New Jersey-based quartet The Blithedale Romance, all furious guitars and shredded vocal cords, want you to know they’re trying. The young band took a mysterious, cultish online presence and rebranded their sound “new noise” leading up to the release of this, their second EP. Despite the half-makeover, the band comes out sounding more like themselves than you might expect. But what is a little concerning is that this “new noise” is almost certainly something you’re already familiar with, and that the band seems to have regressed in terms of their songcraft. While their turns to the traditions and tropes of the post-grunge miasma that we can call “modern rock” might evoke a pang of nostalgia in the odd listener, the Wanderer EP represents more of a step backwards than forging a new path.
The Blithedale Romance’s King EP was a decent rock ‘n’ roll record that certainly wasn’t about to shatter anyone’s perception of reality, but definitely proved themselves to be the type of Jersey band that some listeners could always hold a torch for (the way I do for Status Green). Wanderer, on the whole, sounds like a conscious effort to rock harder, and opener “Now That You Know,” with its big thumping drums and nearly-funk bass, goes for it headlong. Coupled with some bluesy guitar leads, it is fit for alt-rock radio consumption circa 1993. Now don’t get it twisted, the guitars are the star throughout this record, and deservingly so. The math-rock influences come through the most in the spindly lines they interweave throughout each of the five songs, and really are the only reason to stick around through the blandness that is second track and single “State of Fear.” There’s no lyrical heavy lifting going on here: “The world is so much worse/than we’ve ever let on/there’s so much to fear/there’s so much wrong.” Such a broad statement has no cutting edge to it, however true it may be. And it’s not as though a chorus always needs hyper-clever lyrics to make an impact, but when compounded with a merely average melody, the whole song comes off particularly toothless, even with a nice guitar solo.
The latter three songs of the EP have more going in their favor than the first two. These songs all use more nuanced instrumentation, and greatly benefit for it. “Struggle” gets mildly psychedelic while “Treason” opts for a more punk approach, and closer “Dryocopus Pileateus” has the band getting full-on mathy to pretty good effect. But the first sees the band extending the song for no reason and the second could end about a minute sooner. It’s little things like these that prevent me from wanting to listen to these songs again; either they don’t get out of their own way fast enough, or they don’t extend themselves musically to make that extra time interesting. It’s fine to do a six-minute song as long as there’s something worthwhile happening, whether its an extended jam introducing new sonic textures, or lyrics that are actually worth a damn. You do get the impression from these last three songs that there is a vision The Blithedale Romance are working towards, but it’s frustratingly clear that they have not realized that vision yet.