Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Inner City Surfers - "Laughing On The Outside" CD Review!!

It's now time for our 132nd monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, and this month, we're dipping into the archives again with things still creeping along during the pandemic. That said, I am tying in this review with recent events (namely local punk musician Mikey Hawdon's 100 daily "quarantunes", a.k.a. Mikey & His Uke), so let's finally take a look at his band The Inner City Surfers' second CD "Laughing On The Outside"! Independently released in 2002, this album was recorded in September 2001 at Insight Recorders in Toronto with producer (and Mikey's future Fairmounts bandmate) Simon Head, before being mixed by Joao Carvalho at Umbrella Sound. As usual, The Surfers are represented here by their classic lineup, including Mikey on drums alongside singer/guitarist Dustin Jones, guitarist Dave Bahun, and Brad "Example" Lacell on bass. CD copies of "Laughing On The Outside" are now out of print, but it is still readily available online.

You can buy this album or stream it for free on services like Apple Music, Amazon, Google Play, Soundcloud, YouTube, and Spotify, with download copies running for between $7.99 and $10.49, while CD copies could turn up at your favourite used record locales. Song names below are linked to their YouTube copies. Also, note that three songs on this CD were later re-recorded for The Surfers' self-titled "black album" in 2007, but we will approach the new versions when we review that album on the site.

With 11 songs running for almost 37 minutes, let's begin this review with the first song, "Figure It Out"! Opening in full on fast-paced skate punk mode, the driving guitar work is really good, and Dustin's melodic vocals are very fitting on the verses and in the effective stop/start choruses. It's a very straightforward song with no major diversions, but it's punchy and works extremely well, though at times, Mikey's drums did sound buried beneath the guitar. Still, a very entertaining and up-tempo way to start the CD! Next is "Booze N' Doobs", which is the first song here to later be re-recorded on "The Black Album". This song slows things down with more of a country vibe that will definitely please Rising Tide fans, with far more reserved vocals. The song's lyrical themes lend itself well to making this the band's signature drinking song, and while it's not my cup of tea, it fits that way! The drums  and Dave's twangy solo compliments the song well, but punk diehards may be disappointed.

Another song to return on the 2007 CD is next, namely "Screwed",  which tonally splits the difference between the preceding songs with an upbeat, steady rhythm and nice guitar picking before the choruses ramp things up a little more. The folksy side collides with punk in a good way here, so fans of both sides will find things to like, and I like Brad's bass work, though I didn't find that Dave's spare-yet-distorted guitar solo meshed well at all. Pleasant song that works on it's own merits! The album's shortest song follows, namely "Whole New Day", and this is another laid back song, harbouring more of their country side again while also being more down-tempo. Honestly, Dustin's singing isn't at it's clearest for me here, and it can be hard to make out the lyrics, but the guitar solo is effective. The composition's good, but it's too short and vocally muddled for me to recommend as is.

Fifth up is "Step Back", and if you were waiting for more fast-paced punk action, this will do the trick! That said, the guys play at a steady, relentless pace that only really pauses to breathe for a second at a time, and for me, I wish the song had more melody to it than this. While well performed, the vocals are mostly at one constant level, and the song doesn't really switch gear until slowing down for the coda. It's not a bad song, but I prefer songs with more of a melodic variance. Next is "T.V.", which has a slower, almost 1990s alternative rock flavour which I wasn't expecting, and that's saying something for a Surfers album! Like on "Whole New Day", the vocals are not overly clear at this register, and oddly, the song doesn't really have a proper chorus either, just instrumental bridges. Musically, I like the sound (reminds me of Weezer a bit), and the guitar and bass work are extra fitting, but the vocals don't add much to it.

The seventh track is "Won't Belong", which is the last of the three songs to be revisited on "The Black Album". After some very bluegrass-esque guitar picking, this songs gets into old school country territory, and if it wasn't for their vocal tones, you'd never guess this was the Surfers! In this case, multiple band members share vocal duties, which is effectively handled. This is a well performed and mixed song that will satiate fans of their country sides, but for my tastes, it's not preferable. Then we have "Get High", which feels like a companion piece to "Booze 'N Doobs" in some respects, though here, the verses have a campfire sing-along vibe, contrasted with the heavier full-band choruses and bridge. I like the jump in tone here, and the laid-back majority of the song is well done with very solid singing and guitar work, so this is a sleeper pick on the album!

Next on the CD is "The Quest", which brings us back into punk territory with a nice galloping drum track, strong melodic vocals from Dustin, and a catchy overall rhythm! This isn't really a guitar showcase aside from the post-chorus bridges and the end of the song, but if you can get past that, it's a fun song with strong lyrics, and I like how everything is mixed on this one! The penultimate song is "Victims", which is by far the heaviest song on the CD, with aggressive nearly-screamed vocals and a much more aggressive, forceful guitar riff. Effectively, this is the "Ten Commandements" of this album, if not quite as free-wheeling, but it showcases The Surfers' ferocious side as well as you could expect, and it's a solid showcase for Brad on bass in particular! As a metalhead, I can definitely get behind this song as an album highlight, but the melodic aspects of some earlier songs were missed.

"Laughing On The Outside" closes with it's longest song, "3 am", but it's definitely a conceptual jump from earlier songs. We start with Dustin singing and playing acoustic guitar while lamenting his state in the world at 3:00 in the morning, as laid overtop background noise of what appears to be sounds of the city at 3:00 AM, but the full band kicks into alt-rock territory for brief stretch of heavier music that rocks while it lasts, and Dave really lets loose on guitar! The song ends with about 3 minutes of the overnight background audio from earlier. For what it is, it works as a closer!

So, what are my final thoughts on The Inner City Surfers' sophomore CD? Overall, this is an effective album that showcases the guys' musical growth since their self-titled "Blue Album", but for my musical preferences, things varied further beyond that here. Dustin Jones & Dave Bahun's guitar work was as solid as ever, Brad Example got lots of moments to shine on bass, Mikey Hawdon's drumming was reliably excellent, and Dustin's vocals were usually a solid fit across these 11 songs! In the two years that followed their debut, the Surfers' influences had definitely began evolving, with country and folk sounds moving into their track listing more, while punk songs were less of a focus, arguably only being the primary genre of four songs. In this sense, you see where The Surfers were going musically on their next two CDs, though of course, they never dropped punk entirely. For me, I enjoyed "Figure It Out" & "Victims" the most, while "Get High" was my favourite of the non-punk tracks.

Aside from my own genre tastes, my big issues with the CD were occasionally muddled and hard-to-hear vocals, and I would have liked to have heard more guitar solos from Dave than we go. That said, I liked this album for the musical talent and improved production on display, and while I prefer the songs on offer from their debut, the professionalism and musicianship brings this one to the same level, and gives us a strong preview of what was to come in 2007. Buy or stream "Laughing On The Outside" at the above links, and I hope you guys liked this month's CD review, but what's being reviewed on the site next month? At this point, I'm not sure, but check our next "Where Are The New Albums?" post on Thursday for hints as to what could be coming up. If no major new metal, hard rock, or punk albums come out from local musicians, I will jump into our archives once again, though due to our 6 month anti-bias buffer rule, it will not be of an Inner City Surfers or (Mike) Haggith album.

With no concerts next month to tie a review in with, could there be another reason to tie an album review in with something, or could I just pick a high profile un-reviewed CD for July? Time will tell, but stay tuned for more news and notes on the site this week! Thanks everyone!

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