If you’ve ever gotten hammered at an Irish pub, stumbled back to a house that’s been standing since the coal mining days, dug out a beat-up ol’ acoustic guitar and wailed out inebriated hymns of discontent all night, but still managed to get up in time to go to church in the morning, you’re probably an NEPA native.
If that’s the case, you’ll immediately be familiar with the aesthetic Ashland’s Condition Oakland evokes so earnestly on “Catholic Presidents,” the band’s third album on Reading-based DIY label No Less Records.
Fans of Against Me!, The Gaslight Anthem, and Philadelphia’s Corporate Hearts, take note. With a focus on sore-throat vocals, twangy acoustic guitars, driving rhythms, and soul-baring lyrics, Condition Oakland offers melodic, Springsteen-inspired, working-class songwriting embellished with punk rock abrasiveness.
“Sad Drunk” creates an atmosphere of melancholy and intimacy that carries throughout, even as “xHorrible Gravesx” and “Missing Bones” pick up the pace with bouncy tempos that make you want to clap along. “Exit” is low-key and confessional, juxtaposing nicely from between the aggressive challenge of “Burning Scale Model Houses” and the aforementioned “Bones.”
“We’ll Meet Our Brothers at the Gates” stands out with its dynamic shifts from tortured baying to elevated crescendos punctuated by swaying group vocals. “Blue Steps & Catholic Guilt” and “I Was a Safe Place, I Was an Anchor” are both in-your-face encounters. While the former is made all the more stark in its stripped-down sparseness, the latter pairs its half-angry, half-heartbroken candor with an instrumental robustness that mirrors the multifaceted emotionality.
Finally, the lithe, downbeat trifecta of “Foundations,” “Button Eyes” and “Dull Blades” serves as a somber denouement, reminding you that the bar is closing, all your friends have got to go home, and tomorrow, for better or worse, you’re going to wake up the same person you always were.
Time to grab a six-pack.
Condition Oakland ‘Catholic Presidents’ Rating: W W W V