Monday, September 1, 2008

Gumshen - Stew


This thing we do here at The Ripple Effect can, at times, be a thankless job. Some of the reviewed bands just give us that casual nod like, ‘Yeah. We know.’ Other times, it can be quite fulfilling with gracious musicians returning every email or correspondence with the same fervor that we put into our reviews. Put yourself in our position for just a second and you’ll find yourself sifting through bargain bins of CD’s that are randomly chucked into place. Or, wading through a virtual sea of shifting discs as the ever so patient postal worker drops the packages on your desk. Or, even surfing from one cyber social network to another and getting so lost that you have no idea where you initially started. Most of the time, the music just doesn’t warrant any response. But other times . . . well, those are the reasons we do this. Those surprising nuggets of music that no one but a select few know about. Those unheralded musicians, those lost classics.

Gumshen are just the latest group to catch our ears and make us take notice. Hailing from the alternative music Mecca of Seattle, these guys have put together a five song E.P. (Stew) that has me acting like someone has just opened a bag of potato chips in arms reach of me. I keep reaching for more. I can’t help it. It’s so tasty. So what I need right now! If you could see me now, my eyes are a bit buggy and I’m shaking a little.

The opening track, “Helmet,” is anything but your typical alternative rock tune. Sure, it starts off sounding like something from Nirvana, but that’s where any similarity ends. There’s a unique musicianship that’s going on with these guys, and not just on the lead track, but on all of them. As the boys wrap up the first chorus, listen to the bass work as it kind of meanders before dropping into the main riff. And it’s not like the musical dynamics end there. The song takes a, dare I say it, progressive slant. The drums go from their steady beat to this obscure off beat pattern that just lights me up! The tune sways from a standard (whatever that means) alternative groove to this proggy break and into this agro-hardcore break, and even features some funked out guitar licks. It’s songs like these that keep me digging!

From there, the boys drop into “Scapegoat” which opens with a great distorted guitar riff before the band joins the fray. The bass, again, impresses as Jan Ciganik provides a sustained groove rather than follow the guitar riff note for note. This approach creates this great juxtaposition between the instruments. With the added keyboard flourishes, this song has so many different characteristics that I don’t have enough room in this review to describe it all. The driving beat provided by Dennis McCoy adds some serious weight to an already heavy tune. Balls. Huge balls on this song.

“Dandylions” may very well be my favorite tune on Stew, but if that is the case, it’s marginal at best. It’s a heartfelt tune driven by acoustic guitars and Ron Hippe’s impassioned vocals. From verse to verse to verse, Gumshen build this song to its crescendo. Outstanding lyrics make it a great tune to sing to while in bumper to bumper traffic. Simply put, it’s a great song! Damn near perfect. No . . . I retract that. It is perfect. There’s no way that this song can be improved on.

Gumshen work so many different styles of music in this five song disc that it’s difficult to pigeon-hole the band into any one genre. The all encompassing alternative genre seems to work, but they’re not limited to shoe gazing or walls of dissonant noise. “D’Mac & Grits” finds the band flirting with funk in this instrumental epic. Incorporating a wide variety of instruments, the band has created one of the finest instrumental tunes that I’ve heard in a long while. Check out the guitar solo as it flashes with a Gilmour-esque vibrancy. For a brief instant, I thought David Gilmour had made a guest appearance on the track. Beautiful tone, guys!

The final track, “Last Resort” is a solid rocker. Distorted guitars and driving drums propel this song into the listeners face. Rather than keep the song a constant wall of sound, Gumshen cut the guitars through the verses, giving the music room to breathe. It’s a minor thing to some, but I think it’s important in keeping the music fresh and constantly listenable. It has a great sing along chorus in classic punk rock fashion. And just as this song comes to an end, the CD player in the Popemobile automatically returns it to the beginning of the disc. It’s like a never ending musical treat for my ears!

No song on Stew reaches the four minute mark, so it’s a palatable disc to listen to over and over again. Hell, I had to fight myself to eject it from the player so that I could move on to something else. Even though the songs are relatively short, Gumshen have done a remarkable job of incorporating multiple dimensions to each song. As songwriters, these guys have the ability to be the next big thing. Heartfelt, to the point, and dynamic songs. What more could one ask for in their music. Maybe Stew’s a bit hard to mosh to, but damn it! Music isn’t all about a pit. It’s about the conveyance of emotion through sound, and Gumshen’s emotions are a multi-layered amalgam of numerous musical influences. I, for one, can’t wait for more! - Pope JTE

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