By Land or Sea (formerly Frankie and His Fingers) is a new entity. With a new name and new songs, the Kingston, New York alternative three-piece is taking itself more seriously on every front. And while I’m not entirely sure if that’s always a good thing, By Land or Sea’s new release Hell Broke Loose is a solid album that will draw any listener in. And don’t let your thick-brimmed glasses fog up, kids – By Land or Sea is unsigned. In fewer words, Hell Broke Loose has got all of your indie cred right here and some to spare.
In a multitude of ways, Hell Broke Loose is a big improvement from their 2007 EP One Hell of a Skeleton. It features guitarist/vocalist Frank McGinnis’ improved vocals (and he had pipes to begin with) and also showcases Samantha Niss’ drumming to an extent greater than its predecessor. On a whole, the production quality of By Land or Sea’s latest release is excellent, and the mixes are near perfect. From a musician’s standpoint, the album shows off a more technical band, with a number of impressive progressions and breaks.
Dynamically speaking, Hell Broke Loose has a lot to offer. “The Gimme Gimmes” is incredibly catchy and danceable, but boasts high replay value because of its spastic rhythms. McGinnis shines at writing high-energy tracks like “Frankenstein” and “No Fizz Outta My Soda” that are all but impossible to get out of your head, but shows a new aptitude for creating subtler pieces like “Children” that showcase the bands ambient side. For atmosphere, one only needs to look to the opening track “Tinman”, which sounds something like an amalgamation of every uplifting song you’ve ever heard. “Wood/Lead” begins modestly, but swells to an epic climax, characterized by McGinnis’ emotive screams that call Sunny Day Real Estate to mind.
Samantha Niss’ drumming is nothing short of stellar, and she could do wonders to dispel the common misconception that women can’t be great drummers. Her playing is flaunted by tracks like “Stop It Kid, You’re Creepin’ Me Out”, a song which also contains one of the best phrased guitar solos I’ve heard in a long while. Finally, “Cool with Cars, Bad with Bridges” is the clear highlight song of the album. The song is memorable from the beginning, Frank uttering practically classic opening lyrics: “This is the sound of the biggest mistake I will ever make/It struck its chord when I painted the past up fake/It broke the noise ordinance when you slapped your hand across my face/And my conscience ain’t so proud/That it took this long to get this loud.” Aside from perhaps the best lyrical work of the band to date, McGinnis’ vocal delivery is fantastic – the lyrics in the verse are sung at a speed that puts most rappers to shame. “Cool with Cars, Bad with Bridges” is the perfect introduction to the band, and is possibly the best song they’ve ever written.
Accolades aside, Hell Broke Loose isn’t without its pitfalls. Aesthetically, it represents the bands transition from Frankie and His Fingers to By Land or Sea. Unfortunately, their attempt to take on a more serious identity resulted in trading in some uniqueness for a rather generic name. The album follows suit to an extent. There are fewer memorable lyrics to be found here (the exception being “Cool with Cars, Bad with Bridges”). Hell Broke Loose features a more ambient sound, which isn’t inherently bad, but it forgoes some degree of catchiness that One Hell of a Skeleton had in the process. The record is very cohesive, but the songs can blend together at times if you aren’t paying attention. The lack of pre-album demos like “The Coach’s Daughter” is also disappointing (if the demo was anything to go by, a completed version might have taken best song from “Cool with Cars”).
Despite any negative aspects of Hell Broke Loose, it’s apparent that By Land or Sea is a musical force to be reckoned with. The recent induction of bassist Adam Stoutenburgh will only serve to benefit the band in the future. And if you’re in New York, “bite your tongue/plug your ears”, and for the love of all that is underground, get off your ass and go check out By Land or Sea.