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Album Review: The Commuters’ “Before I Was Born”

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It is difficult to say a lot in just four songs.

When most band’s release a four-song EP, those tracks tend to just be scratching the surface. One is likely to find a handful of songs touching on the exact same subjects that nearly every other band has touched on since the beginning of time. For New York’s The Commuters, though, this was not the goal.

“This EP has just 4 songs but a lot of life has happened in our time off,” said Zeeshan Zaidi when discussing Before I Was Born. “So it’s very personal and covers a lot of ground – creation, mortality, struggle and hope.”

It’s an ambitious objective for sure. In 13 minutes and 26 seconds, the band set out to say more about life than most bands do in their careers. For the most part, they are successful at this.

The EP begins with the title track, a rhythmic piece that complements the tight drums and affected guitar sounds with gentle vocals bordering on falsetto at times. It’s a quick three minutes of indie-pop that, while not the most unique song, will definitely stick with the listener for a while.

“The Better of Me” brings it down to a bare minimum instrumentally. Thumping bass drum quarters take the song through the first verse and chorus when the rest of the band kicks in, or whatever the more gentle equivalent of kicking in would be. (Gliding in? I’ll go with ‘gliding in.’)

Thematically, the music remains consistently catchy, changing up only for “You’ll Stay Right Here,” a slow piano driven ballad complimented with strings. The track is a perfect closing song for the EP and easily the most memorable track.

The flaws of the EP are best demonstrated on “Pass It Along.” The EP’s third track maintains the musical integrity of the previous two songs, but falls short lyrically. Throughout the EP, there are several lyrics that seem a bit out of place, but “Pass It Along” showcases several clunky lines. Lyrics like “Back home I was a professional man. Now, here I drive this cab. It’s absurd,” may drive home the story of an immigrant providing for his family in a foreign land, but they at times seem forced and out of place.

This represents the biggest issue of the EP. While each song maintains a catchy quality that many bands aim for, at times the lyrics break this up with distractive phrasing. While many fans may not be deterred by this, others may feel like their musical experience comes to a screeching halt at times.

Despite any setbacks, though, Before I Was Born does exactly what it set out to do. The EP spends its 13 minutes and 26 seconds discussing heavier subjects than the typical angst of relationships or bliss of relationships or crumbling of relationships. It’s a smartly crafted EP that showcases strong instrumentation and solid vocal talent. If the band can cover this much ground in 13 minutes and 26 seconds, one must wonder what they could accomplish with a new full-length album.

There’s no doubting it would be ambitious.

Written by Nathan Badley

When Nathan is not writing about music, he might be writing material for his often neglected blog at nathanbadley.com. Or he might be writing something else. Or podcasting. Or playing music. Most likely he is just watching TV thinking about how he should be doing those things. You can tweet him @badlandsbadley and congratulate him on his mad 3rd person writing skills.

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