Monmouth County, NJ continues to be a hotbed of rock and roll superiority. Even the razor challenged crews out in Brooklyn make the holy trek south to play uber visible rooms like The Wonder Bar, The Stone Pony, The Saint, Asbury Yacht Club and Long Branch’s Brighton Bar, just to name some of the big dogs in the game.
But as this ongoing trend demonstrates the unique popularity of our Tri-State Area, my focus this week is centered on a feisty local Shoreworld unit called The Vansaders. Hammered from that traditional “chip off of the old block,” the band chases the keen sense of family and the public relations smarts of bands like The Ramones when it comes to labeling their five-piece clan.
Band members Doug Vansaders (vocals/guitar), Mikey Vansaders (guitar/vocals), Johnny Vansaders (bass/vocals), Marie Vansaders (keys/vocals) and Robby Vansaders (drums) follow in the Forest Hills footsteps of rock’s grittiest aristocracy in both surname, as well as musical ferocity. They are passionately described on their Facebook page as some sort of liquor-fueled country/punk hybrid, custom made to fit your “any day of the week” lifestyle of bawdy, musical mayhem.
That rowdy attitude is made extremely evident on their latest disc titled, Stuck In New York City. Comprised of 12 action-packed tracks, Stuck In New York City is the cumulative tale of jaded love and jilted acceptance from the world at large. The chagrin and wall-punching emotions that stem from the myriads of phonies and flakes that clash head-on into glimmers of hope and salvation, and the journey it takes to get you there. This is an intriguing look into the minds of a group who truly know the cost of making that trip a reality.
The record starts off with the punchy, punk liberation of “End Of The Line.” I immediately note the arrangement savvy and instrumentation orchestration that build defiant and hooky direction. Organs whirr in orbital syncopation, orbiting over colossal guitar chords and rowdy, metered bass and drum rhythms. Verse backbeats pulse under luxurious layers of seamless, melodic vocal harmony as The Vansaders deliver toned power in the vein of Frank Turner. This is way more melodic rock pop than the country moniker that gets bestowed on the band, and when guitars fly in for a flurry of single line runs, harmonic doubles and two-string Ace Frehley bends, it’s an ear candy setup for the next big explosive chorus. This is a great starter position song, and it signals high-energy expectations for the rest of the disc.
“In Revelry” thunders onto the player, dropping down for a crunchy chug session before the band slams the addictive chorus into our heads like a cartridge in a chamber. Mixing stylistic merry-go-rounds that blur lines between The Beatles, Green Day, The Psychedelic Furs and more, the knowledgeable construction of chorus is at the top of the charts on this song. This is a 2:30 fastback of rock and roll that would make Bowling For Soup jealous.
“Highway To The Sun” races in on double-picked staccato electric notes, reminding me of everything good from Weezer’s Green Album and channeling the spiritual essence of Cuomo’s quirky, space-themed rock opera vibe. Once again, this is an organ-driven gem that pumps with influential Beatles hippy shake and the contemporary faux Bruce drive of Gaslight Anthem. Guitars shimmer throughout the spectrum as vocals turn out anthemic visions and tone for days on end. If “End Of The Line” was a stellar kick-off, “Highway To The Sun” is the linchpin for the first quarter of this intriguing record.
The record’s title cut is “Stuck In New York City.” Chock-full of vivacious continuity, this is the song that pushes this CD over the edge and lands the band in swimmable waters. Greasy swatches of tube-fueled attitude blast cross the spectrum as Doug and crew rip raw, emotive vocals over their dirty ode to the Big Apple. Gritty, fast-paced action cranks from the speakers, reminding me of the vibe off of “Baby, Please Don’t Go” by the band Them. Raucous riffs, raw, ripping wails and background vocal unity gets this stripped-down rocker fast notice while keeping high on the music lovers’ playlist.
Moving around the disc, I sampled a couple of cool tunes such as “Everything We’re Not” and “Bullet,” before coming to what I would consider the band’s next probable door opener. “One For The Silverbacks” sounds its rallying cry through a bizarre melodic mix of Green Day and They Might Be Giants as the band rips and hollers through roller coaster curves, stop-and-go burns, and compositional last-minute turns. Deep and powerhouse snare drum hits push this fireball into the ethereal land of gold record choruses before popping into left field for some bell-clear lead guitar work that’s straight out of Bouncing Souls territory.
“No Plans” floats in on grinding, analog organs before the band hits the listener with their verse one attack. Bass and drums fly fast as guitars paint a blistering haze across the path of whirling keyboards. The lead is the disc head turner and combines lightening fast trills, double pull-offs and liquid runs in the red-necked vein of Johnny Hiland. Fast, poignant and dealt by the devil, this song is actually over way too fast for my liking.
“Ballad Of Jenny And Steve” actually does have a little gleam of Nashville new country in it. Still more over the line and in bed with New Found Glory or 311, this is an interesting song that’s had a lot of thought put into the construction. I usually don’t have much good to say about ballad-styled music, but The Vansaders pull this off with style. Utilizing massive doses of dynamic, they let the song breathe in its own time frame, forgoing overproduction and getting their point across through orchestrated expression. Verses allow words to be heard, tone of voice to come through, and gives this complex song room to expand when it’s chorus time. Melodic and smart, “The Ballad Of Jenny And Steve” is a song that should turn more than a few industry heads.
“In The Park” comes from that 1950s rock and roll progression used from everyone from the doo-wop of The Five Satins to the familiar chords of everything by Chuck Berry. Here is where the Frank Turner influence comes in again and makes way more sense than the local media label of “country.” With an almost Irish folklore feel, the song commands attention, trickling vocal and acoustic sensitivities into subdued, skiffle rock delivery. Excellent, high harmonies bow in and out for quick acoustic leads before vocals are back in, praising the girl of our dreams with murmurs of undying devotion, whispered love and, well…something else that I can’t print here. I love the vocal harmony “whoas” into a single-guitar ending. Perfect demonstration of how simplicity usually allows the true heart of a great song to stand out.
There are several other tunes that I haven’t had time to address here, but if you get a chance to pick this up, do it. It combines all the best things about the genres we all love, and between the instrumentation talents, the strong vocals and the visionary management of Christine Feola over at Dark City Entertainment, I can’t see The Vansaders missing the mark with Stuck In New York City or anything else.
For more information on the band and their music, head over to thevansaders.com.