Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling, by Slaughter Beach, Dog

★ ★ ★★ ★

Release: September 22nd, 2023.

Label: Lame-O

No musician has reflected growth in their career quite like Jake Ewald. From angsty high school ballads to the pop punk explosion as co-frontman of Modern Baseball during his college years, each release meant a fresh approach to words and sound. But with MoBo’s dissolution in 2017, what once was Ewald’s somewhat dormant solo endeavors evolved into an even more distinct project.  Joined by former bandmate Ian Farmer and a revolving cast of Philadelphia musicians, Slaughter Beach, Dog became a progressively innovative folk outfit. In their fifth studio album, Jake’s vocals and acoustic guitar is enveloped by Farmer’s basslines, Zack Robbin’s drums, Adam Meisterhans’ electric strings, and Logan Roth’s keys – all conceived in the familiar The Metal Shop studio in Philadelphia.

Crying, Laughing, Waving, Smiling crests Jake’s storytelling and songwriting arc 11 years after copies of MoBo’s Sports started shipping out of Lame-O Records’ HQ/Drexel University dorm. Drawing from reflections on his newfound domestic life in the Poconos, Ewald’s lyricism more than ever eludes the we-got-to-get-out-of-this-town rhetoric that haunts artists with emo/punk adjacent roots. And yet, despite its heavy pull towards classic Americana and blues rock, modern references anchor and reassure the record’s fresh presence amongst the group’s vast repertoire. It’s the usual vivid word play and experiments with instrumentation that help Slaughter Beach, Dog create a gentle, easy rockin’ ode to settling down. 

In the opener “Surfin’ New Jersey”, the titular state’s highways become unusual but appropriate muses for an artist who’s been touring since his late teens. Stanzas are short and sparse, overlaid with acoustic strings and Meisterhans’ revolving slide guitar. The skippy sounds punctuated by fleeting descriptions act as facsimile to images flashing on a car’s windows. Tracks on the latter half of the record, like “Bobcat Club” and “Tommy”, also take on a similarly passive mode of storytelling, though relying on slower arpeggiated chords and Roth’s twinkly keyboard as the foundation for more balladic melodies. 

Ewald’s lyrical prowess is further unwound in the intricate ways he deals with shifting motifs throughout the album’s runtime. In “Strange Weather”, the narrator yearns for the erasure of the time spent with a former partner, averse to the persistent reminders of this past. “Float Away”, however, desperately agonizes over how a lover slipped out of the narrator’s fingers without their notice. The opposing exchange in each song is all the more enunciated by their respective rhythm sections. Whereas the first one is accompanied by a slower tempo and warmer drums, the second displays a more immediate pattern, clear in Robbins’ shuffling percussion. 

“My Sister in Jesus Christ” follows, matching the upbeat chorus of its predecessor. It doesn’t stray too far from the demo initially released on a 2020 charity compilation album, though the additional instrumentation and mixing undeniably add to its catchiness. The overdriven lead guitar, prominent cymbals, and skippy piano all make it contagiously easy to mouth the words to the chorus.

“Summer Windows”, on the other hand, favors a more laidback and drawn-out melody. Ewald comments on his seeming inability to engage emotionally with the people around him, trapped in an endless cycle of self-reflection. He lays it down plainly: “I wish that I could tell you what I’m thinking about / Oh, I wish that I could walk into your house”. Ian’s bass is the cornerstone to the song’s intent, weightlessly moving up and down the major scale. No matter how much it differs from the jumpy line of 2020’s At the Moonbase title track, it undoubtedly shares the spot of Ian’s best arrangement in SB, D’s discography. 

The record’s climax a comes with the 8 minutes and 53 seconds long “Engine”, in which subtle acoustic strums and an upbeating snare become bases for Ewald’s pensive lyrics. He assumes the talky cadence he’s come to be known for, though every last syllable resonates particularly melodious. He reminisces on a dozen or so memories, all half-strung to the winding path he treads as a career musician. Every story comes colorfully tied to a place or object – a stolen van, a hotel laundry room, a family reunion. But as his voice utters its final line, “The truth is, I live to roll over”, and the guitar solo pierces through the keyboard ambiance, it’s almost as if the singer invites you to partake in a similar pondering.

A pleasant presence all through the record is that of Nashville singer-songwriter Erin Rae, whose harmonies are an unmistakable boon to the vox tracks’ texture. With her supporting vocals ranging from lone riffs to full-on section duets, the extra layering helps the influence of 70’s folk rock further hit home. A particular high point of this collaboration comes right at the album’s tail end with the melancholic “Henry”. Erin’s airy backing vocals accompany every other verse, coloring but never overpowering Jake’s lead. 

The delay-drenched tone of “Easter” close the record with a subject familiar to Ewald’s compositions. The soft vocals draw on dreamy images of vacations and Sunday services, and the down strumming, though steady, is constantly bordering on the edge of dissolution. While nostalgia in previous Slaughter Beach, Dog releases would often stray towards the idyllic, this time around it is presented in a much more grounded manner. It is real and within reach. It tastes of salt n’ malt vinegar French fries and Kohr Bros ice cream. 

The unique emotional tone of every individual song fully justifies the on-the-nose title of the album. Each one represents its own moment in time, and as the needle reaches the center of the record (or the progress bar gets closer to completion) the listener gently careens on the edge of all these emotions.

It’d be impossible to find another record candid enough to hold the responsibility of being Lame-O Records’ hundredth release. For a label born out of necessity and camaraderie, it only makes sense that the LMO-100 title would fall in the hands of its earliest contributors. What would be harder to guess is that a decade after the 300-copy pressing of LMO-001, the grooves on the wax would sing of change, discovery, and new priorities. And at risk of breaching Slaughter Beach, Dog’s own stance against self-aggrandizement, I can only wait and wonder what their sound will convey in the decades to come. 

Long live Jake, Ian, Zack, Adam, Logan. And long live the Moon Man.

Reviewed by Guilherme C. Tinoco

Photos by Ashley bellman. Distributed by the artists as promotional material.

About The Author

Music Director

Guilherme is a sophomore, Mathematics major, three time holder of the "Kindergartner of the Month" award, and Music Director at WHUS. In his free time, he enjoys complaining about not getting his guitar tone right and self-indulgently writing in third-person.

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