The Word Play – The Right to Bear Arms

The Word Play
The Right to Bear Arms

The press release for The Word Play’s debut EP The Right to Bear Arms makes a point of comparing The Word Play to bands like Modest Mouse and Braid. The comparison, justified by the tight rhythm section that the three bands share, actually highlights what separates The Word Play from the other two; whereas all three bands do indeed feature remarkable instrumentation, it’s the talent of the lead singers that put Modest Mouse and Braid in a class by themselves. Unfortunately, The Word Play lacks such a talented, charismatic vocalist. Kevin McGorey’s voice, for one, sounds like Cedric Bixler (In/Casino/Out-era At the Drive-In) on a bad day – or perhaps, a less aggressive Tim Kinsella (of Cap’n Jazz). Whereas numerous singers have overcome unremarkable singing voices to write some of the finest songs of our time (Isaac Brock comes to mind), McGorey’s inability to hit a pitch is frustratingly distracting, especially given the accomplished instrumentals laid at his feet by the rest of the band.

“Sweeping the Sun,” for example, is composed of an excellent, marching melody that fades in and out of the understated and the propulsive. Unfortunately, the guitars and drums leave McGorey in the dust; he struggles behind, desperately trying to achieve a Bixler-like epic but falling far, far flat (or sharp, depending on the verse). Of course, yelping lines like “We brush the dust and cobwebs off our tired corpses” doesn’t help. “The Crooked House” meets with similar disappointment; again, the instrumentation is excellent, this time providing a gently drifting melody that slowly blooms into full realization. McGorey fares better on “Pistols at Dawn,” restraining himself to a more level plane of pitch and, in the process, avoiding the helpless flailing of previous songs.

This disappointment, however, can be tempered; we must, of course, remember that this is a debut EP. Without even a full-length under the band’s belt, The Word Play is established as a fully proficient outfit instrumentally. And despite his painful voice, McGorey proves himself to be a capable, if not earth-shattering, songwriter. If he can manage to smooth out his voice and hone his songwriting talents, he could learn to compliment his fellow band members instead of fighting them. If he can manage this, The Word Play has the potential to create excellent music. In the meantime, The Right to Bear Arms showcases the band’s main talent: remarkable subtlety and tact, given their inexperience. Boys, here’s to youth; given time, I expect big things from you in the future.