War Tapes - The Continental Divide
Record Label: Sarathan Records
Release Date: May 26, 2009
The Continental Divide, the debut full-length from War Tapes, is a valiant effort from a young band that fails to tread any new waters. Comprised of Neil Popkin (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Becca Popkin (bass/background vocals), Matt Bennett (lead guitar), and William Mohler (drums), these newcomers based in Los Angeles seek to develop songs with a “musical soundscape” supplemented by aggressive hooks. However, each song on the release follows a standard pattern of introduction, slow verse, sped-up chorus, and soaring bridge that makes all of them blend into an overall forgettable piece.
The album isn’t without its gems, though, and “The Night Unfolds,” the album opener, is one of them. The song provides a good, fast, alternative rock beat with roaring drums in the verses and a catchy chorus. Neil Popkin’s vocals are also impressive on this song and are complimented by Becca’s background vocals. Another such gem is the album’s second track, “Dreaming of You,” which has already seen some radio play. It’s easy to see why stations have picked it up because it provides a pop undertone with a sing-a-long chorus backed by solid bass work in the verses and catchy guitar riffs.
After two good opening tracks come two pretty bland offerings. “She Lied” sees Popkin singing about a girlfriend who seems more like a dead corpse, and yelling during the song’s bridge. The chorus is good enough, but the aforementioned yelling just does not work well. “Start Again” is a slower song with a very mellow opening of dancing guitar work over a smooth bass line. It is a more experimental song that eventually builds up, but cannot recover from the overly boring verses.
It might seem like a pattern here, but the next two songs are good again. “Use Me” carries another radio-friendly tone that is catchy all around while Becca provides some decent bass lines. “All the World’s a Stage” opens up with the sound of crickets chirping and tells a story of isolation in a place where “ghosts in the walls tell the stories of the times we had.” Solid work on the guitar and good vocals from Neil make this song a stand out.
Any pattern established so far ends after this song, though, as the album sputters out with six forgettable songs. “Mind is Ugly” is an angry tale of self-condemnation with nothing really going for it except for interesting lyrics as Neil notes how “words don’t mean a thing when you’re not listening” among other things. “Rightfully Mine” fails to impress as the lyrics revolve around a heart sinking faster every day and wanting something that has been taken away. The guitars are simple but effective in this song, but that’s about it.
“For Eternity” has a good enough opening but is an otherwise lackluster number about experiencing pain worse than a heart attack that “chisels at my spine.” Closing the record is “Fast Lane” that starts out with a piano playing and gives the listener hope that the band might be switching things up for this final song. Sadly, it starts to follow the same formula ever-present on the record. While it does build up nicely and Bennett makes good use of a delay pedal, the song just does not have a lasting impact like most closing numbers should. It fades out into a conglomeration of noise followed by minutes of silence. After the silence is "Shane," a track with Becca singing lead vocals. This is finally a song that provides a deviation from the usual formula as it is mostly piano but the melody is just off, and this song, too, leaves much to be desired.
The Continental Divide is not a bad record, but it isn’t a good one either. Its four good songs are sadly outweighed by the other filler tracks. The whole album lacks enough variety to retain the listener’s interest, from the music to the vocals. Neil has a nice voice, but he sings each song the same way for the most part, and doesn’t stretch his abilities. The lyrics, though, are respectable, which is not something that can be said of many young bands who fall victim to clichéd ramblings. War Tapes have a lot of maturing to do, but if they can do so successfully, they just might have a shot at being known across the continent one day.