Audiobender are a three piece band from San Jose, California, consisting of singer/songwriter and guitarist Jared Richard, bassist Paul Cingolani and drummer Jeff Lemas. Their music could be described as hard rock/power pop but essentially it is good ol’ rock ‘n roll with a modern twist. I had the privilege of reviewing their excellent debut album Reverb, and though my review was glowing, my one slight criticism was that they had not yet forged their own unique sonic identity. This second studio offering rectifies that issue with a great deal of panache.
Immediately it becomes apparent that the production has stepped up a notch from their debut, with a blistering drum sound courtesy of Don Budd at Tone Freq studios, who also did a fine job recording the bass. With a little help from their friends, the band themselves produced the album (mixing and mastering courtesy of Jeff Lemas) and they’ve done a first class job.
Most importantly, they’ve maintained one of their key strengths from their first record, which is capturing the energy and intensity level of their live performances (also recommended is their ‘Live at the Whiskey’ album). They have also maintained their other strengths; being a 3-piece allows the music a sonic clarity and a chance to breathe, with Cingolani and Lemas providing a solid rhythmic platform for Jared Richard’s soulful, emotionally raw vocals.
The albums starts with a little musical humour, a few seconds of strummed country style guitar floating out of the speakers before a needle scratch intervenes and the band launch into the incendiary opening song Venus. Musically, it’s the lovechild of AC/DC, Green Day and The Clash, with whirlwind drumming that would have Tré Cool dribbling into his beer. The band strike a great balance between playing tight yet maintaining a raw edge, avoiding the overly slick, overproduced and sterile sound that mars many modern rock records.
Venus is a great showcase for the band’s improved sense of dynamics, ranging from quiet and subtle to Def Con 1 with consummate ease. Lyrically, Venus is a classic ‘femme fatale’ song in time-honoured rock ‘n roll tradition: “Fill your head with lies while they cut you down to size…”. A mid section based on a rolling tom-tom pattern leads to the song’s climax, with some nifty bass runs from Paul Cingolani and a great vocal performance from Jared, singing at the top of his range. A perfect opener.
Second track Show Me A Sign shows their funkier side, with a bouncy, elastic bassline, an insistent groove and Chilli Peppers-style high-end guitar. Jared once again rips it up on the memorable chorus, channelling Robert Plant and rivalling him for vocal range. Though the music is upbeat, it’s a song about emotional struggle and world weariness: “Sometimes I feel caught beneath a tidal wave or a thousand pounds of steel, heading for an early grave….”. A strong track that shows they can do deep and introspective alongside the pure rockers.
Next song Easy maintains the emotional intensity, with a brooding Queens Of The Stone Age vibe on the verse before Jared unleashes a killer chorus, aided by a snaking bassline. Once again, it’s women that are driving him crazy, this one depicting a duplicitous type who hides behind a facade and whose feelings only run surface deep: “It’s easy to pretend, cos you’re easy to believe….”. While a few cuss words rule this one out as a single, it’s another well crafted, memorable track that completes an explosive opening trifecta.
Next comes a distinct change of pace with the self-explanatory Stuck On The Floor of a Hotel Bathroom, musically an upbeat piece of funk rock with an insanely catchy main melody. As the title implies, it’s an ode to nights of hard drinking and the messy situations that ensue: “Last night, everything was possible, the world was in my hands….now I think I need a hospital…”. Great fun, providing a little levity and humour after the emotional heaviness of the previous two tracks.
Stop Talking opens with an ominous sounding, slinky syncopated bassline soon doubled by low-end guitar to create a formidable and deliciously dark groove. After a moody QOTSA-esque verse it builds into a swirling riff that develops into a superb instrumental section where Jeff Lemas gets to shine with some cyclonic fills round the kit. Audiobender are tasteful with their displays of virtuosity; there’s no element of the self indulgence that you associate with the rock of the seventies and eighties (excessive guitar solos, ten minute drum solos etc.). Jared’s vocals on this one brought to mind the late, great Chris Cornell of Soundgarden (R.I.P.).
However, they do continue to flex their musical muscles on next track , the instrumental High and Dry. Based around a rapid fire descending guitar and bass riff, it creates a fierce sense of momentum before some colourful bursts of bluesy harmonica enter the fray, courtesy of special guest Jake Flood. Jared gets to shine with a ripping, wah-drenched guitar solo that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
This leads on to arguably the album’s most instant song, the AC/DC influenced Die Another Day. After a chugging verse that builds the tension nicely, it bursts into a classic chorus that sticks in your head from the first listen and marks it out as a strong potential single. After the second chorus, it enters a languid section of Steely Dan-style harmonized guitar which is unexpected and very well crafted. A full-blooded solo section follows, the whole band playing their heart out, before a final killer blow of the last chorus. This is Audiobender at their best.
I Tried is the album’s ‘slow burner’, showing their excellent command of dynamics. It starts subtly with vocals and sparse guitar, Jared setting the scene of someone who’s given all he’s got to a relationship: “Slow down baby, give me time, I’ve been down to my last dime, I’ve been searching up and down, I’ve been rolling all around…”. The music gradually builds with a pulsing hi-hat groove which develops into an addictive, syncopated beat in the second verse. This creates a brooding tension which eventually breaks out into a section of tribal tom tom patterns, as Jared expresses his anguish at the peak of his range. A real grower.
The last official song, This Is The End, is a poignant depiction of a relationship on the verge of finishing, with emotions running high:“It’s gotten so tense that even words hit me in the chin…”. Featuring one of the most anthemic choruses and gorgeous four-part stacked guitar harmony, it’s pretty much the perfect way to end the album.
But wait….not quite, as there’s a ‘hidden track’ – a light hearted cover of the jazz standard All Of Me, which actually links nicely from the preceding song in terms of theme. There’s some more humour to bookend the album, which I shall leave for the listener to discover.
Overall, Audiobender have truly raised the bar on this album, taking the best elements of 70’s/80’s rock and merging them with the most effective aspects of modern rock to create a distilled, potent fusion. With several classics in the bag, they deserve to spoken of in the same sentence as their luminaries and Pour Me An Encore proves them to be serious contenders for the throne.