Dads – “I’ll Be the Tornado”

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Grand Edge, MI” “Sold Year/Transitions”

Gone are the days of “Groin Twerk” and albums with ‘Radass’ in the title. Dads’ perpetual lyrical theme of growing up and drifting away comes stronger, as the Jersey duo mature in leaps and bounds over their last record. We saw this transition coming, on the decidedly not-so-emo “Pretty Good,” an EP that never really found it’s place. “I’ll Be the Tornado,” an LP, completes the transition into a serious, adult band. Except, they’re still punk.

Much like last year’s “Pretty Good,” the guys bounce around in a few different influences. This album has much more flow than “Pretty Good,” not trying to make any statements about the music, instead letting the audience accept it as it comes. The album’s acoustic opening isn’t a copout, it’s part of a build-up, and it’s unexpected. (And it’s reminiscent of this year’s largely acoustic Cardinal Cardinal EP, the side project of John Bradley). We’re still kind of expecting disassembled, roaring songs like “Get to the Beach!” but they’re not present. Instead, we get a number of flowing rock tracks, with occasional punk jams (“You Hold Back”), emo ballads (“But”) and some slight, leftover twee rhythms (“Chewing Ghosts”). “I’ll Be the Tornado” is more straightforward and accessible, if not still tough around the edges. Two part track “Sold Year/Transitions” has a rough and straining transition in the middle that’s fresher than most of the album’s other music. Dads feel comfortable falling into more traditional rock, but they can still pull it all off.

And they can pull it off because John Bradley’s lyrics, vocals and drums haven’t changed a note. “I’ll Be the Tornado” is a drum-heavy work, logical when you’re a duo with a drummer who sings lead. And Bradley’s lyrics are as ‘fresh’ as they’ve ever been. They have a certain ‘creative writing 101 course’ feel to them – poetic only in their specificity, direct, regretful and reminiscent. His lyrics are always unique, opting for straight punches rather than anything subversive. “I want to be happy,” Bradley starkly admits on “You Hold Back,” which seems a contrast to everything before and after it on the album. Bradley, and Scott Sharinger, explore feelings of unease and uncomfortable maturity, not knowing what to want or expect out of life. As with previous albums, many of their lyrics are based around falling back on memories because you can’t make anything of the future. “I need something new to obsess over,” says second track “Chewing Ghosts.” And reflections on others are present, as always. “You wanna hang Christmas lights in the summer/An excuse to spend time with each other” Bradley sings on “Sold Year/Transitions.” And Bradley also sings about his own dad’s health struggles, with references peppering the album throughout. The album is honest, even for Dads, with frank poetry and gut-hitting remembrances.

The only real fault of the album is that in its embrace of more traditional rock music, it sputters out towards the end. The album ends with “Take Back Today” and the 7+ minute “Only You,” both of which are musically pleasing songs, but aren’t the big finish the album needs. They’re both kind of ho-hum songs, not hitting the same level that the rest of the album does. So it dampers the album a bit, but not enough to discredit the eight songs before it. “I’ll Be the Tornado” is still a wildly and unexpectedly progressive album for the band, one that’s also regressive in many ways. It’s definiably Dads, but it’s more open, grittier, slower, clearer, and even more honest. Gone are the punk blasts, and they’re missed, but the replacements are more than welcomed.

If you like this, try: Prawn’s recent album, “Kingfisher,” another more mature sounding emo album, albeit one that takes an entirely different lyrical approach.

Cardinal Cardinal – “Distant Lover”

(Photo Credit: 6131 Records)

Grade: B

Key Track: “When I’m Not Alone”

On one hand, it’s a little tough to call something like Cardinal Cardinal a “side project,” when John Bradley’s primary band, Dads, only has one other member. But on the other hand, it is exactly what you would consider a side project to be – definably different than the main band. Dads have been steadily rising in popularity thanks to their often chaotic emo/punk music that mixes raging guitar and drums with deeply poetic lyrics. Cardinal Cardinal takes a wholly new approach, as an entirely acoustic EP that is focused on the opposite of what Dads seems to be – cohesive over chaos.

“Distant Lover” is very much just an offering – four songs and fifteen minutes. Bradley, working solo, is not trying to break down any barriers or reinvent genres. Instead, he’s simply showing an inspired, lighter side. Three of the four songs on the album are simplistic – they’re light and pretty, well-written and well-sung indie-folk songs. The only outlier is “When I’m Not Alone,” bolstered by a very unexpected tempo change.

Again, simplicity does not have to be a fault. Doing something that has been done can still be successful if you do it in your own way. And these songs are definitely Bradley’s. His voice and his equally poetic lyrics mark this EP. Just like the music of Dads, this album touches on losing loved ones and learning how to move on. It’s certainly sad, and the music reflects that. The acoustic nature of the album touches on sadness, not anger.

“Distant Lover” is only a few minutes long, but it’s promising to see Bradley come out of his element. This EP is inspired, a softer work that’s no less devastating. Dads have been trying to break out of the whole “twinkly emo” thing, and his might help that. Cardinal Cardinal’s debut is a reliable and memorable offering of some sad and relatable indie-folk.

-By Andrew McNally