Volcano is epic. Gatsby’s American Dream has matured to an entirely new level. From start to finish Volcano will make you dance, it will make you re-think music, and it will make your jaw drop – not just in places, but for 33 straight minutes. The diversity of this CD is absolutely stunning. Gatsby’s has fully maintained the trademark musicianship that made them so amazing in the first place. Some songs change time signatures and melodies like crazy, others shift directions completely in mid song, while others provide one unifying theme throughout – without choruses. Yet there are other tracks that contain choruses and radio friendly melodies as the band proves to us all that they are more than capable of writing pop music. The lyrics are insightful and deep, as throughout the course of Volcano the concept is revealed. The lyrics refer not only to a physical Volcano but also draw parallels to human emotion, boiling up inside us all, ready to erupt. The music and instrumentation itself is deeper than ever before, as many songs have countless dimensions. Every single time I listen to Volcano, I notice something different, something subtle. All kinds of percussion instruments are used as a supplement to songs, mainly claves as Gatsby’s digs into some Latin influence. The depth to the music is only furthered by the countless references to past Gatsby’s records. If you listen closely, you’ll hear a chord progression from Ribbons and Sugar, or a strumming pattern from Why We Fight. You might even hear a lyric or two from earlier records. Volcano is complete in every way, shape and form.
The production is perfect. The drums and bass sound crystal clear and Nic’s voice has never sounded smoother. The backup vocals are always at the correct volume, and the little things are brought out to just the right amount, as you can hear claves in the background. Bobby’s guitar never overpowers Kirk’s bass; in fact the two manage to be almost completely separate as each part is easily identifiable at any given moment. Casey Bates and Tom Pfaeffle took advantage of the long recording process and perfected every single part to the record. It’s not overdone in the least, but there are no flaws as far as quality of sound is concerned.
The album begins with the anthem “Theatre.” The theme of the Volcano is introduced immediately with lyrics like “Tonight the sky is painted…” A funky bass line that is very similar to “Snicker at the Swine” (Ribbons and Sugar) drives the verses forward into the first chorus on the record. It’s an interesting gesture from a band that has generally steered clear of choruses on past albums to start a record off with a song that has one. Nonetheless, the song has traditional Gatsby’s chord progressions and is full of energy. In addition, the song and chorus itself is incredibly catchy and could latch on as the album’s first single. But don’t worry, Gatsby’s faithful. The following track, “Pompeii”, is fast and very mathematical. The song changes time signatures many times with transitions that blend perfectly into one another. It’s unpredictable as can be but it never loses direction. After each time change, the subsequent section is relatable to the one before it. The fast drum beat we witnessed on Why We Fight is re-introduced during some of the sections, right up into Bobby’s shout of “And I will bury you!” which is followed up by Nic singing “They’ll dig you up in 1500 years…” A reference to the physical Volcano exploding over the city of Pompeii is obvious, but what about the line preceding that? The parallelism to human emotion is apparent. “The Guilt Engine” only strengthens the notion, which personal lyrics that ride smoothly over thick chords. This song sounds nothing like anything Gatsby’s has ever done. A terse, dark verse leads into a hard hitting transition or two, but the music comes back around full circle to where it began.
The fourth track “A Mind of Metal and Wheels” is one of the standout tracks on the album. The urge to get up and dance is irresistible, as a Latin drum beat complete with claves (they sound like wood blocks) drives the song underneath a quirky, offbeat solo by Bobby. Hand claps only perpetuate the urge to bob your head, and by the time the song is over, you’ll realize you’d been rocking back and forth for the past 2 minutes. “Fable” is a bit of a shocker, the guitar parts sound like a song from The Strokes. While this song is fairly simplistic for Gatsby’s, it is far from ordinary. A one-dimensional guitar part fuels the intro and chorus while Kirk takes control of the verse with the bass. The song draws obvious references to the book Lord of the Flies, as lines from the song include “We came here on a plane/Just a bunch of little boys/Dance around the fire/Kill the pig pig.” Of course these songs all have double meanings, but you’ll have to listen for yourself to figure out what they mean to you personally. “The Giant’s Drink” is easily the most poppy song Gatsby’s has ever written, as a grinding guitar riff transitions nicely into a pop chorus that is reminiscent of The Foo Fighters. Of course, it wouldn’t be Gatsby’s without a change of direction midway through the song – without losing sight of the main melody of the song.
The 7th song “Shhhhhh…I’m listening to Reason” is itself the reason why I listen to Gatsby’s American Dream. It’s the most dynamic song on the album, as it goes through no less than 3 dramatic transitions into new time signatures, instrumentation, and melodies. It starts off as a hard, fast rock song with tambourines and an organ-sounding keyboard, then moves into an unpredictable danceable verse with hard hitting syncopated downbeats and a thick and funky bass line. After that comes a familiar chord progression and lyric which leads straight into an acoustic bridge with hand claps accompanied once again by claves. The song then ends up as a drunken Irish pub song – don’t ask how they do it, I don’t even know – all I know is that it works beautifully. Absolutely mind-blowing. “Your Only Escape” is a more down tempo song, complete with earnest lyrics and another head nodding drum beat with excellent work by Rudy on the high hat.
“The Hunter” is yet another incredible up-tempo song with heavy syncopation. The song also features guest vocals from Dan of This Providence. It’s interesting how Gatsby’s can write songs without choruses, but after the song is over you are still singing the main melodic lines. They simply don’t need choruses to be memorable, and without them, the music is essentially deeper and has a longer lasting value. “Speaker for the Dead” is a more chill song with more illusions to the Volcano of human emotion with lyrics like “Oh elegant island/be buried in humility.” Another cool thing about this song is that towards the end it contains a reprise of the chorus from the fifth track, “Fable,” but this time the lyrics are a little better. The new version of “Badlands” is structured differently than the acoustic version on the EP, and is overall more interesting than the original. “Loosing of the Shadow” is the perfect way to end Volcano. A quiet lead-in has Nic whispering “How can you understand the way I feel about God?” A dramatic build-up is capped with the line “I am a volcano/and I’ll hurt you all.”
The volcano is in the center of the island, the volcano that is human emotion, the volcano that is Gatsby’s American Dream erupts. Breakneck strumming that is reminiscent to the Why We Fight era triggers the eruption while a high, bouncy bass line drives the melody. As the song and album fade off into the distance, you can’t help but desire more.
Volcano is one of the most complete albums I’ve ever heard. It’s multifaceted, passionate, and insanely catchy. If you haven’t been sold on Gatsby’s American Dream before, you NEED to hear Volcano. Everything about this record is stunning. The lyrics, the musicianship, how vastly different each song is from one another…all in all, it’s everything you can ask for in an album. This is the album of the year. No, this is the album of the last 3 years. Yes, I said it. It’s better than Ribbons and Sugar because it offers so much more without sacrificing any integrity. This album is different than other Gatsby’s releases, it has songs with choruses, it has unpredictable transitions – but the result is the most structurally varied album I’ve heard in years. There are thousands of other bands that stick to a specific formula for their songs. Not these guys. Gatsby’s American Dream continues to reinvent their sound for each individual album, and this record is a combination of all their earlier releases – plus much more. No other band out there comes any where close to what Gatsby’s American Dream offers. Nobody is as creative, nobody is as intelligent, and nobody has written an album as epic as Volcano.