To Victory 12” EP
(Pirates Press Records)
After a career spent tirelessly writing, recording and performing music with a celebrated list of bands on an incredible number of releases (to date, that list includes no fewer than forty-five releases recorded with bands including Rancid, Stomper 98, Old Firm Casuals, The transplants, The Bastards and Oxley’s Midnight Runners), it seems genuinely surprising that, only thirty-eight years after he started, Lars Frederiksen has added a solo EP to his body of work. With that fact in mind too, it’s surprising that that this solo EP sounds as unique as it does (it’s usually pretty easy to note the guitarist’s fingerprints on a song); here – over the span of six songs – Frederiksen covers a bit of old territory as well as some new ground, but manages to keep it sounding precisely as his fans have come to expect.
As familiar with Frederiksen’s output as his fans may think they are, they’ll still find themselves put clean on their collective keisters when the needle drops and “God and Guns” opens the A-side of To Victory. There, a positively enormous-sounding acoustic guitar effortlessly meets and matches the tenor and tone of Frederiksen’s vocal. The guitarist’s stock “streetwise professor” caprice pushes forth with a sound which is simultaneously romantic, hard and heartfelt, and lines like, “Well mothers tell your daughters/ And fathers tell your sons/Well the whole world is a ending/And the sun won’t rise no more
There’s no hope now, only danger/And peace can’t find a home/And now death won’t be a stranger/
When its kicking down your door” can win fans of Rancid effortlessly, just as Tim Armstrong did with songs like “Inner City Violence” and similar lyrical fare . In print, it would be easy to scoff and call the ideas that Frederiksen presents first as too easy or even formulaic – but the acoustic presentation will work and win listeners in less than the two minutes and forty-five seconds required to play through the whole song; it’s simple, it’s direct and it’ll have listeners hanging on every word for dear life.
“Army of Zombies” earnestly follows the pattern set by “God and Guns,” but deepens the form with some fine electric guitars and a lean arrangement. Sure – the lyrics aren’t quite as good as those in the opening cut (“It’s the end of Camelot/ And if you’re ready or not/ You can smell the rot/ In all your zombies” is awfully simple) but the song still proves to be effective, and the song’s brevity leaves listeners anxious for more and tees up “Tomorrow’s Girl” (which features an even larger guitar tone, complete with palm-muted power chords) very, very effectively, and lets that song close out the side close on an excellent note that will have listeners ready for more before the needle even lifts. Throughout this A-side, the complete lack of drums leaves the songs feeling like some of the best-developed demos ever committed to vinyl in recent memory – and by the time a record player’s stylus does lift, listeners will find themselves elated at the prospect of flipping the record over and renewing the play.
…And when the B-side begins with a stripped down but somehow dramatic performance of the title track from Motherland, listeners may find themselves gasping in amazement as very spare drums (cymbal washes as well as some well-placed and deeply in-toned toms) appear in the mix, even if they don’t exactly propel the song along. Rather, the sole purpose of any percussion in this demo feels like a placeholder intended to remind the auteur how he wants the song to feel when he comes back to it later; a sensation further enhanced by the appearance of a couple of other acoustic instruments (while keyboards only appear for color as well). Conversely, when a fuller mix drives Frederiksen’s cover of KISS’s “Comin’ Home,” the intent seems to be to re-enact (but tastefully so) the performance that Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer gave at KISS’s Unplugged performance in 1995. This performance is absolutely fantastic and will leave listeners quietly feeling like there may be even higher peaks to which they can ascend in this running, and when the overdriven guitar and keys build a head of steam at the opening of “Skunx” (which closes the side), listeners’ pupils may begin dilating in anticipation of one final orgiastic explosion to close the side. One more song doesn’t come, of course, so those who have already run front-to-back with this EP will have to shake off the spectacular sensation with which this EP has left them, and resign themselves to either playing through this EP again or waiting intently for more music to come. In effect, To Victory does exactly what it was intended to do: whet listeners’ appetite for music from Lars Frederiksen and get them acclimated to music which doesn’t necessarily feature a group. Such an idea may seem risky, but it works brilliantly here. [Bill Adams]
The To Victory 12” EP is out now. Buy it here directly from Pirates Press Records.