Bars Of Gold – [12” LP]

Friday, 27 August 2010

Remember when punk rock was a lawless, 'anything-goes' province that was more about personal expression than it was about stringing together just the right set of power chords? It's okay if you don't – it was a long time ago – but that torch still burns and Bars Of Gold have picked it up and presented it to a whole new audience with “Of Gold.”

On the band's new album, Bars Of Gold go truly old school in their approach and never touch a distortion stomp box even once through the duration of these eight songs, but still manage to send adrenaline levels skyward the old fashioned way: by utilizing the natural urgency in-grained into Mark Paffi's voice and using multi-layered structures in their compositions to create a feeling of tension.

Now, so many years after the dawn of punk and with so many staple structures erected and regarded as essential to the genre, the notion of thinking outside the box doesn't sound like it should work anymore. Too many bands do things exactly the same way in punk and cling desperately to that orthodoxy but on this blaze orange plate of vinyl stands the proof that the music can ignore the guideline and still be great.

The first side of the LP rushes on hard and fast with all the anthemia of Mission Of Burma, The Constantines, Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire compressed and rolled into one as the band sets its' precedents with “Boss Level.” Even though it's not particularly ravaging or visceral, listeners will feel their pulses start to race as the spiralling and desperate sounding crash of Brandon Moss' drums are divided from Paffi's vocals as well as the guitars supplied by Scotty Iulianelli and Ben Audette, Nick Jones' bass by a monumental wedge of synthesizers. The synths function as something of a sonic splinter that all of the organic instruments in “Boss Level” attack and repel from. Each of those instruments and Paffi's battlefield bark seem to want to destroy the foreign matter, and that internal aggression is what will hook the interest of listeners; it's very, very attractive. That tension does not end with the first song either; while the synths do not take up as much of the foreground in “Heaven Has A Heater” or “Birds,” the infectious stomp of “Boss Level” endures through those tracks, and eventually creates enough friction to make each song seem as if it might explode into flame at any moment but the real money shot comes on “The Hustle,” at the end of side one.

In “The Hustle,” Bars Of Gold's obviously rockist instrumentation suddenly parts and waits in the wings to let a monolithic banjo call the shots. Listeners will do a double-take as that banjo takes command of the song and single-handedly blows every mind which which it comes into contact. Prior to this point, the instrument has never expressed strength of this magnitude (not even in the hands of virtuoso Bela Fleck) but, here, it is the variable that pushes the song to a completely different level of classicism. “The Hustle” is like post-punk's answer to “When The Levee Breaks” – it is just that breathtaking.

Sounds incredible doesn't it? Incredibly, “The Hustle” is only the end of side one – there is another.

As side two opens with “……….,” Bars Of Gold seems to know it has reached the top of their incline, but does not shrink. Incredibly, the band keeps the energy level up but the difference here is that, while side one seemed like it had something to prove, side two has a notably satisfied air to it; there is still all the clamor of “The Hustle” present, but everything just rolls confidently on side two. The swagger established on “……….” bleeds into “Doctors And Lawyers” (where, when Paffi claims “I feel alright,” you'll believe him) and “Up Up Up” tows the same fantastic line, listeners will find themselves glued to stereo speakers to lap up every note like ambrosia. When they finally do break stride with “Cannibals” to close the record, listeners will seem to collapse with the band; they've kept up with Bars Of Gold every step of the way through “Of Gold”, so indulging in the diminished tempos feels like a dramatic and welcome reflex.

Without meaning to overstate the self-evident, “Of Gold” is an incredible release but it's made that much better when one realizes that this album is the band's first and they only came together a year ago. It took less than a year of work to come up with a debut album that trumps the quality of some bands' third or fourth albums? What a great way to start – listeners can hope they won't have to wait for a second helping.



Bars Of Gold – “The Hustle” – “Of Gold”
Bootleg of the first Bars of Gold Show in 2009


“Of Gold”
is out now, but only available in a limited pressing or as mp3s. Buy it here directly from Friction Records .

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