Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Review: Riverboat Gamblers - Underneath the Owl (* * * 1/2)

Texas punk-rockers Riverboat Gamblers are set to release their fourth album, Underneath the Owl, on March 10 on Volcom Entertainment. The band have made a name for themselves by creating rough, raw punk music that hearkens back to the glory days of the genre and for playing explosive live shows. The new record doesn't exactly broaden their musical or lyrical horizons, but the fiery guitar riffs, anthematic choruses, and frenetic energy make for an exciting blast of straightforward, no-nonsense rock 'n' roll.

Opening track, "DissDissDissKissKissKiss" may have the name of a Fall Out Boy-style emo tune, but when the guitars erupt behind singer Mike Wiebe's earnest, shouted vocals, you'll breath a sigh of relief. Throughout the record, the band keep things fast and loose, especially on cuts like the 'disastrous relationship' rocker "Catastrophe," the 'I'm falling apart' anthem "Keep Me From Drinkin'," and the pop-punk closer "Victory Lap." The subject matter isn't exactly original (failed romance, drinking, etc.), but the writing is fresh enough to be enjoyable and fun. The band do occasionally branch out a bit musically on the reggae-esque ska rhythm of "Pilgrims In An Unholy Land," some xylophone on the catchy verses of "Robots May Break Your Heart," and a little twang with the slide guitar on "The Tearjerker." The subtle variations keeps the album interesting past the first or second listen and actually provide for some exceptional moments on 'Owl.'

It's fair to say that Riverboat Gamblers sound much like a slightly updated version of many bands before them (most of which I probably couldn't name), but they've got plenty of talent and a tremendous sense of melody which makes Underneath the Owl a better record than the majority of their pop-punk peers could hope to make.