It may have taken a few releases for the band to get the bugs worked out of their sound (they’ve already got one full-length album, one comp which collected a bunch of previously released tracks and a bunch of singles and EPs on top of that too), but Great Apes have truly found their magic on California Heart – their sophomore Asian Man-released album. That is not to say California Heart arrives free of stray sparks of chaos and devoid of raw nervous energy, it simply means the band has tempered and honed their sound to a fine edge; there are no wasted movements anywhere through these ten songs, just a solid set which swings for the fences every time and never misses.
As soon as California Heart’s title track unloads to open the album, listeners will be be made perfectly aware of who this band is musically now in 2016 – where they’re at and where they’re headed. Right off, drummer Matthew Kadi sets the tone for what will follow by battering out a solid, warhorse, punk beat reminiscent of Gaslight Anthem, while guitarist Chris Chapel and bassist Ryan Marshall charge out of the gates and easily keep pace with him. For some sets of ears, such an introduction is instantly gratifying, but those holding out will be won as soon as Brian Moss steps to the mic. At first the singer’s delivery is all bluster and scruff, and his voice pokes listeners in forcefully – as a school bully would poke the littlest kid in class at recess – but as lines like “The teachers and shrinks, they judge with scolding eyes – why can’t I get it right?” ring through and sink in, THAT’s when listeners will realize Moss isn’t the antagonist, he’s the survivor in this story. As soon as that realization hits them, listeners will happily be ready to absorb anything and everything California Heart has in store for them.
And, after they’re ready, listeners will discover that the brevity of the album (ten tracks, twenty-nine minutes) does not mean that the serving feels lean. Particular standout songs like “Saint Brasher,” “Bullard Hex,” “Prom Com” and “Shut in with the Burden” ambitiously touch upon different quadrants of the punk diaspora (“Saint Brasher” is vintage hardcore, “Bullard Hex” runs more in the vein of Hot Water Music, “Prom Com” might be the best song of its type that the Circle Jerks never wrote and “Shut in with the Burden” makes its way back toward the Gaslight Anthem with some Constantines inflections mixed in for good measure) but always manage to retain their own personality too. In that regard, the cool thing is that each of the songs on California Heart retain the core styling while the added colors mixed in (hardcore, melodic rock-punk et c.) only orbit as satellite elements. Because of that, California Heart is able to remain tight but diverse, and never loses one iota of its energy.
After “The Escapist” skids out to close the album, listeners will find themselves trying to catch their breath and absorb what they’ve just observed. There’s no question that California Heart ran them hard and fast but, while each song took a different angle to the band’s muse, listeners won’t be able to deny that the album also nailed it ten different ways. In the end, listeners will be left completely won over; California Heart is Great Apes’ sophomore album and the unequivocal statement that they have arrived.
Label: Asian Man Records