From July 29, 2019 (Soundblab Review)
When I began listening to Slaughter Beach Dog’s latest album, Safe And Also No Fear, I instantly connected to Jake Ewald’s songwriting ramblings and lyrical journaling. Each song provides a window to his world, through his unique perspective. His lyrical storytelling is compelling, introspective, and a masterpiece of his everyday moments.
“I live upstairs
I wash my hair
I take my meals alone inside the parlor room
I win the war
I feed the poor
I get anxious and I curl up on the floor”
Then it hits you, the power of the punch. A struggle unfolds in his seemingly disjointed phrase choices. Each song grapples with his past and his future and his coming-of-age. He recognizes something is different but is not sure how to handle it. It is meaningful and something we all have to face. His struggle is my struggle, our struggle.
Safe And Also No Fear, the third album of Slaughter Beach, Dog will be released via Lame-O Records on August 2nd. At the heart of it are delicate, radiant folk melodies. There is a simplicity in it’s language, but collectively the words translate a bittersweet understanding. He is struggling with his fading youth and grappling with his inevitable adulthood. Ewald examines his existence and humanity in such a cunning, casual way. The conflict almost slips by unnoticed as it’s carefully hidden in upbeat sparkly tunes. Then with reflection, the wisdom of his everyday ramblings hits brilliantly.
Jake Ewald, formerly of Philly emo-punk group, Modern Baseball, went off on his own after the band’s breakup due to exhaustion and mental health issues. His albums with Slaughter Beach, Dog, Welcome and Birdie garnished a loyal following with Ewald’s breakout songs based on fictional characters. His latest project is further enhanced by the addition of more members, with bassist Ian Farmer (Modern Baseball), guitarist Nick Harris (All Dogs), and drummer Zack Robbins (Superheaven). Their creative input and dynamic helps Slaughter Beach, Dog to be more cohesive and complete by adding depth to the simple folk tunes, creating a collective mosaic of sound. Welcomewas raw and experimental. Birdie was a healing departure, by Ewald writing about something other than himself. But the third album, Safe And Also No Fear, hits harder and is clearly a creative, deeply diving personal gamble.
On Safe And Also No Fear, Ewald’s warm, vulnerable vocals unleash simple storytelling masterpieces. His songwriting is more developed, mature, and keenly observant. As his buttery vocals are softly offered in each song, the acoustic guitar and changing musical arrangements balance the foundations by filling each song with an expansive complexity.
The first track on the album,“One Down,” is clearly autobiographical. It is a testimony to Ewald critically viewing his life in an open, honest way. He begins with his folksy, acoustic roots, while confessionally listing his everyday actions. As the song progresses, it shifts from being a solo singer and acoustic guitar to a gradual introduction of other instruments. The music builds into something more complex, but continues to stay vulnerable and tender. “One Down” immediately alerts the listeners the album is going to have a broader, more expansive shift, and move in a compelling new direction.
“Good Ones” is chock full of clever lyrics, heavy bass, and pounding beats which add the perfect tinge of punk defiance. His artistically creative, poetic lyrics tumble out rapid-fire which contrast the slowing tempo, shaping the puzzling verse.
“Into the void, a plea to make it through the night
My kind of man, always right,
Dead on deployment sea, your dog went toward the fight
Licking his wounds, with stars in his eyes”
Each song on the album needs to be sifted, sorted, and listened to on repeat to discern the beauty and the hidden hefty meanings. “Black Oak” because of its risky seven minute length requires that breakdown. Beginning with a simple strum of guitar and a repetitive thumping of a drum, it’s entirely spoken and unveils a murky, curious story. This peculiar dark story tells of ingesting everyday objects like a tea towel, refrigerator magnets, and a watch on a dare, only to get sick in the street. When spit out, the magnets perfectly spell out his lover’s name. He then goes searching for her. The narration finishes with a shocking twist, and for the second half of the song, the instruments beautifully blossom among soothing hushed choruses. The fictional story reflects his ability to create characters outside of himself, compared to other, more realistic songs on the album. This proves to be a well-done, thematic outlier on the album.
An odd addition for its rawness and lack of sleek production is “Petersburg.” The fuzzy humming background, which sounds as if it was recorded in a space separate from the rest of the album, provides a needed diversion from the rest of the album and reflects Ewald’s past songwriting, an ode to his roots.
Many of the tunes on the album embrace a happy catchy beat, but after further examination prove to be darker in subject, including the songs, “Good Ones,” “Tangerine,” and “Heart Attack.” As one of the poppiest songs on the album, “Heart Attack,” expresses the exaggerated result of leaving a message and waiting for some kind, any kind of response. Ewald’s ability to make light of the torturous waiting allows him to express his deepest fears of rejection in the context of humor.
“One Day” expresses the internal urgency to be better, do better, and behave better despite our basic humanity and inescapable flaws. Supporting the theme throughout the album, Ewald delicately balances his youthful behavior and lifestyle with the person he wishes to be one day. A steady drum beat and expansive shiny guitars emphasize his analytical lyrics.
“One day you’ll be good
You won’t know why it scared you
You’ll act just like you should
You’ll fix that awful hairdo
Anyday now, Anyday now”
“Map Of The Stars,” a favorite of mine, sentimentally reflects on his life, bandmates, and friends. It openly exposes his fragility and shortcomings while simultaneously making a concerted effort to mature.
“Begging for brains in your prayers
Falling asleep on the stairs
Waking up angry and scared
Coughing up sand everywhere”
He inspects his vulnerability again in the final tune, “Anything.” Through the mundane responsibilities like picking up groceries and not being recognized by friends, he implies a transition between his boyish youthful self and his gradual attempts to become an adult. Although “Anything” is upbeat, it’s lyrically quite touching and meaningful. Beginning acoustically, it builds gradually to a full band. A haunting humming synth sound evokes emotions and grounds the album, as a final bow to his youth.
“I tried to tell about difference in the nighttime
But I could not tell it then
If I needed you to swim
Would you swim back?
Would you come to me again?
Anything you want to know, you could find out
Any place you want to see
I can promise I will be a friend to you
If you will be a friend to me”
Jake Ewald delicately exposes his weaknesses and deepest desires through his everyday thoughts and vivid, charismatic songwriting. Safe And Also No Fear uses simple but powerful lyrics to uncover complex, thoughtful ideas on life, growth, and change. A creative risk because it appears to be deeply personal, the album proves Ewald is a musical force. The addition of a full band and their close collaboration is the instrumental emphasis to the album’s coming-of-age theme. Clearly putting aside any anxiety or fear, Slaughter Beach, Dog is something worthwhile, unbearingly honest, relatable, and truly brilliant.