Hippo Manchester
September 22, 2005

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CD Reviews
by
Glenn Given

Against Me! Searching for a Former Clarity

Fat Wreck Chords 2005

***

Fat Wreck Chords wraps you up and snuggles you in punk goodness. Sure, the label wasn’t the earliest adopter of American punk rock but it has kept the fire burning while droves of Blink-182/Good Charolette spawn overwhelmed the MTVs.

Fat Wreck snapped up Gainesville, Fla.  folk-punks Against Me! in 2003, releasing the band’s second LP, As The Eternal Cowboy, to mixed reactions. With Searching For a Former Clarity Against Me! turns out a stronger album.

Against Me! channels the spirit and politics of American punk stalwarts Fugazi and Black Flag, while mixing in a strong storytelling aesthetic. Songs like “Justin” and “Even At Our Worst We’re Still Better Than Most” tackle complicated emotional and social reactions in plain-English poetry that skirts awkwardness with its blunt honesty. And for that I respect singer/guitarist Tom Gabel. He knows enough to create the artistry of prose in his lyric structure. He doesn’t cheat by trying to flower and tart up a fancy way to say that, for instance, one can both hate an American soldier for engaging in a war we don’t approve of, and at the same time feel grief for these men stuck in a screwed-up situation.

Searching hits its political zenith in “From Her Lips to Gods Ears” with its chorus imploring Condoleezza Rice to explain exactly what the Iraqi war plan is and how the very idea of war for peace makes any damn sense at all. There are more introspective songs, which hearken back to Against Me!’s earliest days as an acoustic punk outfit. They deal with alcoholism, love and the duplicity of musicianship — most excellently in album standout “Holy Shit!”

Searching... pleasingly alternates between folk-rock and hard-core punk across its 14 tracks and by the end of your hour’s listening you’ll find yourself intrigued enough to dig up Against Me!’s earlier releases (notably their self-titled acoustic EP and freshman album Reinventing Axl Rose). Or you can skip the trip to the record store and check them out at 8 p.m. Friday night, Sept. 23 (It’s $10 and all ages so just go already) at the Bomb Shelter with labelmates The Epoxies, Smoke or Fire and The Soviettes. See page 70 for the full details on the Fat Tour show.