Let’s talk about The 1984 Draft, eh? They are new to me, but I’ve been listening to their Makes Good Choices album a fair bit over the last couple of weeks and I’ve decided that I like it a whole lot. According to the press stuffs, the Deyton, Ohio four piece “channels American rock sensibilities through a ‘90s tinted punk and indie lens” and I find it hard to argue with that. They mention The Replacements and Sugar, too… and again I find it hard to disagree with that. They also kinda remind me of The Hold Steady. Mostly due to Joe Anderl’s vocal, but they’re a bit more rockin’ and Anderl & Co. are clearly reflecting on the whole adulting thing – being settled, in the throes of love, parenthood, and family life. Or at least they seem to be (perhaps I should ask). Anyhoo, they also remind me of Glossary at times, but they’re more ‘alternative’ than that, too.
When I listen I hear Springsteen and Bob Mould, The Replacements and Pixies, Tom Petty and Modest Mouse. They take the more traditional American rock of The Boss and Petty and texture it with all that was good about the music of the alternative 90’s. It’s joyous, passionate, and there’s some fire and grit in the guitars.
When I sat down to write this I wanted to avoid mentioning The Hold Steady, but it’s unavoidable, cause I want you to understand that this band, The 1984 Draft, have got the chops – both lyrically and musically. Anderl has that voice… it’s familiar and instantly you get that he’s just one of those dudes who, like Finn (and Petty and Springsteen before him), is telling you a story. Or maybe that’s just how I hear them cause they sound unmistakably American. I see the football jerseys… the big lawns… kids throwing the ball… all that jazz.
And you know, most importantly , there’s no pretence here… no posturing in his phrasing or the way he and his band craft a tune. We can relate to this guy. To this band. Regardless of where we are on the map, we’ve experienced the things he’s singing about. Growing up. Hijinx. How love can lift you, change you, save you. About discovering who you are and finding your place. Despite doing the whole adult thing, they can shift through the gears while being all reflective.
Those 90’s indie punk leanings are evident during the opening salvo of Jan Kawolski and Lately. Immediate. Urgent. Vibrant. The hooks are in. Jan Kawolski being a song about not losing that sense of wonderment, I guess (the kid singing Jan Kawolski over and over during the intro and Jan appearing to be a character in Planes), while Anderl tells us on Lately that he wants some quiet… time with his wife. I can relate to that… kids sleeping… enjoying that sound of silence while looking at your better half.
Miss Ohio is a shift in tone and it’s also exceptional. This one appears to be about giving up… perhaps the only track on the album that isn’t filled with positivity. That said, it’s not whining or a complaining throwing in of the towel, it’s a unapologetic goodbye and I love the non-chorus-y chorus of “Goodbye Miss Ohio… ashes to ashes, dust to dust I hit the ground”. That Justin Satinover chap sure does hit the drums… thudding and the combined guitar of Anderl and Eri Alban soar. It’s genuinely wonderful and this is one of my favourite tracks of the year so far.
Morrissey of Mandys has that Hold Steady thing I was mentioning, but the prominence of Chip Heck’s bass and the guitar signature suggest there’s a more alternative rock influence behind this one. It’s like there’s a sense of anxiety in Anderl’s vocal here, too, which I really like – a natural nervous energy.
Those alternative vibes are prominent during Honest. “The lines on my face just prove it’s a young man’s game. The grey in my beard keeps track of the faster lived years”. There’s a sense that Anderl is tired and perhaps he’s considered throwing in the towel after too many years doing this music thing (“your face in the crowd keeps an old man from pulling it down”). It’s a great tune and I can relate. “If it wasn’t for you I don’t know if I’d be here right now”. Smack. He’s got me in the gut. Sure, the lift… the kick… is expected, but knowing it’s coming doesn’t lessen its impact. Similarly, Wedding rocks. Again, the rhythm section really sound like they’re laying foundations. It’s like thunder. All the while Anderl writes a letter to his soon to be wife – recounting how she’s come along and lifted him.
The short punk blast of Lutheran Heat leads to the muted strings and reflections of Red Dress. Again, it’s aimed at that woman who has changed his life and, despite it being a two and a half minute rocker, it’s lovely. It’s genuinely warming to hear a ballad with muted strings, power chords, but lacking hairspray.
Megaphone sounds like a 90’s track. The bass and that guitar. It kicks in and it has that Pixies dynamic that Nirvana liked so much. I like it, too. This could have appeared on any one of my mixtapes if it was released back in the mid to late 90’s.
All of this is concise and powerful. We’ve blasted through 9 tracks in about 25 minutes and then we reach Lisbon Falls… and good grief! It’s rich… the change in pace… tempo… it’s heavy… weighty. A belter of a tune. It’s mournful… slow burning… absolutely gorgeous – especially when the band kick in – and Anderl’s vocals shine.
And then, after 5 minutes, it’s over. 30 minutes gone. I replay Miss Ohio, Honest, and then Lisbon Falls. Pick a favourite? Impossible.
It’s not often you hear an album like this these days and think that it’s worthwhile. I’d normally think “there are a few good tracks, but it’s a bit derivative”… not with this one, though. It sits comfortably alongside Ryan Adams, The Hold Steady, and Idlewild, as much as it does The Replacements and Sugar. I like this. In fact, I like it a lot. These guys wear their hearts on their sleeves and that, my friends, is the best thing of all.
Makes Good Choices is released tomorrow, August 24th.
Also, if you’re out and about you can catch the band live on the following dates.
August 25 – South Park Tavern – Dayton, OH
September 1 – Tippapalooza – Tipp City, OH
September 21 – The Trolley Stop – Dayton, OH
September 28 – Peaches – Yellow Springs, OH
September 29 – Communivale – Yellow Springs, OH
October 20 – Blind Bob’s – Dayton, OH
November 2 – Yellow Cab Tavern – Dayton, OH