Ramshackle Glory - Who Are Your Friends Gonna Be? (2012)
“We think it’s important to mention that this album includes stories about peoples’ experiences, including suicide, racism, sexual assault, addiction, and violence.”
Thus begins Who Are Your Friends Gonna Be?, the sophomore LP from Ramshackle Glory, the new band fronted by Brattleboro, VT’s favorite anarcho-punk Pat the Bunny. If it’s unclear what this actually means, I’ll write plainly: It’s a trigger warning. That’s right — we have officially reached the point as a society where a folk punk album actually features a trigger warning at the beginning. Frankly, I’m surprised that it took so long.
Even though, to my knowledge, opening a record with such a statement hasn’t been done before, this is just about the biggest cliché that a folk punk act could pull at this point. In a genre so thoroughly plagued by clichés, it’s almost impressive that this band managed to incorporate an entirely new one into their record. Unfortunately, the novelty wears off very quickly. Pat the Bunny’s past work has explored similar themes of social and (anti-)political activism, but thanks largely to that intro, the entirety of Who Are Your Friends Gonna Be? scans like one long, bloated post on some kid’s social justice tumblr blog. It doesn’t help that “Introduction” — the opening track that features the warning — is a formless, mostly instrumental dirge that goes nowhere musically and tops 4 and a half minutes in length. On a record that just barely scrapes the 30 minute mark as a whole, that’s an agonizingly long time to spend making insubstantial noise.
That said, if you manage to make it through the “Introduction,” there are actual songs that comprise the rest of the album’s tracklist, some of which are quite good. Unfortunately, any hopes that the rest of the record will sound better than the intro track are crushed pretty quickly. This album’s production is astonishingly bad, and that’s saying a lot, considering that much of Pat’s work with his former projects Johnny Hobo & the Freight Trains and Wingnut Dishwashers Union was exceptionally lo-fi. Who Are Your Friends Gonna Be? sounds like it was recorded in a trashcan. Reverb on Pat’s vocals covers everything up in the mix, making the wide range of instruments present utterly indistinguishable. The guitar clips constantly and the drums sound tinny and hollow. This is especially disappointing considering that Live The Dream, the excellent debut record that Ramshackle Glory released last year, featured the clearest and most polished sound of any Pat The Bunny record to date. Live The Dream’s production was certainly not hi-fi, but its crisp, condenser microphone sound was a perfect conveyer for Pat’s remarkably honest songwriting. On Who Are Your Friends Gonna Be? that honesty might still be there somewhere in the lyrics, but I can barely decipher them due to the production quality. On Ramshackle’s last album, Pat sounded like he was baring himself. Here, he sounds like he’s in hiding.
A confidence deficiency might be this album’s central problem. Not only are Pat’s vocals and lyrics obscured by the production, but he actually doesn’t seem willing or able to speak entirely for himself on this record. Most of the tracks on here are bookended by the “stories” that Pat mentions in the intro — lengthy, spoken accounts of various injustices and traumatic personal experiences. For the most part, these aren’t Pat’s experiences. He lets other people tell their own stories instead, which would be fine, as long as the stories told were interesting or added in any way to the album as a whole. Pat the Bunny is a great storyteller and a great songwriter, and when he sings about traumatic themes, such as his former heroin abuse and his alcoholism, it’s convincing, personal, and moving. But when other, less talented people spend upwards of 2 minutes at a time simply talking about their problems while the band drones on aimlessly in the background, it gets really boring, really quickly.
I know I’ve spent much of this review criticizing this album, but it’s mostly because I expected more from Pat The Bunny and from Ramshackle Glory as a band. Pat is an undeniably talented songwriter and a charismatic frontman, and if you can get through all of this album’s detrimental trappings, there really are some good songs to be found. With its hilarious opening line about racist US senators, “Last Days” is a typically enjoyable Pat the Bunny anthem that provides some refreshing energy after the boring “Introduction.” The accordion-stomping minor key title track is also great, and finds Pat exploring some really interesting melodic territory. Finally, the closing track “Last Song” forms a nice complement to Live The Dream’s “First Song,” and establishes some continuity between the two records.
Trim the fat from this album, re-record it in a studio, cut out all the unnecessary sampling and instrumental tracks, and you have a really solid EP’s worth of material. In its current state, though, Who Are Your Friends Gonna Be? is extremely difficult to enjoy.
Who Are Your Friends Gonna Be? is out today. Head over to Ramshackle Glory’s website to pick it up.