by Joel Parmer (@cup_of_joel)
Herzog is one of those bands that frankly doesn’t let you down. At this point in their nearly decade long career, they’ve developed a bit of a legacy. The Cleveland-based group’s discography matches a philosophy that we’re all constant works in progress.
Each record Herzog puts out is phenomenal in its own way; a progression of the last that pushes the envelope of its predecessor. And this could not be more true in regards to their fourth full-length: Me Vs. You.
A follow-up to 2014’s much more easygoing album Boys, Me Vs. You is a gem that gets more iridescent with each listen. The new record is densely packed, both sonically and lyrically. This is due to the fact that Herzog is a uniquely collaborative unit.
Tony Vorell is the wordsmith in Herzog. He’s less performer, more composer. Dave McHenry and Nick Tolar are the guitarists and main vocalists, while Charlie Trenta holds it down on bass. Newfound drummer Alec Schumann is now primarily playing live although original drummer, Dan Price still performs with Herzog from time to time. Price recently adopted a child and understandably focuses most of his efforts on parenting. When Price does play live, Schumann can be found flip-flopping on drums and keyboards.
Herzog’s collaborative style focuses on taking plenty of time and not rushing the creative process. In an interview with Cleveland.com singer and guitarist Nick Tolar elaborates:
“That’s the one bright side of not releasing a record in five years. It took a long time, but it wouldn’t have been as good if we had released it in a year or two. We needed a little bit of time.”
Through careful teamwork, tracks for Me Vs. You were written and recorded at two seperate studios. The process began in New York at Kevin McMahon’s Marcata Recording (Swans, Titus Andronicus). Herzog tracked out a full album worth of music there, but felt like things were somewhat incongruent. So they split the difference, keeping half of the material for this record and placing the other half on the backburner for a future release. Later on the rest of Me Vs. You came to life at Primitive Earth, drummer Dan Price’s home studio in Cleveland.
From there several sets of ears took part in the mixing phase. McMahon mixed three tracks and Price mixed four. The remaining three songs were mixed by Chicago producer Sean O’Keefe (Motion City Soundtrack, Fall Out Boy). Overall, the band’s meticulous approach has been five years well spent.
While Me Vs. You is an immersive collection of songs, it feels effortlessly pensive. It’s equal parts power-pop, indie rock, and noise rock. At times there’s a twangy presence of alt-country, slight sprinkles of jingle jangle, and moments of in-your-face (albeit tasteful) shredding. Vocal and guitar harmonies are saccharine and infectious. It’s lackadaisical by nature, yet remarkably polished and cohesive. And there’s also no shortage of introspective themes brought to the table.
Lyricist Tony Vorell sidelines Herzog as a non-performing member, but he heavily contributes to the nostalgic and lamenting vibes of Me Vs. You. This generates a storytelling-esque quality, while leaving space for personal interpretation.
The first seconds of intro track “Music Was The Language From When I Mattered” engulf you with the words: "Went from the church to the bar without a bed in-between. I gave the best years of my life to the rock 'n' roll scene."
These words explode a heavy hitting banger; a proper introduction to Herzog for new listeners and celebration for veteran followers. The music video for “Music Was The Language” paints a sentimental picture that matches the words.
Throughout the record many other themes surface. In an interview with Cleveland Scene, Vorell makes mention that he’s also phased into parenthood. He explains this connection that’s made with the lyrics to the song “Little Big Star”:
"This song is the other one written about my kids Leon and Cosmo. Everyone needs to hear 'it’s going to be alright.’ The first time Nick showed it to me, it was very nervous sounding; and I tried to write about the nervousness I feel about my kids' future. As it took shape, it sounded more like the classic rock side of Herzog. As indie rock as we might be labeled, there’s ultimately the blood of Cleveland’s classic rock fixation in our veins.”
Moreover, the concept of divorce tribulates through title track “Me Vs. You”. The words fade out into a gloomy passage: “I’m a quiet man, you turn me down. You keep on pushin’ me around. There’s no one left now, it’s just you vs me.”
When listening to Herzog’s Me Vs. You, the nods at life’s juxtapositions can’t be ignored. It’s a dynamically sentimental batch of ten songs; something a run-of-the-mill rock record doesn’t usually convey. Regardless of the path your life has taken, you’ll likely connect with Me Vs. You. This is an album with incredible replay value. It’s one you’ll want to grow old with.