Graveyard Island: Acoustic Sessions 12” EP
(Epitaph/Pirates Press Records)
As someone wise once said, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans,” and no punk band is making the best of a bad situation more than Grade 2 has, lately. The band had to put the promotional efforts behind their Epitaph debut album, 2019’s Graveyard Island, on hold when the CoVid-19 pandemic caused all touring routes to shut down indefinitely a couple of years ago but, rather than just laying fallow, the Isle of Wight-based band made the best of a bad situation and kept working from home. With acoustic guitars in hand, Grade 2 kept refining their craft and honing their songs as the proverbial tapes rolled, to great effect. Six of the acoustic demos which came out of the band’s downtime are the songs which comprise the Graveyard Island: Acoustic Sessions 12” EP, and they each help to add another dimension to the band’s sound.
Unlike the harder and more caustic cuts which made up Graveyard Island, the six acoustic cuts which comprise Acoustic Sessions feature a greater emphasis on vocal melody, with a whole lot less production value implanted to fill out the mix. As soon as “Only Ones I Trust” sets the A-side spinning, listeners will be able to note a finer and folkier approach to Jack Chatfield’s guitars and a much drier tone to singer/bassist Sid Ryan’s instrument which easily catches ears early, while Ryan’s vocals sound like they could have been done by Cam Clarke [a.k.a. Leonardo from the 90s incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon –ed], removed as they are from all the overdubs.
That stripped down, almost campfire-esque approach to “Only Ones I Trust” immediately feels refreshing, and is upheld into “Tired Of It.” There, the band’s formula doesn’t change but the band finds a way to reinvigorate the design used on “Only Ones I Trust” by keeping the acoustic guitars and busy bass in place, trimming down the vocals and installing a very small and mild keyboard into the mix for color, and then re-thinking the whole idea again for “Don’t Look Back” to close the side. With all that in mind, critics intent on finding fault with the record could justify their complaint that the side feels scattered or diffuse – but those who recognize that these three tracks are just demos – ideas captured to establish a foundation upon which the songs can be developed further at a later date – will be right on board, anxious and excited to see what the B-side holds as well as beginning to try and connect this work with that which appeared on Graveyard Island.
While the B-side of Acoustic Sessions does not deviate greatly from the form established on the A-, the slight differences which mark the side cannot be ignored. “Bowling Green Lane” opens the side with some great, unapologetic Brit-pop angling; think “Park Life” era Blur, and you’re on the right track. There (again – with no drums, but it takes a minute to note the absence of percussion), Ryan strikes the instantly recognizable pose which made Damon Albarn famous and really turns up the punk snottiness level in his voice (check out lines like, “I’ve got my headphones in and/ I can see what’s going on/ I won’t take them ’cause I can do/ without the fuss/ Why does this happen every time/ That I travel/ Every time I’m on the last bus”) to create the best and most brilliantly appointed slab of British guitar pop created since 1997. That energy proves to hold over into the raucous bass line that powers “Murder Town” (the second song on the side) as well as the “We gotta get outta here” plaint which informs the lyric sheet and bleeds a little further still into the boogie woogie of “Look Up” – which closes the side.
Arguably the greatest surprise on an already thoroughly surprising EP, the power of the piano performance in “Look Up” is just unbelievable. From note one, listeners will recognize the speedy, revved up power in the song as being of the sort which appeared in Jerry Lee Lewis’ best work (and in Green Day’s recent work too), and the “clouds are clearing, good days are on their way” sentiments in the lyric sheet make the song sound positively infectious. The song is only just less than three minutes long, but it casts such a fantastic spell over those who hear it that those who have run front-to-back with the EP will need to hear it all again immediately – and they’ll be looking for more after that too.
It’s just incredible how deep into the sound listeners will find they are, even after first listen. Granted, this EP is so good that listeners won’t question their own infatuation, but they’ll be able to recognize it for what it is: pure love. After they’ve heard the Graveyard Island: Acoustic Sessions EP, listeners won’t question their desire to track down every other micro-tone of music that’s available from Grade 2; their hunger for it will be insatiable. For many listeners, Graveyard Island: Acoustic Sessions will be the thing which causes them to track down all the music they can find by Grade 2 – and, in their hearts, it will be well worth the search. [Bill Adams]
The Graveyard Island: Acoustic Sessions 12” EP will be released on December 10, 2021. Buy it here, directly from Pirates Press Records.