To many fans of mid-2000s alt rock, the 2010s were a bleak time of programed drums, very few guitars and flat, over-processed vocals. It seemed like the bands we loved were either breaking up or turning ridiculously poppy to appeal to a wider fanbase. But now, in 2020, throwback alt rockers Off Road Minivan release their first full-length album, Swan Dive. Let hungry emo fans rejoice! This band brings back the best parts of mid-2000s alt rock, and emo in particular, with emotional vocals, atmospheric guitar riffs and furious but graceful drumming.
For the most part, Swan Dive lives up to the hype. Vocalist Ryan "Tuck" O'Leary's dynamic, soaring performance on "It's Harder to Make it Below Third" and ridiculous high notes on "Vampire" are enough to give this reviewer chills. And speaking of chill, the hypnotic "Supernova" is a wonderful slow-burner that starts out mellow, then steadily ramps up the intensity before quietly fading out like its namesake star.
The next track, "Spiral Gaze," is a revamped version of the 2018 original from ORM's debut EP, but now with a bit more polish. This is especially noticeable on the opening cymbal swell and the jangly guitars throughout the verses. When listening to the two versions back-to-back, the new recording definitely sounds cleaner and crisper, but other than that, it's basically the same as the EP version, which was a great song to begin with.
The following track, "YOU," continues the mellow vibe of "Supernova" and "Spiral Gaze," but it lacks the dynamics of those tracks. Like the later cuts "Taconic" and "Platinum," "YOU" lands squarely in the realm of "good," though it's not as engaging as the album's best songs.
The title track, meanwhile, brings back the alt/emo goodness with go-for-broke vocals, more driving guitars and drummer Evan Garcia Renart's intricate, march-like groove that might remind some listeners of Stavesacre's Sam West. But beyond drumming, there's something very Stavesacre-ish about this track, even in the way O'Leary sings the words "swan dive" in the first chorus. Still, the influence on ORM (if any) is subtle, with the tone and delivery more in line with later bands like Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.
On "Taconic," Renart breaks out his inner funk drummer with some great syncopated kick drum patterns that mesh well with the mellow guitars and vocals. "Platinum," although catchy, might be the weakest track on the album. Unlike most of the tracks on Swan Dive, it's not as fleshed out and the simple chorus gets a bit repetitive by the end. "Bliss," "Keepsake" and "Carousel Blues," on the other hand, bring back the raw intensity and heart-wrenching vocals that make this album something special. The moody guitars that bookend "Carousel Blues," along with O'Leary's Chris Carrabba-worthy high notes and beautiful falsetto, will make you emo kids feel like you're back in 2004, though I'm sure some of us would rather not have the acne.
The album closes with the folksy, lo-fi "737," where O'Leary gets to show off his coffeehouse chops. It's a fitting end for the album and doesn't feel random like those infamous hidden tracks of the 90s.
All-in-all, Swan Dive is a very solid album. It's nostalgic in a good way because Off Road Minivan carves their own path even as they reference a specific subgenre of alt rock. These guys are clearly passionate about what they do, and that passion shines through with every note.- Review date: 5/15/20, written by Andie Hardee of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Tooth & Nail Records
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