For thirty years, Los Angeles, California’s Down by Law has been a staple of the punk rock community. While never achieving commercial success, critical acclaim and widespread influence on younger generations has remained consistent. Back with their first album in five years, the band is stronger than ever. Reuniting with the classic lineup that produced 1994’s Punkrockacademyfightsong, the band delivers All In – an album that stands among their best work.
While the band is lumped into the “punk” category, it’s hard to listen to this album and not just identify it as mostly pure rock n’ roll. Perhaps an ethos can link it to the genre they’re most often aligned with, but it doesn’t really matter. Fact is, this is just a great collection of songs that will likely reach an audience outside the boundaries of punk. But, since I brought it up, the thing that separates this album from so many other punk bands is a crisp, clean recording, articulate vocals, and a lack of reliance on down-stroked power chords and heavily distorted guitars. Sure, we all love the raw and dirty punk – I’m not knocking that in the slightest. But, the songs on All In sound more like musicians who can actually play their instruments, fronted by a vocalist who can actually sing.
What the band demonstrates on All In, is that they’ve matured as both musicians and songwriters. Front to back, this is a diverse album that’s mostly powered by great melodies and hooks. Whether its the soaring choruses of “Aperture,” “Mountain,” or “Ride,” or the almost pop-y “Mannequin,” the band shows a keen ear for catchy vocals and guitar lines. Indeed, guitarist Sam Williams has a number of highlights, like the fluid leads on “Carousel,” “End of Rhyme,” and “Then and Tomorrow.” Doubtless, his guitar playing on album closer “Dear Fate” is a standout moment. As I eluded to above, tracks like “Boredom,” “Infatuation,” and “Undone” straddle the line between punk and pure rock n’ roll. I’m not entirely sure that differentiating needs to be made, or if it’s even worth arguing, but it’s this element that moves the needle outside the genre. The pumping horn section on “Undone” sits comfortably within the bands sound and doesn’t push against the more punk-y numbers like “Rebrand It,” rather it elevates the song where an obligatory guitar lead may come off as redundant.
We’ve been listening to this album a few times a day since the promo wound up in our inbox. If you’re a fan of the band, you’ll love this as much as any of their previous albums. If you’re unfamiliar with Down by Law, this is a great starting point.
– J. Kevin Lynch