There’s this understanding in journalism that biased reporting is bad reporting. As a music reviewer (kind of journalist?), I suppose it’d be in poor taste to try and review an EP by two of your good friends. From both a professional and personal standpoint, attempting to critique the musical work of close friends is a bit of a tricky proposition. This is a line I was trying to tread when reviewing Live Free and Die, an EP by Connecticut indie rock duo Bonsai Trees. With all being said, I hold no bias, only a commitment to fairly critiquing this EP. I wouldn’t have reviewed it if I didn’t believe it was worthy of being reviewed, and it is truly worthy of one. Live Free and Die is a release by a band up to something great. These five songs are definite listens for anyone looking for a strong, straight-forward, alternative rock experience.
As the definition of alternative music pushes itself beyond its roots, Bonsai Trees find themselves tailored towards a more traditional rock experience. Some may find it tough to classify this band beyond pop punk, but ideas and execution here isn’t that of a Blink-182 or The Wonder Years sound-alike. Live Free and Die is rooted in the inventive indie rock of the 2000s, taking heed from bands like The Strokes, Weezer and The Walkmen. It may be an overstatement to necessarily place them on the same level as those groups, but Live Free and Die is a release that can draw such comparisons and expectations.
While only having two members, vocalist/guitarist James MacPherson takes bass duties on EP, and thus the effort sounds full and cohesive. The opener, “She Ain’t Coming Back”, has vague trappings of The Black Keys sprinkled within it, but the clean(-ish) production separates it from a loud n’ proud garage rock classification. Where MacPherson’s vocals really shine is on “Force Me”, which is as angry as this EP gets. The maturity in his voice comes through with the croon of “force me lover”, which follows a building bridge of energy and power.
Some may say that this EP does not fit nicely under one label, so is inadequate at doing that respective genre with justice. It is too clean cut for garage rock, not edgy enough for indie, and not “pop punk” enough for pop punk. Regardless, if the title track is any indication, this band can put a really great song together. Starting off with a soft guitar riff, an equally light percussive take eases itself in, and the two take off together. Alternating between these soft and loud patterns, as MacPherson finds himself in a pool of catharsis, a catharsis doesn’t fully hit until the yells of “I don’t want to go to Iowa” hit, finding that the love he is losing, familiar or romantic, it is this love that he needs. Undoubtedly the best song on the EP, “Live Free and Die” is a capstone on a release that sees a band of great maturity and character, capable of doing even more.
With Live Free and Die, Bonsai Trees put out a thesis statement for potential fans. For a band that is nothing more than a 19 and 20 year old, these guys are remarkably mature and innovative. They haven’t necessarily copy and pasted genre tropes in hope of the best possible combination. Instead, they’ve incorporated modern rock qualities into something that is very much their own. For anyone looking for a no-frills, high-energy alternative rock effort, Live Free and Die is well-worth a listen.