Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Get Saved - Pilot To Gunner

The second (and possibly last) album by Pilot To Gunner is one of the unheard gems of the early 2000's indie rock scene. Because they were a fairly new band from New York, that wore black t-shirts they were often unfairly lumped in with a lot of Emo bands that were becoming popular at the same time. The combination of loud guitars, shouted lyrics and angst got them tarred with the same brush as quite a few, lets just say “lesser” bands. The album's artwork doesn't really help them to ditch the tag though. That swirly font and the bright pink contrasting with the black and white photo of the band bound and gagged, is pretty typical of the vast number of commercial Emo albums that were appearing around the time. But Pilot To Gunner's lyrical content was rather more socially and politically orientated than most Emo bands. Very few of these songs seem to be introspective. The vast majority in fact are all about knowing what’s going on around you.

The album's opening track (also where it gets its title) is a sarcastic look at religious conformity. The oft repeated chorus of “Everyone gets saved if you join us/ everyone gets saved if you play it safe and come get saved” are said with a tone that doesn't imply that the singer believes them. This along with the smaller fragments throughout the verses drop hints as to the bands position on being deceived and lead blindly. However this isn't a rebel rousing cry to take arms against organised religion, rather than the sound of someone rolling their eyes, shrugging and leaving. A little underwhelming in all honesty. But the lyrical subject matter isn't what makes this track such a good opener. It's the passion and energy behind it all.

As with all Pilot To Gunner songs, Scott Padden's voice is the driving force. I can honestly say that he is one of my favourite singers of all time. The untamed, ragged quality of his voice is perfectly suited to the bands loud, high energy music. You can't hear him singing a ballad now can you? But the force and passion of his delivery, coupled with the distressed quality of his vocals, gives you the feeling that he's putting his all into every line. It's something to marvel at and I challenge you to not get swept up in it all and sing along or, at the very least, jump around like a maniac.

But before we get to Padden's enigmatic sing/shout style, we have the rest of the band playing the intro. With a singer as unusual as Padden it would be easy to disregard the rest of the band but they really hold their own here. Their subtle playing complements the melody and drives the song forward. There’s no big, grandiose guitar solos, no fighting to show off their skills. It's all solid, well played and perfectly crafted. Metropolitans goes a step further with the inclusion of a piano part and possibly even synths (the credits only list keys) in the mix. Its fairly sparse and mixed low down and its inclusion is what makes the songs bridge so energetic. Without it, there would be much less build up and the chorus would fall flat. It's a wonderful bit of arranging, a rare thing in modern rock. The harmonies on songs such as Hey Carrier (which I can’t help but yell along to every time I hear it) are a great touch too. They’re subtle enough that you might miss them on first listen, but after awhile I found myself singing along with them rather than the main melody. For all the praise that Padden deserves, also worth mentioning is Patrick Hegarty's contribution to the vocals. On Barrio Superstario (the single from the album) he practically sings the entire song with Padden and there's no doubt he holds his own. He just lacks that distinctive vocal tone.

There are some quite obvious influences here. The one that is staring me in the face is the massive page that Pilot To Gunner have ripped out of the Fugazi book of song-writing, folded carefully and put in their collective back pocket. Most of these songs would not seem out of place on Repeater, which is by no means a bad thing. It is however a lot more obvious than it was on the first PTG album Games At High Speeds. While there was a later era DC undercurrent to that record, it’s really thrust to the foreground here. In comparison with the bands first effort, Get Saved is a much more refined record. For one, Padden hits almost all the notes perfectly which although pleasing means the band lose some of the scrappy charm that first made me notice them. In terms of song writing though, the polishing has done them a lot of favours. The songs now seem more thought out and constructed than before. The production is slicker too. The drums are tighter sounding and the guitars are clearer and more controlled. The overall result is that the band seem more thoughtful rather than frenzied. This is a more mature sound for Pilot To Gunner, which is to be applauded. It’s not without its downside though, which comes here in the form of the somewhat boring album closer Sound Recovery which seems to be lacking in ideas and direction.

This album is, from start to finish, full of energy and tension and is as infectious as any I have heard. It's one of a select few records that I tap my foot to all the way through, then go back and start again. It's a perfect example of a band learning lessons from their first album and applying them to their next effort whilst still maintaining their core principles. For a few years now there have been rumors circulating of a third Pilot To Gunner album but nothing has ever surfaced sadly. A shame considering the huge amount of promise this record showed. But as premature swan songs go, Get Saved could be considered one of the best.

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