Storm Chasers: Dads’ “I’ll Be The Tornado” Solidifies the Duo-Now-Trio as the “Kings of Emo” Once Again
(promo photo by Carly Hoskins)
I usually sit down and write about records that I think deserve a level of honesty that most music blogs and outlets can’t offer them. That’s why I’ve spent so much of my recreational time writing in-depth about such great records like Moving Mountains, The Things We Think We’re Missing, …Is Exotic Bait, and even the recent Home Like Noplace Is There. These records got great reviews from publications, blogs, and websites, but they were never honest. They never really connected with the reader from a music fan’s perspective. The apparent reason for these sites to talk about the albums was to just “review” them, and be critical of their shortcomings. I’ve never done that before on here. I just use this outlet to express my feelings about a record in an honest and supportive manner. Now, having said that, once I had taken a couple days to listen and understand I’ll Be The Tornado by the once-duo-now-trio Dads, I felt it was necessary to write some thoughts on the album. So, here are those thoughts.
Let me preface everything I say with the fact that I, unfortunately, have never had the privilege of seeing Dads perform live. I’ve seen countless videos, but as you well know, that practice pales in comparison to experiencing the real thing. But even without seeing their live show, I still consider myself to be a big fan of Dads and the fantastic records they have put out over the years. With their last effort, Pretty Good, it seemed safe to say that Dads was attempting to go in a new direction with these latest tunes. Since the small sample of Pretty Good was in a way, quite different from their previous LP, American Radass, it seemed the “new” Dads was here to stay. One glowing difference from American Radass was Pretty Good’s fantastic production which really highlighted the group’s rhythm section that usually omitted a bass section during the live show. The duo-now-trio has since added a third member to play bass live with, and what a great decision that was. The bass parts of Pretty Good seem so essential to the tracks, especially with the new production value. With the group’s announcement of their signing to 6131 Records, a label more known for its great distro than its actual roster of active bands, it would be easy to expect a capable and fresh LP from Dads for their next release. Luckily, that’s exactly what we got.
I’ll Be The Tornado gives you a strange first impression. The title of the record juxtaposes instantly with the strange cover art. A close-up black and white photo of a woman’s ear and cheek and the hair that surrounds the area is perched alongside the band’s name and record title in the lefthand margin. The woman’s hair seems to be “covering” the ear canal opening and can possibly be interpreted a bit deeper, but that is out of the scope of what I’m trying to talk about here. The name of the record instantly reminds me of the lyrics of “But”, the first song the group debuted online over three months ago. Putting out your band’s first single over three months before the release of your LP is a bold move, but one that ultimately set the stage for the record’s infiltration into the scene. Already, off the bat, I’ll Be The Tornado seems different than anything Dads have done before.
The record starts off with the most unique thing Dads have done thus far, “Grand Edge, MI”. The title seemingly refers to Grand Ledge, MI, albeit with an intentional misspelling. This off-kilter title and possible misspelling lends itself well to the opening nature of the track and record. An acoustic guitar strums along out of the gate and eventually leads into a more subdued 2-minute stretch where it’s just said guitar and singer/drummer John Bradley crooning along without using his drum sticks, but instead just his voice. It’s really quite a beautiful moment for the “Kings of Emo” though. It almost sounds like an acoustic version of an older Dads track, but no, it isn’t. The song begins to build at the 2-minute mark of the track, where Bradley takes it upon himself to do some wonderful reverb heavy falsetto parts which leads directly into the record’s introduction to its rhythm parts. The drums come in like thunder and we are given the first taste of the record and group’s cohesive whole as Bradley sings over guitarist Scott Scharinger’s multi-layered approach to the song and it ends as quickly as the whole thing began. “Chewing Ghosts” is the second track on the record, and our first taste at “classic Dads” which will whet the appetite for traditionalist fans. But, it’s here that the record begins to explain itself to the listener.
Dads won a “March Sadness” competition - if you can even call it that - back in April of 2013. Their fans came out in force and voted out the likes of Brand New and Taking Back Sunday, enabling Dads to claim the title “Kings of Emo”. The band admitted that they were excited to win the silly contest, and it seems as they have realized getting pigeonholed these days is not something they would like to happen. I’ll Be The Tornado shows its maturity very early on, yet still retains the “emo” quality of past records and even pushes it further and up another notch. This is a very slippery slope for most bands - to retain the passion of old releases while progressing your music - but Dads does it almost effortlessly, merging the best and worst of being labeled as an “emo band” and still coming out with something exciting and new. I’ll Be The Tornado does exactly that.
