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Want a New AOTY Candidate? Spin the Latest Slaughter Beach, Dog Record
Jake Ewald gets better with each album, and 'Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling' is a stunner.
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Nothing may be more exciting as a music fan than listening to an artist mature and surprise more with each release. It’s a tall order for a musician to accomplish this when they start in a band that’s widely acclaimed from the beginning. It’s even more challenging when the artist carves their own project away from that band and explores completely different genres.
But here we are with Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling, the excellent fifth album from Slaughter Beach, Dog. Started by frontman Jake Ewald to write music outside of his old band, emo darlings Modern Baseball, the band is now enjoying a steady lineup of players, and their collective growth is front and center on this latest album.
Like many artists over the past few years, Ewald relocated from Philadelphia to the serenity of the Poconos. Spending time in nature listening to songwriting masters like Neil Young, Randy Newman, and Tom Waits gave Ewald a new perspective on music, with all the songs on Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling starting their tuneful lives on an acoustic guitar. Working in a style that confirms confidence in bandmates, Ewald brought the songs to the rest of the group to fill in the instinctual gaps. The results from guitarist Adam Meisterhans, bassist Ian Farmer (also a Modern Baseball alum), drummer Zack Robbins, and key meistro Logan Roth are stunning. Add a dash of vocals throughout from one of my favorites, Erin Rae, and you have a record that sneaks into the rare air of one of the year’s best.
The first half of Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling is full of single-worthy songs. After easing into the set with the gorgeous “Surfin’ New Jersey,” “Strange Weather” leans on sweet keys and guitar textures that allow it to lie in nineties alt-country bliss. “Float Away” is like the perfect song plucked out of the Wilco catalog, with Ewald and Meisterhans working together like a Summerteeth-era Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett. “Summer Windows” is a twangy Nashville detour and one of the record’s great singles.
The back half is where this Sunday morning kinda record has grown on me. “Bobcat Club” is a Polaroid of a dive bar before the heartwrenching “Tommy,” with both elevated by Rae’s harmonies. “Engine” may be the best Slaughter Beach, Dog song yet, as its nine-minute running time breezes by as Ewald paints vivid scenes with his reliably great narrative lyrics.
As someone that played the hell out of the three Modern Baseball albums as they burned fast and bright last decade, Ewald surprised me with Birdie, the Slaughter Beach, Dog record that came out around the same time as Modern Baseball’s infinite hiatus. 2019’s Safe and Also No Fear was even better, as Ewald grew with each release, and until this last week, it was my favorite album from the project. But Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling is Ewald and Co.’s best and most complete album yet. Count me in on doing everything in the album’s title when they roll through town in January. I can’t wait to hear these songs live.