Before I heard this album, I had only heard of Rumbleseat in passing. A track like “California Burritos” just really shocked me, as I based my idea of what Rumbleseat sounded like off the more noisy bands that No Idea is typically apt to sign. Rumbleseat plays a baked, Against Me! type of acoustic punk that relies as much on the solid vocals as on the tinny acoustics present. In fact, “Is Dead” is the type of album that seems to forecast the current prevalence of acoustic, anarchistic punk in that tracks like “Cursing Concrete” have the same egalitarian approach to vocals that bands throughout have taken, bands like Operation: Cliff Clavin, This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb, Ghost Mice and the like have really rode to success.
Rumbleseat also seems to use the gritty vocals that find companions in acts like Social Distortion and Rise Against; the coupling of something so rough and raw with the very organic and smooth sound of the guitar provides a wonderful dichotomy. Immediately noticeable on “Is Dead” is the production and vitality that surrounds this music: while everything came out in 1998, no one would feel slighted in the least if a band came out at this time with this general sound. However, where the more modern bands fail in regard to Rumbleseat is the sheer amount of genres and influences that Rumbleseat brought to the studio; while Against Me! may have had their “Eternal Cowboy”, the Dylan/country double-shot present on “Picker” would not sound too out of place on either a classic rock or country station, much less the punk radio shows.
Rumbleseat puts track after track on “Is Dead” that is eminently pop-laced, even if the music is not what is currently being chosen for crossover success. “Chattanooga Bend” shows a set of vocals that is tremendously affecting, with an accompanying vocal that would make Stevie Nicks and Don Henley more than a run for their money. “Is Dead” moves much more into the country camp after the second half begins, although the vocal, non-lyrical noises that are present on “Mt. Sweetheart” seem to look back to the artistic master Frank Zappa more than the rest of the Hank Williams-infused track. This is an instant (yet delayed) classic, and “Is Dead’s” biggest victory is unsure; is it the fact that the band single-handedly influences the anarcho-folk-punk scene or that the album still sounds fresh after all these years, or even that anyone that truly loves music will find something amenable in Rumbleseat’s music?
Top Tracks: Mt. Sweetheart, California Burritos
Rumbleseat – Is Dead / 2005 No Idea Records / http://www.rumbleseat.net / http://www.noidearecords.com / Reviewed 04 August 2005