It is my understanding that Squarecrow has origins in Ramona, a small unincorporated community of San Diego, California. Without getting into any further detail about a town that only brings to mind The Mainstage and a café that serves one of the best cinnamon rolls I’ve ever tasted, Squarecrow is a local band. On their latest release titled Rammi Jamms, the band isn’t serving any breakfast pastries though. Rather, they are serving 8 tracks of distorted punk rock that if I had to describe it in one word, “guttural” comes to mind.
From start to finish, the album features standard three-piece arrangements with 90’s alt/punk roots and a harsh production that harkens back to labels such as Sub Pop and Merge Records. From the guitars and bass, and particularly the vocals, to the post production mastering, virtually every element of this record contains a slightly higher degree of distortion as compared to a typical release… and much of this is seemingly intentional. Kevin White’s bass tone has that extra edge allowing it to cut through nicely in the mix while Daniel Riveroll beats on the kit and rides the crash cymbals for an extra helping of BASH. Singer Todd Allen pushes really hard with his delivery. At times too hard, to the extent that the gruffness comes across forced and pitch suffers greatly. If I had to guess, I highly doubt that he cares either. There is no auto-tune. There is no smooth compression. There is no artificial back up harmonies created by copying the leads and raising the note on the copy. No way! This is a reasonably raw punk rock record!
The opening song Sarasoto is a nice way to start things off. The mid-tempo groove, the melody, and the sing-along chorus (“we can only run so far!”) brought back very fond memories of another San Diego band I supported regularly when they were a thing…Furious IV. The following song First Flight is much the same with some added flare as the band toggles back n forth between an open bashing and train beats on the snare. By the time I reached the third song, I knew I had arrived safe and sound back to the 90’s as my initial impressions were solidified. On the song Right On, the tempo slows a bit and the guitar progression sounds like it was pulled directly from an old Nirvana album. For a second, I thought I was listening to Kevin Second’s side project 5’ 10”, which came out in 1994 on Cargo Records. Upon hearing the vocals, I couldn’t help but think of the Sweater Song by Weezer. Squarecrow’s tempo is not as slow, but the vocal rhythms are eerily similar. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they were subconsciously lifted!
Weezer: “I am….I can.…sing and hear me…”
Squarecrow: “uh huh…..right on….big fvkn deal”
…but I digress.
On the song 20/20, Squarecrow brings the tempo back up (and then some) for the most unhinged song on the release. Allen pours every ounce of effort into trashing his vocal chords. Don’t misunderstand! It’s not screamy. It’s angry and strenuous to go along with the darker minor key progression. Barring some of the over sustained vocal moments and lack of syllables in places, this was a standout track with a mood that I appreciate more often than not.
At this stage of listening, I figured there wouldn’t be too many more surprises with the remaining tracks, but I was wrong and this review would be incomplete without at least mentioning Big Mouth. With all of the 90’s influences evident on Rammi Jamms, one would think that if Squarecrow was going to do a cover song, it would be from that era. Instead they dug back into the 80’s catalogue of The Smiths. Bigmouth Strikes Again is a solid cover song choice that Squarecrow takes plenty of liberties with on the arrangement. For the most part, it adheres to the basic original melody. However, toss in some ska influenced bridges after the verses, the classic fast punk rock doubletime beat for the chorus, and all of the band’s raspy elements, you are left with a tune that could easily be passed off as an original to a younger generation or anyone unfamiliar with the original artist. Nicely done guys!!!
For the sake of finalizing this review on an overall summary note, Rammi Jamms is in yer face, always distorted, always to be played loud, and above all… worth checking out!
3 out of 5 SDP Skulls
Reviewed by Todd Dulawan