Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Creating catchy pop no battle for Wars of 1812

All right, so the world
isn’t exactly craving more Midwestern pop-rock, but The Wars of 1812’s Status
Quo Ante Bellum is a welcome addition to
the crowded field.

The title loosely
translates to “as it was before the war,” perhaps a tribute to the
birth of these nine tracks, which were recorded in 2006 by a group of friends
living and working in De Pere, Wis. A year later, they finally packed up and
headed to Minneapolis to become full-time, door-to-door music salespeople.

Recorded in a basement
studio, Status Quo Ante Bellum is an
honest assortment of tracks that captures the wistful dreams of artists honing
their craft north of fly-over country. These four musicians have crafted an
effortlessly melodic rock album anchored in Peter Rosewall’s keyboards, which
warmly fill the sonic space that similarly inclined indie bands usually
neglect. Each tone is carefully placed among the purposefully sparse instrumentation.


Sticking with their 19th
century theme, the jewel case of Status Quo Ante Bellum features an inside cover with a flag emblazed with
the words “Don’t give up the ship,” while the front and back covers depict
era-appropriate sketches of battleships firing a full bore. Everyone loves a
concept album, but most people won’t be able to figure out whether this is one,
or what the heck it might be about. But I think I’ve got it: The war (leaving
De Pere) might not have been worth fighting, and we even lost our home in the
process (the White House), but we did get a pretty kick-ass song out of it.

The album’s strength,
though, is the loving attention to detail of its production, with nearly every
element of sound purposefully understated. Still, the filters used on singer
and guitarist Peter Pisano’s voice hint at the masking of thin and crackly
singing. It takes until the third track, “Nothing to Do,” for the
listener to suspect he has more to offer and until the memorable fifth song,
“New York City,” for those suspicions to be confirmed. In fact, the
failure to consistently showcase Pisano’s smoky, earnest voice is Status Quo
Ante Bellum’s greatest flaw.

With the exception of coffee
shop-caliber track “Forget You Madly,” The Wars of 1812 rise above
typical pop-rock fare with smart, simple songwriting. If anything, Status
Quo Ante Bellum proves it?s impossible to
understate the importance of a good melody. They’ve constructed the kinds of
tracks you hum all day under your breath.

The opening song,
“Homestay,” begins swimming laps in your head from the first
infectious verse: “I was walking home alone/ I called your name but I did
not get your voice.” Later on, when the song reaches its chorus, Pisano
deftly flashes the honest poetic melodies and rhymes that make folk-pop rock
worthwhile, singing “Commit sins/ Speak in tongues/ And raise a toast to
all that?s wrong with the beauty of… the beauty of our love/ We are filthy/ On
the sidestreet/ And on the shortcut/ That?s sure to take you home.?

The Wars of 1812 face a
problem most any upstart band can identify with ? the recorded instrumentation
often lacks depth, making what should be disparate elements of music seem so
similar that the tracks sound flat. More definition for the drums ? and
especially for Mei-Ling Anderson’s perfectly appropriate bass ? would make this
album much more palatable to popular tastes and easier to listen to. Tracks
like “Driftin'” tout catchy melodies, but the experience just doesn’t
seem real; listeners are constantly reminded they?re listening to a recording
with this album. Sometimes the lead guitar is too far off in the background,
the vocals are excessively filtered, and the drums always seem that way.

But it?s hard to imagine
anyone who buys an album from Afternoon Records by an unknown band called The
Wars of 1812 wouldn’t forgive these follies, especially on a nine-track debut.
But if they tidy up the little things, there’s no reason to think The Wars of
1812 can’t become a sensation on the Midwest circuit. Minneapolis ? and
Wisconsin, for that matter ? should eagerly await their next effort.


3 1/2 stars out of 5

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