Vinyl Vlog 190

Vinyl Vlog 190

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into Stadium Way’s self-titled 7” EP.

While the idea of the members of punk bands starting side projects in order to express ideas which won’t fit the form of their main band is not a new one, few side projects in recent memory are quite as compelling as Stadium Way. Formed by Matt Henson and Kenny Dirkes as a getaway from their duties as bassist/singer and drummer in rough housing punk band Noi!SE, Stadium Way certainly takes a lighter path – but also an unexpectedly powerful one too; with focus placed on songwriting and acoustic structures, what listeners find is something best qualified as the anthropological half-step in a path between Barenaked Ladies (as they were when Steven Page was still in the band) and Hamell on Trial – but even that doesn’t quite do what listeners will hear on the duo’s debut 7” justice.

Ignoring any and all possible overstatement, those who sink a needle into the A-side of the Stadium Way EP will be bowled right over as “Ever Afraid” arrives with two acoustic guitars charging in with no backup whatsoever, but doing so in a manner which can make listeners’ fingertips tingle and their eyesight spontaneously sharpen because it is just so instantly nerve-wracking. Here, the deep, hollow tones which can only really ever come from down-tuned acoustic guitars rumble out hard and darkly, with Henson cresting on top, all full of cathartic vitriol. The song really is an impressive beginning – here, Henson sings sweetly while also having a mouth full of sour grapes at his betrayer (who is never named, but lines like “Ever-reminded of those you betrayed” are fairly straightforward indictments) and, because the song doesn’t feature a lot of furnishing beyond two acoustic guitars, Stadium Way don’t leave themselves anywhere to hide; rather, they stand boldly before listeners to be examined. The song itself is really good and that it is presented so cleanly is absolutely to be respected.

The first impression made by “Ever Afraid” endures through “Lessons Learned,” the second song on the side, but the instrumentation also gets more involved and plays far more like a full band – even if the sound was manufactured in the studio. In this particular case, what Stadium Way has constructed is a reasonably respectable ska tune which could easily be mistaken for a “golden age” Barenaked Ladies song; after the song begins rolling, Henson starts spitting out lyrics like he’s got a motor in his mouth, and the sudden injection of confidence does wonders for both his presence in the song as well as improving the song in general; there’s a great, swaying groove about “Lessons Learned” in much the same way there was about BnL songs like “Brian Wilson,” and even Blues Traveler had in their glory days (otherwise known as the period during which that band was writing songs like “Hook”). In a manner similar to those bands, listeners will be hooked and left doe-eyed by the raw heart expressed by “Lessons Learned,” and will be ready to find other such treasures on the B-side of this EP.

…And songs of a similar bent to “Lessons Learned” are all listeners will find on the flip-side of this 7” – although they play in a manner inverse to the A-side. First is the closer to a rock hit in the form of “Misplaced Rage”; with heavy-handed and urgent precision, Dirkes and Henson expertly build energy and tension with little more than the instrumentation which appeared on the EP’s A-side (acoustic guitars, bass, a smattering of piano, slight drums and a great vocal melody) and really make it memorable with a noxious combination of warmth, sweetness and frustration. Wise enough to know when they’re onto something, the duo keeps that emotional mix flowing out through “Shadows” to finish the endeavor.

In that end, listeners will find themselves stunned and won by the exercise they’ve just worked through; the general idea of the EP wasn’t foreign, but the quality of it proved itself to be of a very rare breed. On their very first try, Stadium Way has managed to mix reflection with a streak of punk which does not flag toward either extreme, it just balances solidly between the two. In that, it’s a pretty great listen – it’ll be really interesting to see if they’ll be able to do the same balance for the length of time it takes to play through a full-length release. [Bill Adams]


Stadium Way’s self-titled EP is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.

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