkness to be grasped by those who need it most.

On Safe And Also No Fear, Ewald has shown the capability to distil the traumas of the everyday and balance them with the optimism of companionship and humankind’s propensity for change. There is an understanding that life is sweet, but not always, and it’s OK to admit that to both yourself and others. Things always have the potential to get better and a change is going to come, any day now.

Safe And Also No Fear is released on 2nd August through Big Scary Animals.

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