It’s good to see that politically-conscious reggae/rock still exists. While the influx of younger ‘white boy reggae’ bands only concern themselves with partying and drinking and other such lighthearted fare, State Radio chooses to actually stand for something. The band released its third full-length album, Let It Go, back in September. It flew under my radar until a few weeks ago, inexplicably.
The disc begins with Mansin Humanity, an energetic opener that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Lead guitarist/vocalist Chad Urmston sings with passion and an earnestness that is refreshing to hear. Of course, he came from the rather incredible indie band Dispatch, who unfortunately broke up a few years ago (save for a couple benefit reunion shows at Madison Square Garden). He alternates between soothing melodic singing and a more exclamatory range, which accentuate the intensity of the songs.
Calling All Crows finds the band returning to the more-than-solid reggae/rock sound that they exhibited on their 2005 album Us Against the Crown, which remains their most solid disc, in my opinion. Set to a relaxing guitar strum and some thumping percussion, Urmston sings “…if you feel like you are witnessing a movement, then get up, girl, and let them know you’re free.”
Urmston frequently injects political commentary to State Radio songs, as most concern themselves with rebels, racial injustice, and other such topics. Year of the Crow, which came out in 2007, featured songs discussing Guantanamo, trouble in Sudan, and other such related topics. Let It Go continues that trend, but the band returned to its melodic side with this record. The songs have an incessantly catchy tendency, while at the same time allowing Urmston the opportunity to express himself adequately.
He has been known to play some shows with a handmade guitar crafted out of an old Castrol motor oil can, as a sort of tribute/protest of the American oil industry. I saw him use it at a show a few years ago, and it was really impressive.
Arsenic & Clover has an urgent feeling to it, opening with Urmston singing “thou shalt not want any or all that you feed so kindly”, before the song takes off. It sounds religious in tone, concerning ‘heathens’ and a ‘holy dove’ and such. It’s one of the album’s ‘highlights’, although the whole disc is really a masterful piece of work.
The rest of the band, Chuck Fay and Mike Najarian, complement Urmston’s dissonant, distorted guitar perfectly, as the bass and drums smash along with the guitar and vocals with precision and finesse.
Bohemian Grove slows things down a bit after the fury of Arsenic & Clover, and it includes some nice hushed vocal melodies by Urmston. The song concerns war, with Urmston delivering lines such as “It’s a peculiar situation when the leaders of the wealthy nations don’t care for the damage they’ve done”, which lead into the chorus of “I don't need your world control, and the opinion of the inner elite oh don't you know that we are aching for a part in the chance worth taking”. It’s one of the better State Radio songs I’ve heard, with some great lyrics from Urmston.
With Knights of Bostonia, the band pays homage to its hometown while retaining the call to action theme of most of its songs. It sounds primed for a sing along in concert, which I’m sure is the case when they play.
The rest of the album is equally as solid. With Let It Go, State Radio has really crafted a very solid collection of songs concerning real issues. Just as he was while a member of Dispatch, Urmston injects realness and a sense of urgency into State Radio, infusing each song with a passionate cry for acceptance, peace, and justice in the world, which obviously could use such encouragement. I am especially fond of the band’s ability to do that, as too much of today’s music is mindless nonsense meant for club hits and iTunes downloads. State Radio frequently hosts social activism events prior to their concerts, encouraging fans to take a part and make a difference, as that is what they are about.
Let It Go is a fantastic record of songs that are meant to stand for something and make a difference, while also managing to be excellent songs penned by very talented individuals.
More people could benefit by listening to State Radio, so what are you waiting for?