Throughout all of the record’s ten tracks, the listener is taken in different directions as the record seems to try to find itself. This may seem like a completely bad idea on paper, but it works quite well as a whole record. Wait, how does attempting to find itself work “quite well” for a record? Simple. You are taken on this journey as the album attempts to find its purpose, only to return back to center during the absolutely incredible album closer, “Only You”. It’s something that you won’t notice consciously on first listen, but by listen 15 or 16, it might make a little bit more sense. Who knows if this is intentional or even comprehended by the artists themselves. Even then, it might not matter. It simply just works.
As good as Scharinger’s guitar work is on I’ll Be The Tornado - I would even go insofar as to say that it is the best guitar work of his career, period - it really is Bradley that is the star of the show here. Bradley’s drumming mechanics and execution have never been extraordinary by any stretch of the imagination, but it doesn’t really need to be. The ability that Bradley has to sing and still pull off relatively complicated drum patterns cannot be understated. He is simply talented in that regard, and takes this convention to the next level on I’ll Be The Tornado. When Bradley is at his best, he is singing at the top of his lungs and pushing the melody to the next level. Luckily for us, Bradley seems to do that quite a bit on the record, in all the right spots. A great example is on the track “Sold Year / Transitions”. Bradley croons an incomprehensible line that without lyric sheets is anyone’s guess as to what he’s saying, but as odd as it is, it fits so well. That seems to be the story with most of I’ll Be The Tornado. When you think something strange might not fit or be a great idea, Bradley and Scharinger make it work so well that it’s actually quite admirable and impressive. They’ve been doing that for multiple records by now, anyways.
So, where does that all leave us? Bradley is in his top form, Scharinger is sounding better than ever, and the rhythm section sounds fuller than it ever has with the addition of the new bassist (who may or not have played on this record, but that is a moot point). Well, it leaves us with a killer record with ten tracks that are written so well. There’s got to be some sort of low point, right? Unfortunately, as with most things in life, I’ll Be The Tornado has a small dark side. Let me explain.
When I first reminded you of Pretty Good and its exemplary production, it showed just how good Dads can sound on record when given the right opportunity to do so. Pretty Good was a set of four songs that were obviously worked and worked and worked on by their respective engineers. The result was fantastic production that flowed nicely over the four song set. I wish I could say the same was true for I’ll Be The Tornado. Yeah, the production is “good” by 2014 standards, and it’s certainly worlds better than American Radass’s production, but it just doesn’t blow me away like it should. For a release that is for all intents and purposes the “push” record for Dads, it should have really had better production. To be fair, all we have to go off of now is the low-quality Pitchfork Advance stream that is most likely streaming at 128kbps or lower. With that being said, I don’t think that a 320kbps or VBR version of the tracks - or the vinyl or CD releases - will make them sound any better. Again, the production on this record is not bad at all, it’s just not as good as it could have been. The production quality is most prominently featured on the beginning to the aforementioned track, “Sold Year / Transitions”. The guitar tone - whether intentional or a product of poor production - sounds flat, hollow, and out of place. I do believe it is the product of poor production because even the drums sound odd. But, whatever the case, the low(er) production quality does not take away from how special of a record I’ll Be The Tornado truly is. (Note: if the final release sounds light years better than the Pitchfork Advance stream of the record, I will update this section to make note of that.)
I think with the right production, I’ll Be The Tornado would have had everything it needed to be one of the very best records of the year. Interestingly enough, even with its subpar production, I’ll Be The Tornado is one of the top few records of the year… still. It’s that special.
How is it so special? Well, besides the great songwriting and all the reasons I have mentioned before, the album has a simply incredible third act. From tracks 7 to 10, the album’s pulse never lets up and keeps you invested. “But” into “Sunburnt Jet Wings” into “Take Back Today” and finally closing out with “Only You” is probably one of the best sets of four songs to end a record that I’ve heard in a long time. “But” is the album’s true single, “Sunburnt Jet Wings” is another great classic Dads track, and “Take Back Today” and “Only You” are one of the most powerful outros in music right now. “Take Back Today” is a sweeping track, filled to the brim with emotion and forwardness which leads perfectly into the spacey and ethereal “Only You” which ends the record on a simply fantastic note. Scharinger is again at his very best here, with Bradley putting up one of the best vocal performances yet on this track. It’s clear that putting “Take Back Today” and setting it right in front of album closer “Only You” was methodical and deliberate, and it pays off in dividends for the band.
I’ll Be The Tornado is one of the most important records of the year for so many reasons. It helps blur the line between “emo” and “rock” and contains one of the most honest and pretty vocal performances since Christopher Browder’s near-perfect Dig Up The Dead from his band Mansions in 2011. It’s extremely, extremely rare to find this kind of honesty in lyrics and vocal performances in our era. Thank you John Bradley for giving us one hell of a performance and record. You too, Scott Scharinger.
Dads does it again. The “Kings of Emo” are back. But, were you even surprised?