Review: State Lines — For the Boats

Reviews / October 16, 2013

Long Island four-piece promises a fun ride that doesn’t take itself too seriously

Tiny Engines

The release of State Lines’ sophomore LP, titled For the Boats, has press comparing the Albany quartet to the likes of Saves the Day, Tigers Jaw and The Sidekicks. And while their second outing on Tiny Engines does use the grit and tone of most of these bands’ releases to its advantage, it’s vibe can be better dissected through the sharp wit and sonic kaleidoscope that flavors its dozen tracks.

You’ll be taken back to the social absurdities of high school with the title track, as the lines reading “Classrooms filled with nothing but dirty looks” are intermingled with a laidback guitar crunch and mid-tempo backbeat. This nostalgia bleeds into the opening downstrums of “The Same Mistake.” It continues the youthful cynicism from track one, but blends acoustic guitar with one of the best metaphors this side of the genre convention, reading, “If I’m your cigarette, then will I get what I deserve?/Would you throw me to the curb, or would you flick me in your skin?” Taking Back Sunday’s bitter balladry has a worthy disciple here.

It’s hard not to strike similarities with Nirvana’s ubiquitous “Smells Like Teen Spirit” when getting a taste of “Water Song.” There’s a similar feel to the opening riff and the first few drum beats are textbook Dave Grohl. That’s where the parallels end, however. The album’s nautical feel – displayed prominently on the artwork – comes through full-force within these moments. There’s a buoyancy in the drum track, along with a jaunty vocal section, and the interwoven guitar melodies are as taut as rope looped around a dock post. It’s an awesome track that exudes a summer feel in the midst of this rainy autumn day.

“Shady Existence” shows a completely different State Lines, but this is expected from a band who tongue-in-cheekily lists the Wu-Tang Clan as their primary influence. Move over Ronnie Radke: this is how hip-hop tracks should sound from guys completely separated from the scene. The drum machine stops clicking about 45 seconds in and the mood shifts. Humor takes a backseat to honesty, but does so without being too overwrought. Frontman Jonathan Dimitri sings, “Still, there’s a life I have and keep on pushing on/Convinced there might be something in these songs/No it’s nothing commercial, nothing political.” It’s clear that State Lines is a band bred on integrity, even if they introduce it with something that’s a little goofy.

Guitar feedback leads into “Linger,” a bashful 3 minutes that continues the loose feel primed for the car radio and summer heat. “Shit for Brains” slices through 2 minutes, pulling out all the stops like The Movielife used to be known to do. There’s a stop-and-go guitar break, a variety of tempo changes, and of course, unabashed energy; it’s absolutely killer. This high water mark is surpassed by the acoustic atmosphere of “For the Ears,” which follows the needle to the end of the first side. Understated percussion and a simple guitar melody lulls the listener into a sense of security that is thrust away after the record’s reversal.

Weezer wishes they could’ve penned “Kids” back in 1999. It plays out like an outtake from The Green Album, with “woo-hoo” falsetto coos, a fat bassline and guitar stabs unafraid of the distortion knob. “Garages” turns down the fun for a more reserved ride: palm-muted verses leave the lyrics in the spotlight. “There’s a boy with all his eggs in a basket, woven tight/If there’s an ‘us’ it’s sure to end tonight,” vocalist Dimitri asserts. Well-formed couplets like these are hard to find in a scene drowned out by a tired-and-true formula and the track is all the better for it.

The action wastes no time unfolding on “Indian Burn,” where the bass and guitar come out to play against vocal drones. It’s a reprise of well-tested elements, but the arrangement lends itself to a beautiful midsection that produces a delicious groove. I can see where the Tigers Jaw reference came from on “Tuesday Morning,” as the guitar tone waxes much like the self-titled LP, but the erratic snare rhythms and the tranquil vocal tradeoffs in the coda are so well-executed, they’re something not found anywhere but here. “Where It’s Warm,” meanwhile, begins as a studio outtake, but reassembles to become the second unplugged cut on the album. It’s just a man and his guitar, accompanied occasionally by whistles and a horn section. It’s a bold conclusion to an album ripe with musical innovation, solidifying State Lines as a band breaking out of the shells left by their contemporaries.

Sound Quality: My copy, although free of blemishes and dust, still had a fair bit of surface noise, especially during the quieter sections of excellent tracks like “The Same Mistake.” The acoustic tracks suffer in this regard, as well, with a few obtrusive clicks hindering the experience. I noticed a particular problem with the beginning of “Where It’s Warm” – the studio outtake was pretty murky and inaudible. Nevertheless, on more tonally consistent tracks like “Kids,” all the elements mesh well. Luckily on For the Boats, there’s more tracks that fit that description than those that don’t.

Packaging: The album sleeve displays art that fits well with the nautical theme explored in the album’s title and some of its content. The painting that characterizes the outer sleeve has some metallic strokes that shine pretty noticeably and adds a degree of uniqueness to a physical product that isn’t as innovative as some of Tiny Engines’ back catalog. All variants include a lyric insert, which reprises the outer artwork.

Extras: Tiny Engines accompanied the release of For the Boats with a variety of pressings and packages. The LP was pressed in four different variants that match the outer sleeve, each with interestingly-specific limitations: white with red-and-blue starburst (limited to 105, sold out); opaque red (limited to 130); opaque blue (limited to 150); and white (limited to 215, pictured). Besides offering the LP in these different colors, the webstore also has two package deals: one that includes the self-titled 7” and another that comes bundled with a limited-edition T-shirt, designed by Alex Koss. All variants included a digital download.

Summary: For the Boats is a great entry in the State Lines canon: it’s brash, fresh, and straightforward. There are hints of growth from the last release, and I’m excited to see where they take their sound from here. Possibly more rap tracks? Only time will tell.

Make Sure To Spin: “The Same Mistake,” “Kids” and “Where It’s Warm”

“For the Boats” is available for purchase (in a variety of options) over at the Tiny Engines webstore. The full album is streaming on Bandcamp.

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James Cassar
James Cassar is Modern Vinyl's Managing News Editor and a co-host of The Modern Vinyl Podcast. He is also an artist manager, co-owner of the record label Near Mint, and can be found in bed before 9 p.m. James lives in Philadelphia and no, he won't check out your band if you add him on Facebook.

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