JR Ewing – Maelstrom

JR Ewing

I really liked JR Ewing’s debut album. Or, rather, I loved a few songs from it and thought the others – while good – were almost retreads of the better ones. The great songs had a Sleepytime Trio flavor to them, with some excellent post-hardcore moves. Now we have Maelstrom, the band’s latest, to consider. The band has improved its already tight musicianship over the years, but it has also changed direction somewhat. (Curiously, the band kept the same name, which seems to be a reference to the Larry Hagman character from the old Dallas TV show.)

There are songs on Maelstrom that remind me of Iron Maiden’s “Run for the Hills,” or whatever that one single was. I’m not sure what exactly it is that connects these two bands in my mind, but I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the vocals. I’m no student of the Maiden, but I’m sure that JR Ewing rocks harder than Maiden ever did. “Nihilistic Elitist” absolutely charges at you with punk-like chops but is covered over by metal-like vocals and some keyboard flourishes that I can’t help but link to some of those 80s hair-metal bands. “Insect Intercourse” also impresses with its powerful rock/rawk. Its post-chorus bridges take a sped-up Jawbox and Red Animal War approach to the sound: precise, intricate, and interesting. Elsewhere in the song, though, there’s some riffing that mark it metallic.

At five minutes, “Floodlight” expands into a mini-epic, sounding at times like Red Animal War (the drums especially – really fast and tight) and at times like Rush even (the little breakdowns into acoustic-guitar passages). “I’m Sorry, You’re Sorry, We’re Sorry” sounds like Therapy? on speed, which is to say its metal side never gets the better of its punk side, but it comes close. Maybe JR Ewing actually sounds most like System of a Down, come to think of it…

If you were to play this CD without knowing anything about the band, you might expect it to have come from a metal band trying to cross over into the indie/punk scene. Instead, I see it the other way around. Regardless, it’s a sonically impressive tour de force with parts that will no doubt impress fans of either genre. But I’m not sure how much crossover there is between these fan bases, and while many may be impressed they may also be a little turned off. To those fans into both kinds of music: you will revel in Maelstrom.