by Gordon Phillips (@gordonmphillips)
If Father/Daughter Records (Alex Napping, Diet Cig, Sports) truly invites the descriptor, “a safe haven for misfit pop bands,” then Pardoner found a fitting home for their new record, Uncontrollable Salvation. The San Francisco four-piece’s debut full-length spans 41 minutes and “is perfect to spin at a Halloween party or with your love on Valentine’s Day”—laudable situational versatility.
Despite the fact that Pardoner is the first band in which Max Freeland and Trey Flanigan have ever played guitar, their cohesive understanding of part writing and performance is indispensable to Uncontrollable Salvation. In songs like “Pivot Fakie” or “Labrador,” Freeland and Flanigan alternate between synchronized waves of fuzz turbulence and a conventional lead/rhythm guitar arrangement. When the two guitars are delivered in tandem, their close syncopation and complimentary array of tonal choices are parallel enough give the effect of a deliberately-recorded “stereo pair,” lending a full and strong feeling to those passages. While both guitarists typically opt for heavy fuzz, songs like “Hey Rockstar,” “My Sorry Ass” and “Blue Hell” employ a shimmering chorus effect, which provides a staunch foil for when the trademark fuzz tsunami inevitably breaks again.
Freeland’s vocal performances range from an impassioned yelp in “Pivot Fakie,” to a faux-energized singsong in “Hint,” to a disinterested almost spoken delivery in songs like “Uncontrollable Salvation” or “Hey Rockstar.” “I really think we could be friends if you wanted/I don’t know, it’s a thought,” Freeland mumbles in “Hey Rockstar.” He continues, “I totally respect what you’re doing over there, man/It’s really, really cool.” The record’s title track further showcases Freeland’s sardonic approach to lyricism, seemingly lecturing himself: “It’s so much fun being happy/It’s so much fun/Don’t you want to be happy?/Come on, what’s the point of fuckin’ moping around all the time?”
As the only member with any prior band experience, drummer River van den Berghe dutifully assumes the responsibility of directing the ensemble through their tumultuous arrangements with aptly placed fills and band hits, while still knowing when to back off to dramatic effect. Across the record, the band’s energy sprints, crawls and sometimes saunters, all at the careful guidance of van den Berghe’s steady drumming. The LP’s climatic closer “Don’t Stop Believin’ In Me” showcases this propensity across its seven minutes and multiple stylistic shifts. “Don’t stop believin’ in me/I’m getting better I think” the ensemble pleads before descending into a hard-earned, fuzzed-out resolution.
In possibly the most fittingly irreverent ending possible, after over straight seven minutes of concocted chaos, the last audible sound on the entire record is Freeman quickly blurting out, “Can we try that one more time?” While Uncontrollable Salvation listeners may not be able to expect to have quite as much fun as Pardoner had while making the record, they should absolutely try.