Milwaukee has been a hub for rock music for many decades, a popular stop for major and minor touring acts, and remains a bastion for the form in uncertain times. The latest exponent of the city’s rock community, a four piece outfit named RedBelt, has debuted with a thirteen song collection entitled Beautiful Surround. The band has an obvious propensity for melodic punk rock, but they don’t restrict themselves to pursuing one avenue exclusively. Instead, they adeptly blend the punk rock influences in their music with generous portions of classic rock, pop melodies, and three part vocal harmonies that often raise the songs up a whole other notch. The album has few points that can referred to as a manifestation of pure punk rock – Mike Mann’s lead guitar work is clearly too sophisticated for such labels – but it makes excellent use of the genre.
“Crossed Wires” perfectly illustrates that last point. The track is a romping musical thrill ride, but there’s moments scattered throughout the track when Mann’s lead guitar bursts from the mix and forces the track to take on a distinctly different tenor. The punk influences recede on the second track, “American Mercy”, in favor of a more singer/songwriter sensibility. This isn’t some sensitive, aching examination of American life, however; there’s just a little more lyrical depth here and a more carefully phrased vocal compared to the first track. “Shoot It All the Time” is much more an out and out classic rock tune. The presence of rhythm guitarist Kevin Brown’s acoustic running through deep in the mix combined with Mann’s fiery slide guitar makes this stand out from a crowded pack of excellent songs.
It pairs nicely with the title song. The segue from such a resolutely classic rock themed number into a more detailed, layered alternative rock inspired title song. Brown adjusts his vocal accordingly and shows much more of an ear for slowly developing melodies for voice that enriches this song immeasurably. “Sweet Release”, however, doesn’t care for developing anything slowly or patiently. This is one of the purest shots of tough-minded punk rock on the album and has an almost claustrophobic level of intensity. “Cold” finds them shifting gears again. It retains the same wide-eyed enthusiasm of the earlier song, but the guitars are turned to work in a much more pop-oriented direction and empathizes melody over power. The vocal melody is particularly catchy.
“Throw Away” joins “Sweet Release” as one of the album’s hardest hitting punk cuts. There’s much more art here, however, than attitude and Brown’s vocal far outstrips his efforts on the aforementioned earlier track. The concluding number on Beautiful Surround, “Hard Light”, is a stylistic turn that no one will expect. The guitar work is much more restrained here and, instead, RedBelt relies much more on their talented rhythm section to carry the musical day. It affixes an exclamation point to the end of Beautiful Surround; perhaps not one that the listener expects, but it’s nonetheless quite an effective ending.
9 out of 10 stars
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