As Anthony Raneri kicks into “Sandra Partial,” the first track off New Cathedrals, you’re immediately struck by just how far his solo work has strayed from his full-time job in Bayside. Heavily influenced by the folk genre, Raneri presents a toe-tapping anthem, complete with a positively joyous hook. And as he sings, “Distance, distance/Tell me that you miss this/I’d wait here all the time/I’m truly in love with you,” an entirely different identity seems to form, one which wouldn’t seem too out of place at a country line-dancing bar.
Unfortunately, the standout opener plays more as a tease, with the creative risks failing to return until the fifth and final track. That leaves an all too familiar middle section, which at points plays like Bayside B-sides. Take “The Ballad Of Bill The Saint” as an example. Besides the overlaying of an acoustic guitar, the track plays out quite similar to his former work, including a chorus that would have fit in quite nicely on Bayside’s Shudder. And on “Lead Follow Fall,” we have yet another which plays too closely to Raneri’s prior material, especially when looking at the lyrics. The lines, “Drop to your knees boy/And pray for common sense/When you blame somebody else/For what you couldn’t do or your punishment” may not tread the exact thematic territory of past Bayside releases, but it does remind one of “The Ghost of St. Valentine” and several other tracks.
It’s not until the closer, “Please Don’t Leave,” that we see Raneri stepping out of his comfort zone yet again, achieving another excellent track in the process. What sounds like an addition of rhythmic finger snaps compliments the acoustic guitar perfectly, combining to form almost a “doo-wop” type of sound. The lyrics get soft on us again, as well, with Raneri crooning, “I love the way you roll your eyes/I hope that one day I can be forgiven/For the way I make my living/If you said goodbye/It would surely be the end of me.” As he manages to change up his sound in the opener and closer, it also gives him a chance to hit on this romantic theme, which is usually tough to do in Bayside’s rock-heavy approach.
Sound Quality: In the record’s description, it states that the coffee variant I purchased, “will also have a slight noise on the surface.” That’s putting it lightly. I couldn’t actually play the record all the way through, because of skipping, and because I was scared that it would damage my needle. The problem with the sound isn’t the coffee grounds, though, but instead the way they’re spread out. The first couple tracks on the one-sided 12″ just have a retro feel, with pops and crackles heard throughout. During those tracks, the grounds are spread out evenly, and have that “slight noise on the surface” which was previously warned about. The last two tracks are simply not playable because of the way the grounds are clumped together. I’m sure each copy turned out differently, but that’s the way mine played. The sound quality won’t receive a rating, mostly because the warning was given out before hand. It would also be quite low and the sound quality shouldn’t drag down what was otherwise a nice package.
Packaging: The 12″ record is housed in your standard single LP jacket and it does include a separate lyric insert. The artwork has a classic touch, with “recorded in stereo” across the top and an intentional abundance of white scratches throughout the rest of the cover. As previously mentioned, I received the clear with coffee grounds variant, which provides a very interesting look to both the record and the inner sleeve. The record itself is completely clear with the coffee grounds as little specks all throughout the design. I wish the grounds were mixed up a bit more to avoid large patches, but that’s a hard thing to control in the pressing process. Again, as a gimmick pressing, those things are expected. And yes, the record smells distinctly like coffee, which is easily the greatest aspect of this release. The inner sleeve is even stained with coffee, proving again, just as far they went with the whole idea.
Extras: The record does not come with a digital download or a CD.
Summary: When Anthony Raneri decides to take creative risks on New Cathedrals, he knocks it out of the park, showing off a different side of his musicianship while maintaining his strong songwriting. Unfortunately, he doesn’t stray from his prior work in Bayside enough, resulting in a few tracks that sound all too familiar. In terms of the vinyl record, the coffee variant was an interesting idea, but required better execution to really succeed. When the grounds were spread out correctly, you had the total package working, including a nice strong coffee aroma. When they became clumped, the record was unplayable, never a good thing, gimmick or not.
Make Sure To Spin: “Sandra Partial” and “Please Don’t Leave.”