Civilian Album Release Party
with Kids, the Goddamn' Hustle, Under Every Green Tree
Propaganda, Friday, June 7
Better than: Smashing every emo album in your record collection and starting anew.
"I'm more excited about this release than any other thing I've ever done," says ginger-haired Fort Lauderdale native Ryan Alexander of Should This Noose Unloosen, the debut record from his new band, Civilian. We caught up with the talented singer/songwriter by the merch table set up toward the back of Lake Worth's most musical dive bar, Propaganda.
Considering how prolific Alexander's career has been thus far -- with numerous albums released under his previous act, called simply Alexander -- the musician calling his newest parturition the apex of his musical craft seemed quite a lofty statement. He tells us he is happy with the album's outcome and how far removed it is from his previous work. "It is a much more melodic album, with louder guitar parts. Reminds me a bit of what Further Seems Forever used to sound like."
This show was the first time Alexander and company performed the songs off Should This Noose Unloosen before a local audience, but first, there were three more bands on the bill to take in before our ears could enjoy Civilian's sonic bliss.
The Danny Brunjes-led outfit Under Every Green Tree was the first band we caught. The group was performing the twangy "When the Sun Comes Up," an uplifting track off the band's arresting debut EP, Everybody Tells a Story, when we made our way inside Propaganda's confines. Catching an Under Every Green Tree performance is a rare feat, considering Brunjes and company keep their folk-infused indie-rock project mostly under wraps. Seldom do they take to the stage. Because of the UEGT scarcity, we kicked ourselves in the teeth for missing half of the band's performance. Oh well, we made the best of it. After grabbing a Pabst tall boy, we enjoyed a number we'd never heard from the group, "Too Much Wine Makes You a Beggar."
This reflective ditty showcased Brunjes' quavering delivery. It has a warm cadence and falls somewhere between the down-home vibe of Bruce Springsteen and intimacy of Conor Oberst. Brunjes and his keyboardist, Kelly Stapleton, did an endearing harmony to end this expansive slow burner. Next, the group brought the Southern chunk with "The Postcard Place," a song highlighted by bustling guitar strums that effused the Southern-rock swagger of a group like the North Mississippi Allstars.
Well-groomed Fort Lauderdale quartet Kids took the stage next. Performing with endless reverb, the group demonstrated a postpunk zest that had us drawing comparisons to the Killers -- before said group took its turn into overreaching Las Vegas glamour shtick. The band dedicated its jangly number "Alive" to the zombie apocalypse. Although we think everyone in South Florida would like to move on from the bizarre incident in Miami, we did find this song to have a fantastically danceable backbeat. We wouldn't mind hearing it again someday, sans the undead dedication.
Drawing closer to Civilian's unveiling, the Goddamn' Hustle brought its rollicking, Replacements-inspired tunes to charm the pants off Propaganda's masses. We learned that the four fellas from the Goddamn' Hustle had been tourmates with Civilian -- hitting 20-something tour dates in the past 20-something days. Tonight would be the band's last gig with the Civilian gang.
Ashley Reda is a captivating frontman, possessing a laissez faire attitude with his songs. He sang "Summer's Over Brah" with a disaffected nature, an "ain't going to try too hard," couldn't- care-less attitude that permeated through the rest of the four-piece's set. It is this effortlessly cool affect that makes the Goddamn' Hustle so damned alluring.
In all fairness, drummer Derrick Jarome did some serious heavy lifting throughout the gig. He was frantically pouncing on the skins when the group rolled into fuzzy "All My New Friends," a spiraling churner with steady guitar licks à la the Kinks. In touring with Civilian, we think the guys from Goddamn' Hustle have perfected the art of slacker rock, with amps cranked to 11 and feet permanently on distortion pedals.
Matters became sentimental near the end, when Reda broke form and spoke about Ryan Alexander. "Up next is Civilian, where Ryan is going to show you how awesome he is." Adding one last note: "Oh and we like to thank [Civilian] for letting us use your guitars and shit for the past month."
Finally, without further ado, Ryan Alexander's Civilian began setting up on Propaganda's stage at 1 a.m. A deluge of heavy riffs filtered out of the speakers on "Conditions," a number that instantly convinced us that Alexander wasn't kidding earlier when he warned us his new outfit had upped the gravitas of his previous outings. Before busting into politically charged "Bottom Dollar," Alexander warned the crowd: "I'm going to scream at you because I love you." With that statement, he had us flashing back to time spent at Catholic school and the stern warnings dished out by the militant nun who taught our third-grade class.
This song, dealing with themes of economic inequality, hypocrisy, and social apathy, had all the touchstones of Alexander's previous work but also featured psychotic signature changes and radical harmonies. It was emo one minute, then almost straight-up grindcore the next, Alexander literally yelling into his microphone at the top of his lungs near the end. It was great witnessing New Times' 2011 Best Young Guy acting so volatile, offering us another side to his soft-spoken, benevolent nature.
"James Kent," was another fierce number, featuring a fetching chorus that melds into your psyche after just one listen. "Things Change" contained the crunchy chord progression of a mid-'90s Soundgarden track but was much denser. Civilian guitarist Alex Bennett ventured off on the bridge here into stratospheric frets. A well-balanced back-and-fro melody between Alexander and Bennett rounded out this crowd pleaser.
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"Market Mistress" had Alexander belting out insanely high falsettos, as if he were attempting to get into everyone's head and make us care about all the issues that are at the forefront of Civilian's tunes.
"Faulty Manufacturing" was a personal favorite for this reviewer. It contained sparkling guitar licks -- that hinted at the Further Seems Forever reference Alexander dropped earlier -- over Alexander's midrange vocals. There were many more sporadic moments in Civilian's set. This was one of the most striking differences between this group and Alexander's previous. Midway through "Faulty Manufacturing," Alexander blurted out in a crazed fashion like Eddie Vedder back in the "Jeremy" days.
There were many more moments of unexpected catharsis within Civilian's performance. We think this new outing gives Alexander's messages more room to breathe and creates an environment where they can have much more impact. In the end, we have to agree with Alexander: He has certainly reached a high point in his career with Civilian.
Personal bias: In today's age of glitz and beats, it's nice to hear music with a message.
Overheard in the crowd: "This red-headed guy is pretty talented."
The crowd: Tattooed Propaganda regulars, craft beer aficionados, and church-going rockers.