Music, Review

Review! Western Settings – “Old Pain”

Just about one year after their initial release titled Yes It Is, local San Diego band Western Settings is back with their follow up effort Old Pain.  With only 6 songs (well, actually 5 songs, but I’ll explain later), one might be disappointed that the band didn’t strive to track a full-length album in favor of another short EP.  Fortunately for you, every song on Old Pain is really good.  So in that regard, it feels like a full length.  It just doesn’t have the three or four forgettable filler tracks that you have to hit the “skip” button on.

Old Pain opens up with a song called Wonderful Multiple Episodes that sets the perfect tone for the entire release.  It’s a mid-tempo number that sits in a pocket where Western Settings seems to be the most comfortable as a band…their wheelhouse if you will.  After a short intro with some down beat crashes, the first verse is underway as vocalist Ricky Schmidt begins slinging syllables that are almost equal in number with the hi-hat taps and rhythmically remind me of the song Melatonin by Smoke or Fire.  I make this comparison only loosely though because Ricky’s voice is much deeper and more powerful as the band slides into an open and howling chorus that fans will no doubt be shouting along to at live shows.

After kicking things off with a definite winner, the second song titled The Phenomenon begins with a virtually identical BPM.  However, the feel is starkly different, particularly in the opening verse.  It reminds me of the The Dropkick Murphy’s doing some of that Celtic influenced Boston/street awesomeness.  The influence I’m referring to is mostly evident in the vocal stylings where, once again, Ricky rolls out some rather tricky and fun-to-listen-to phrasings.  When the main groove drops at 34 seconds, Will Castro and Dylan Wolters glide the guitars into a progression with one holding down the chords while the other plucks a simple 8th note lead melody that I can’t help but love!  It sounds like it could be on a soundtrack to a documentary film covering the first time an airplane successfully left the ground and only a handful of witnesses celebrated the proof that the human race could fly.  Shortly thereafter, Adam Kissell mixes things up nicely with a tom-tom based grove until everything drops out except for the vocals and the whole gang comes smashing back in to fly into the sunset.

With two great songs back to back, I already knew that Old Pain was a solid release.  After all, with only 6 songs total (actually 5…and hold on!  I said I’ll explain in a minute) their already approaching the 50% dope mark.

On track 3, Western Settings takes the opportunity to slow things down with a song called Champion Schizo and it immediately reminded me of some of Jawbreaker’s work.  For just over a minute and a half, the band shows some really nice restraint as they stay committed to the laid back groove and emphasize the message “save your enemies”.  At 1:40 they initiate a tactful build up that leads into a wide open crescendo that allows the guys to just rock out for a bit after exercising the aforementioned restraint.  It’s one heck of a smooth ride and yet another solid track!

Okay, now we can talk about why i called this a 5 song release when it actually has 6 tracks.  Track 4 titled Swells is not really a song at all.  Rather, it is what some might call an instrumental intermission, but I wouldn’t dismiss it as being that superficial.  You could call it a filler track, but in 19 spins of this e.p. (according to my iTunes play count) I have yet to hit “skip” on it.
There are no drums or vocals.  It’s an ambient minute of pensive relaxation.  It’s a moment to just chill out and think…about whatever….and it serves nicely to give the overall release a sense of flow and variety.  Rather than jar you with a banger after having just slowed things down a bit on the previous song, Swells continues in the same direction and takes things down another several notches before the band comes back out to tell a little story on the title track.

The song Old Pain brings the full band back into play and is also my personal favorite on the release. The lyrical content on this song is outstanding as it elegantly delves into the emotions involved with reminiscing about the past, regret, and the undeniable truth that we all make countless mistakes and are furthermore destined to continue to do so.  It doesn’t present the idea with any sort of inherent lean toward negativity or positivity.  Instead, to use a somewhat nebulous expression, I would describe the demeanor as “it is what it is”.   With this track, and this far into the release, the overall sense of maturity and growth from Western Settings is 100% confirmed.

On the final track, the tempo is brought back up on a song called Duncan.  It’s a feel-good-rocker that serves as a perfect return to how the EP began.  Having already cited similar bands such as Smoke or Fire, Dropkick Murphys, and Jawbreaker, this last song made me think of another band I love called Blueline Medic.  It should also be understood that I, in part, make these comparisons to other bands to help readers know what they might be getting into when checking out a new band.  At the same time, please know that I also mean the comparisons to be high compliments to WS.  Readers:  Be sure to check out the video for Duncan at the following link:  Western Settings – “Duncan”

To be certain, Old Pain is a fantastic release!  Western Settings has stepped up their game on virtually every level including lyrical content, arrangements, and production.  I encourage you to check these guys out if you aren’t familiar with them.  Get after it!  Below are some additional links where you can download the release in digital format and on vinyl.

Digital go here: laescalerarecords.bandcamp.com
Vinyl go here: creator-destructor.com

4 out of 5 SDP Skulls

Artist:  Western Settings
Album:  Old Pain
Release Date:  April 2016
Label: La Escalera Records / Creator Destructor Records

Reviewed by Todd Dulawan

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