In August, I saw Die Trying open up for Alien Ant Farm at The Metro in Chicago. After a kickin’ 20 minute set, I was able to label this Sacramento, California band as an excellent opening act. It got the crowd jumping and belting along with lyrics that most were hearing for the first time. And, after leaving the stage, it was blown away by the main act.
Alien Ant Farm’s superior stage presence, chiseled musicianship and a kick-ass cover of Sade’s “Smooth Operator” rightly stole the show; it was theirs to begin with anyway.
After hearing Die Trying’s self-titled debut, my feelings have only been confirmed. These guys make for a great opening band, but their limited lyrical range and standard hard-rock instrumentals fail upon further inspection. However, a few more years of touring and studio work might find this young band on top of the rock game.
Their first single and MTV2-endorsed video is for the dynamically driven “Oxygen’s Gone.” Singer and ex-tattoo artist (you can tell) Jassen Jensen slurs an ode to a painful lost love. His punk-metal garble of a voice claims that he has been “choking from knowing the love you’ve given me.” But the words get clunky and the track lacks any distinguishing factors that could have saved it from sinking into the highly populated mush of other punk-metal crossover acts.
The next track, “Turn Up The Radio,” sums up the joy that is inherent in the absorption of music. “Turn the world off / Turn yourself on / Turn up your radio / Turn up the radio,” instructs Jensen. This youthful truism comes across as Die Trying’s most successful attempt at harnessing its punk-metal attitudes and influences.
On the appropriately titled “Fuck You,” the band’s punk aesthetics and teenage rebellion comes across as violent and irrational in all the ways that make punk music exciting. These are the songs that get the crowd pumping fists and moshing itself away to oblivion.
Unfortunately, producer Neil Avron (Everclear, New Found Glory) muddles Die Trying’s punk possibilities by over-producing its instrumentals, as if it were a straight metal band. But Jensen’s vocal chords can’t handle the intricacies of even a moderate metal outfit, and Matt Conley’s drums and Steve Avery’s bass lines can’t quite handle the genre’s monster riffing.
“Dirty Dirty” finds the band lifting elements from the Waitresses’ ’80s new-wave one-hit wonder, “I Know What Boys Like.” It’s a far cry from inspired lyrical mastery when Jensen sings, “I know what girls like / I know what girls want / I got it inside / Dirty dirty.” Compared to the sex-steaming lyrics of Beck or The Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Dirty Dirty” seems more childish than rebellious.
A guest appearance from Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix on “Conquer the World” can’t save the album from starting to sound overly monotonous. The self-pitying “Never Good Enough” and ersatz sentiments of the lamely titled closer “So Long” cement the album’s relentless repetition.
So, as of now, Die Trying succeeds only in getting the party started, but fails to keep the kegs of musical expression flowing after any more than 20 minutes.