Bookended by unplugged folk/country numbers, The Animal Strings Album opens with “Eliza.” The song’s chorus of singers and midtempo acoustic guitar has an instant campfire feel to it. That the track is about working up self-determination - as singer Ryan White recalls, “That I should start doing all of those things I’ve been singing about,” knowing that he’s, “stronger now from the spark/And I glow, maybe I’m already home,” just makes it an extra endearing anthem.
The cutting fuzz of James Downes’ electric guitar and the pounding power of session player Brian McOmber’s drums are thoroughly bombastic in an alt-rock way on the political second track, “The Unmanageable Superstate.” SDRE (err “The Fire Theft”) would be proud. White’s voice is just as compelling here as it is on “Eliza,” although the lyrics could use a bit of tweaking. Mark Twain once said that, “Patriotism is loving your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.” Call It Arson approximates that sentiment with lines like, “This is where I was born and I’m proud to call this mound of dirt that I live on my home/This is where I belong/With that pride I renounce all that my ‘leaders’ have done.” But other sections of the song, like the opening lines of “Fuck the poisonous food that you feed us/Fuck the pills that you push to cure resulting disease” could use some work. Profanity is a crutch that Call It Arson needs to drop ASAP. Props for the harmonica, though.
Tracks three and four, “Animal Strings” and “On the Run,” show more of the band’s range. “Animal Strings” morphs from a warbling Bright Eyes-esque number into a classic rock jam over the course of five minutes. “On the Run,” meanwhile, is a terse radio-ready pop rock tune.
The EP’s final two tracks are perhaps its strongest. The slightly-over-six-minutes “Places” is an epic piece of songwriting. It continues The Animal Strings Album’s theme of restlessness and traveling. Call It Arson’s emocore sensibilities poke through here, as White sings “I’ll do me damage all on my own if my presence is an issue then I’d rather just steer clear.” But at the same time, White distances himself from such sentiments, as he grows tired of “the same old song and dance: using pain and fear as romance.” Having graduated beyond emo self-loathing, Call It Arson proceed to rock the heck out, which is always appreciated.
The Animal Strings Album concludes with a second acoustic ditty, “Hoopin’ and Humpin.’” While the title’s visual image is far more graphic than I’m sure was intended, “Hoopin’ and Humpin’” is in fact a pleasant lil folk song about a tiny town called New London, combining old school bluegrass music with contemporary language. It’s sort of like if Woody Guthrie were 19 today, I guess.Call It Arson’s The Animal Strings Album is a refreshing EP for music fans looking for something as emotive as, say, the Saddle Creek roster but with a tad bit more energy. Sure, there’s always Cursive, but, hey, feel free to branch out.