Sound: State Radio has politics and war on the brain. The Boston band's latest record Year Of The Crow does seem to be saturated by world issues, which depending on the listener, could be a godsend or plain annoying. Regardless of what you think about the message underneath it all, the music on Year Of The Crow is written skillfully enough that the melodies are strong enough to stand on their own most of the time.
You'll immediately know what you're in for lyrically when you see the track listing. The first track Guantanamo is pretty straightforward and hard-to-ignore in terms of it's message, but the musical composition is surprisingly unique and creatively arranged. There are some interesting tempos and mixes within the album, with Guantanamo being a prime example. It's a bit hard to digest at first because of the oddly placed drum beats within it, but it does grow on you. Between the unique percussion, strong harmonies, and the screaming big finish, it's a fascinating opener that gets your attention.
Most biographies of State Radio describe them as having heavy reggae influences, and that aspect comes across in tracks like Fight No More and CIA. There are other tracks that feature the acoustic guitar prominently, which combined with laid-back percussion and vocalist's Chad Urmston's (aka Chetro) style, can at times sound like Blind Melon. The Story Of Benjamin Darling is the best example of this sound, which also highlights Chetro's strong multi-part harmonies.
It's not until later in the record when the strongest rock riffs make an appearance. As With Gladness starts out as a typical reggae piece, but it quickly develops into a dark, distortion-heavy piece. The peak doesn't come until about halfway through the song, but it's worth the wait. As With Gladness only gives you a little taste of the band's electric licks, but Wicker Plane is carried by a grooving riff through much of the track. It's by far the best track on the CD and not surprisingly was made the first single from the album. // 8
Lyrics: Whether or not you like politically driven bands, State Radio has put a lot of thought into its message on Year Of The Crow. At times the message to Washington is scathing (Torture advocate; Got his dick up in a chicken hawk; Life is what he'll get) to cynical (Did you get the invitation? The swan song of a nation; Everyone's waiting for you inside; We got soda pop and hickory stills), but they never get generic. But again, if political messages are not your cup of tea, State Radio is definitely not the band for you. // 9
Overall Impression: State Radio has been described as a jam band by some, but the trio usually avoids getting too excessive in the solo department. It's obvious that the band put plenty of work into its arrangements, which feature instruments like the cello, piano, and trombone. While the reggae sound can often sound a bit similar in some of the tracks, State Radio usually will dip into a few other styles by the end of the track. Year Of The Crow will not click with everyone because it does feel a bit over-the-top and preachy at times, but State Radio still successfully proved that they have some impressive musical chops. // 8