Coming off the release of the staggeringly ambitious "Nautical Sabbatical," River City Extension could have played it relatively safe with their follow up, settling comfortably into their collective Guthrie-meets-Crash stage persona and coasted purely on the momentum of their ever-building regional popularity.
Of course, anyone who's ever met the band -- mercurial frontman Joe Michelini in particular -- knows there's no chance this project would ever opt for the path already beaten.
On "The Unmistakable Man,'' River City ventures even further into the malestrom of post punk, post-indie firebranding, navigating the listener through dense, complex soundscapes and galvanizing lean, lanky protest rock into anti-establishment screeds that owe more to the Raincoats than the Ramones.
The standout here for me is still the title track: a guttural, multi-instrumental melee; a frenzied free-for-all of glorious rock discord that will deservedly catapult this band toward national recognition.
Of course, "The Unmistakeable Man'' begs the question of whether River City Extension's frenetic aesthetic can keep step in a nose-to-nose setting. Check out the official "Unmistakable Man"" record release show May 7 at Asbury Lanes and make that call for yourself.
A broad and sweeping collection of heart strong and beer-soaked folk ballad rally cries, "The Unmistakable Man" finds River City Extension poised to catapult themselves from regional notoriety into national spotlight.
Musically, the Toms River-based outfit explores influences beyond the hip, folk-pop archetype of recent years. The band creates full, lush musical landscapes with taste beyond their years. There are moments of mariachi danceability, zydeco jubilation and vibrant Celtic folk storytelling delivered with punk rock gusto. "The Unmistakable Man" marks a band capable of refinement and restraint as well as reckless abandon.
Singer, songwriter and de facto bandleader Joe Michelini conveys both the deeply personal and universal equally well in whispers and shrieks. Although he would likely shy away from the comparison, not since Springsteen's "The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle" has a New Jersey songwriter written such a thrilling testimonial to youthful idealism-- victorious, romantic and majestic.
"The Unmistakable Man" is not only a phenomenal achievement for a young and fiercely creative band; it is also a watershed release for the burgeoning indie rock scene that bore them. The band has drawn a line in the sand at the Jersey Shore and single-handedly lent new legitimacy to the tightly knit collective of artists who call the area home. While recent trends in music have turned the microscope on places like Brooklyn, New York, River City Extension may well bring the focus back to the fertile musical stomping grounds of New Jersey.
KEY TRACKS: "Our New Intelligence," "Today I Feel Like I'm Evolving"
River City Extension's second full-length album channels the raw, roaring energy of its first effort, ""Nautical Sabbatical'' into a cleaner, more complex and more polished sound. And while I love the rough-around-the-edges River City, this grown-up, cohesive record won me over.
The album is more sober and lyrics-centric than Nautical, with plenty of pensive reflections on life and God and a 20-something's angst over getting older. But the band settles back admirably into the gentler pace, which lets the diverse musical talents and songwriting abilities of the eight-member group shine.
But never fear: There are tracks here that are just waiting to be screamed from stage. "South for the Winter'' starts mellow, just lead-man Joe Michelini's gentle rasp against soft acoustic strumming. But a few jolts of feedback foreshadow the raucous blast of guitars, drums and roaring vocals that soon takes over.
Horns appear often, to best effect on the mariachi-like "Mexico'' and the bouncy "Letters to Lainie,'' where wah-wah trumpets lend some levity.
But I was starting to worry, by the album's three-quarter mark, if the band decided to toss the banjo from its giant pile of instruments. Fortunately, the twangy strings surface halfway through the eleventh song, "Today, I Feel Like I'm Evolving,'' and stick around.
The plaintive closing track, "Waiting in the Airport,'' has a lilting, stick-in-your-head melody and lyrics that echo the feel of the album, and, I can't help but think, the band's current mindset: We're stepping, a little uncertainly, into a hell of an exciting new world. And you're going to want a ticket on this flight.