Review: Tom Gabel – Heart Burns

So. Tom Gabel has decided to go it solo for this EP. It’s slightly nostalgic, calling back to the early days of Against Me! where there was nothing more than Tom and an acoustic guitar. Contrary to what you may be thinking, there’s only a little bit of that, and mostly on the iTunes release. Either way, it’s an exciting release, and proves that a major label has not made Tom Gabel soft.

Why is this release so exciting then? Well, it’s arguably Gabel’s best material since As The Eternal Cowboy. Whilst the last two Against Me! albums were nothing short of awesome, I found they were lacking the same kind of heart that Cowboy had; that kind of raw, rough around the edges ecstasy and fury. Heart Burns has that in abundance. Yes, the production is pretty slick, but that doesn’t stop this from feeling a little more punk rock than New Wave. It’s also pretty innovative. Gabel breaks into synth-punk (yes, you heard me correctly) with opening track Random Hearts and more of the same with following track Conceptual Paths. Some may find the electric drums annoying, but they serve to make the two tracks more punchy and add a lot of impact, particularly in the latter of the two tracks. Musically, Gabel does a lot of experimenting on this one. While this is great, it also stops the EP from having a distinct sound and it’s slightly jarring on occasion. This is rare, but it happens. However, there’s some great moments, like on Annie Is A Stool Pigeon, and the way that Amputations builds up to its final message is fantastic.

However, Gabel also goes back to what he does best – those raw acoustic tracks. As I mentioned, this is mostly limited to the iTunes release, with two of the four acoustic tracks on that version only (an acoustic version of Random Hearts and I Can’t See You, But I Know You’re There), but they’re great. While Gabel’s hardly screaming down the microphone any more, you can feel his frustration and his anger so much more clearly on these acoustic tracks, and these are the ones you remember.

This EP is also special for the punk rock stalwarts Gabel’s got to help him. Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio contributes his vocals to Amputations, and it sounds sublime. Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music (!) plays harmonica and sings backing on Anna Is A Stool Pigeon, giving it a folk punk sound that arguably makes it the best song on the album.

This is also one of Gabel’s strongest releases lyrically. There are several lyrics that just hit you. What kind of future are you promising us? in Amputations; I said don’t miss your chance to see it, while it’s all happening, these are once in a lifetime events and time will wait for no one in 100 Years Of War; I don’t believe in exceptionalism, I still have hope for the future from Cowards Sing At Night (a song clearly written to tell McCain to get his head out of his ass) and there are more gems within there to find yourself. Gabel’s always been an excellent lyricist, and particularly politically, he does himself proud on this release.

Overall, Tom Gabel has made a fantastic record. This is definitely one of the strongest releases in his career, and if we hear some more like this on the next Against Me! album or future solo releases, then the future of punk rock is pretty safe for now.

4 out of 5 high fives

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