Red Scare Industries
How does the saying go? Give the drummer some? Save for Travis Barker, few drummers ever reach the stardom of their fellow bandmates. Perhaps its because their voice seldom gets heard on stage, or that they’re relegated to the back of the set, sitting behind a drum kit with a frenzy of bodies rocking out in front. Regardless, drummers are the unsung heroes and backbone of almost any band, laying down the very foundation of the tunes we love dearly.
Speaking of which, does the name Derek Grant mean anything to you? If you’ve enjoyed anything from Alkaline Trio over the past decade, then you’re indebted to Grant for laying down the drum work for undoubtedly some of your favourite tunes. But in a band featuring the dual vocal stylings of Matt Skiba and Dan Andriano – both of whom have since produced illustrious solo careers – it’s easy to fall into the backdrop.
Determined to express his creativity, Grant is in the midst of discovering his voice as a solo artist. It’s an eclectic one to be sure, filled with all sorts of peculiar influences spanning his hefty resume and beyond (way beyond). For a guy known for his work in what can essentially be boiled down to a goth-punk band, Grant showcases a seriously diverse appreciation for all types of music – past, present and far from punk. His proper solo debut (excluding his curious and best forgotten side project, Derek Grant & The Reaper), Breakdown, offers up a pretty deep insight into the vast instrumental talents behind a man mostly known for his percussive achievements.
Let’s get one thing out of the way early on though, Breakdown is far from perfect – riddled with the flaws you might expect from a relatively self-indulgent first time solo effort – but Grant still manages to put forth a uniquely listenable and wholly appreciable journey. Pointing to what quickly becomes the elephant in the room, the most significant shortcoming here has to be the odd production filter. Perhaps the tinny, shallow quality muffling most of the album is the result of Derek serving as the sole recording player for the disc (Derek played every instrument). A certain retro 80’s echo filters most of the EP’s sound (most offensive on opener “Holiday Breakdown”), but ends up feeling very shallow and like an unfinished demo when placed against other MP3s. The effect smothers/muffles the disc by making the majority of the eight songs feel as if they were recorded in an empty fishbowl – an odd but surprisingly accurate description. But those that can get over such oddities stand to move through the disc with a solid appreciation for what Derek has in store.
Breakdowns’ best tunes overcome their shortcomings by what can only be described as sheer willpower. The first real standout moments surfaces three songs in with the rather expensive alternative statement, “Got A Feeling.” Guitar chords grow and retract gracefully amidst a sea of delicate and complimentary piano keys. Here Grant’s voice floats breezily like a less commercial Josh Ritter or David Gray. The disc’s lead single, “Love Is A Bad Dream,” emerges soon thereafter, becoming Grant’s undisputed high point and an absolute joy to sway along to. The song effortlessly drifts on by like some sort of wispy memory. All sorts of oldies make their mark, but the cautious folk-rock shadow of Fleetwood Mac rises to the surface. Crisp guitar and crystal clear percussion lead the charge, making way for a casual, Santana-like solo sure to soften even the most furrowed of brows. “Good Long Look” follows suit in attempting to recreate the magic but falls short of reproducing that same spark.
However, other tracks aren’t quite so fortunate. Take for instance the faint chorus of “Waiting For The End Of The World” and recurring segments of “Lucy.” Grant struggles to maintain his immediacy when he reaches for the high notes, which lack the confidence of their counterparts. He has a good enough voice, but makes some regrettable decisions by straying outside of his vocal strengths (i.e. beyond mid to lower tones). The country tuned “Turn And Walk Away” suffers from similar vocal irregularities for which Grant comes across something like a Gaslight Anthem cover band struggling to write an original track.
In the end, Breakdown is tough to recommend, but still warrants investigating if only for the eye opening insight into Derek Grant‘s creative process. Odd production and self indulgent compositional choices hold this unique offering back, but even with such limitations it’s worth acknowledging that Grant isn’t afraid to go against the grain. At the very least, Breakthrough leaves listeners curious as to where he will go from here.