With lead singer Jake Ewald’s quiet vocals, the incandescent slide guitar, and lyrics that tell familiar stories with predictable endings, Slaughter Beach, Dog has always been a band that sounds like home to me. Debut Welcome was a weird, whimsical, and welcome (ha) surprise. Listening to sophomoric Birdie felt like a holyshitwhatthefuckisthis moment with tracks that are the sonic equivalent of settling into bed with a warm blanket.
Then, there was a pause. Some touring. A very weird Audiotree live session. The opening of The Metal Shop. Finally, a follow-up: This year’s Safe And Also No Fear. A downtrodden, disappointing, and dreary addition to the otherwise kaleidoscopic SBD discography, this album feels like a home you return to after a long time away. Everything is smaller, the details that used to be charming are now nauseating, and you can’t help but feel betrayed by how nostalgia has failed you.
Let’s this out of the way now: The record doesn’t sound like Modern Baseball. In fact, most of the Slaughter Beach, Dog discography doesn’t sound like Modern Baseball. At this point, the two projects are so materially different and the time away from Mobo has stretched so long that harping on the differences in attitude, subject-matter, and performance is unnecessary. They’re legitimately different bands. The only important factor to take from Ewald and Farmer’s relationship to Modern Baseball is fairly obvious: They commandeered much of the Mobo fanbase. It’s important to mention because, as Slaughter Beach, Dog continues to change, the Mobo sound will always stay the same. Anyway, TLDR: If you came here for a long article harping on how it just isn’t Modern Baseball, you’ve come to the wrong place, but I’m sure you can readily find a substitute elsewhere.
Safe And Also No Fear sounds like a grown-up version of Welcome and Birdie, which is to say that Slaughter Beach, Dog has traded in their youthful days for a soul-sucking 9 to 5 and they’re fucking exhausted. The entire 38 minutes feel sluggish, slow, and muted. Lyrically and vocally, this is the laziest we’ve ever heard Ewald. While Welcome had a gritty anger and Birdie felt aggressively intimate, Safe And Also No Fear feels mailed in. Ewald has quietly become one of the strongest lyricist of our generation, showcasing an incredible ability to churn out verses teeming with heady allusions, alliterations, and puns. This is sorely lacking on Safe But Also No Fear, where Ewald leans into concise sentences that convey a straightforward meaning but fail to inspire. The vocals are similarly surface-level. Ewald still maintains the incredible ability to make listeners feel as though they’re in the studio with him, but on this record it’s unclear if Ewald himself actually wants to be there himself.
The instrumentals are just okay. Safe And Also No Fear lacks the bells and whistles (or, more appropriately, slide guitars and subtle vocal fry) of previous standout tracks, which deflates the already sleepy album. I want this portion of the review to be longer, but there’s really not much to talk about. It sounds like what plain butter on white bread tastes like.
Even so, there are promising moments. “The Dogs” finds Ewald making a foray into spoken word. He’s not totally successful, but it’s a cool moment of experimentation on an otherwise very restrained project, a full swing and a foul ball on an album of mostly bunts. “No One” sounds like what I wish most of this album would sounded like, with engaging narrative lyrics and bright vocals. He starts, “She dumps the contents of her puse / Onto the hightop drummer chair / I could’ve sworn that I had sixty more dollars in there / She said that I would not believe the things she’d read / They’d written there, plain as day / And I might turn to salt for staying too long.” Finally: A story, a joke, a metaphor. Moments like these are scarce, but present.
Look. Sound evolves as people evolve. It’s been a joy to watch Ewald grow up through his music. Right now feels like a transitory period. I’m sure the next one will be better.
This review was written while drunk seven months ago. It sat around in Draft mode and did not go live until March 28th, 2020. We at Music Journalism Is Dead regret the consequent irrelevancy.