Since their formation, Austin’s Gentlemen Rogues have created great music that’s hugely indebted to the older college rock sound. Via a series of EPs, their very retro approach won them a loyal audience within the rock underground, and comparisons to The Replacements certainly didn’t hurt their progress. Over a decade since their humble beginnings, their 2024 release ‘Surface Noise’ finally sees the band stretching beyond their preferred short playing format with a full album’s worth of material, and it comes as a great relief that their punchy music doesn’t necessarily need to be heard in short bursts to have the greatest impact.

Thanks to a great set of riffs and a few massive chorus hooks, the album plays very strongly throughout but, naturally, there are a few obvious standout tracks. ‘All Out Crush’, in particular, offers a great insight into the band’s rockier sound when a slightly distorted riff rushes forth and a ringing lead guitar is overlaid to create something with a fuller feel. That ringing guitar is re-employed to create an effective bridge between the verse and chorus, but it’s on the chorus itself where the band really come into their own. Taking a small sidestep into a more melodic style, the combination of brighter guitar riff and power pop inflected vocal more than shows off a love for ‘Hang Time’ era Soul Asylum, whilst a busy guitar solo adds even more of a college rock edge. In a little over three minutes, the Gentlemen manage to flaunt most of their strongest credentials, and also deliver an unexpectedly big chorus, making the track one of their best to date.

Almost equally good, ‘Never The Bride’ punches very confidently, first with a hard edged power pop riff – used brilliantly to propel the intro – and then by exploding into a world of retro rock where a melodic punk undertone joins the obvious early Soul Asylum and Replacements love. The rollocking feel of the track is further set in place by a pleasingly atonal lead guitar break and a slightly atonal middle eight where the lead guitar seems very keen to break into the Batman theme given half a chance. All of the elements are held together effortly via a very natural vocal where frontman Danny Dunlap throws himself head first into a performance where his slightly sneery voice provides a very direct callback to the late 80s alternative scene. …And then, proving that the band aren’t a one-trick pony, they throw in an unexpected coda where a cold, almost shimmery guitar riff owes more to post-punk influences, leading surprisingly naturally into a gentle fade.

Bringing in a touch more melody, ‘60’s Damage’ shares a strong descending riff, before a ringing guitar and broader vocal drive a rocky number that sounds like something from the Grant Hart catalogue, and of particular interest here is drummer Josh Power’s work, since he mixes the obviously rocky rhythms with some smarter playing that relies more heavily on the toms. Although this number isn’t quite as immediate, its blend of late 60s garage rock sounds and 90s rock overdrive works very well in terms of showcasing the musicians. For those who’ve always enjoyed the Rogues’ crashier aspects, ‘Involuntary Solitary’ sounds, at times, like a noisy Bob Mould tune with a sloppy garage punk vocal, on an arrangement that pushes the band’s retro love into the stratosphere. Despite the arrangement leaning heavily on some late 80s/early 90s influences, there’s a real joy in hearing the band cut loose here, especially during the instrumental break when they contrast one of the album’s crunchiest riffs with a frustratingly brief Thin Lizzy inspired twin lead and an equally brief interlude that pushes the bass further forward. Those brief twists aside, the track isn’t one of the band’s most sophisticated, musically speaking, but it sounds great when played loudly, and the repetitious closing refrain of “I wanna be infected” provides one of this release’s more instant hooks.

The enjoyable ‘Half Empty, Half Fool’ crashes in like a power pop deep cut from the past, and its spirited lead vocal carries a great melody that’s almost as uplifting as the guitar riff, but it gets a much bigger lift when the band embark on a harmony driven hook that promises even bigger things. In terms of melody, it doesn’t disappoint, but an odd arrangement makes the chorus feel as if it stops a line or two short. Not that it spoils the number, since there’s some great, jangling guitar that constantly drives the melody forward, and also a few moments of pointed lead guitar which show off the band’s retro heart with ease. Since ‘Moonstruck’ shares a vaguely grungy riff that takes the Gentlemen’s sound in the direction of the now overlooked Mother May I, there’s a clear indication that this album attempts to bring a decent amount of variety within its rocky hooks – this is rather far removed from ‘Half Empty’, which, in turn, is quite different from the likes of ‘All Out Crush’ – but there’s still a commitment to a great chorus and roaring lead guitar which brings things more in line with the band’s typical sound. Despite a slightly crunchier feel, this is actually one of the album’s most enduring numbers.

In addition to these tunes, the album also features a couple of older cuts that’ll be familiar to anyone who happened to be following the Gentlemen online during the 2020 and beyond. The still brilliant ‘Do The Resurrection!’ kicks off with a barrage of guitars powering an intro that carries faint echoes of an old Sugar number, before settling into a verse that combines the sounds of classic Soul Asylum with the noisier end of The Connells. Waves of 90s nostalgia come thick and fast and the riffs are brilliantly constructed. Over the wall of sound, Dunlap offers a very melodic vocal that bristles with energy throughout. His performance has the kind of gravitas you’d expect from a performer with four times his level of fame, and by the time he wrings a great vocal hook for all it’s worth, this feels like the kind of number you’ve always known. There’s time enough within its concise three and a half minutes for a little deviation, too. Whilst the track works largely from tried and tested ideas Dunlap has been slowly perfecting over the years, a somewhat wonky tribute to Thin Lizzy via a lead guitar break comes as unexpected, once again. In short, whether you’re already familiar with Gentlemen Rogues or approaching them for the first time here, there’s plenty within this retro belter you’ll love right from the very first play.

Elsewhere, another early single,‘Francy’ accentuates the band’s punkier instincts via a massive riff that grabs the old Minneapolis sound by the scruff of its neck and delivers something in the vein of Soul Asylum circa ‘Made To Be Broken’ crossed with the more melodic parts of Grant Hart’s solo work. The way a howling lead is placed over the jagged rhythm stresses the Rogues’ previously effortless style, and as a broader melody creeps in for the verse, the blend between the punky and 90s alternative influences is seamless. Adding a slightly gruff lead vocal, it further becomes like an old Soul Asylum/Buffalo Tom tune from way back, and although the chorus could’ve been bigger, there’s more than enough here that’ll please extant fans after that all important second or third play.

The Gentlemen Rogues can be a little rough at times, but what they occasionally lack in obvious finesse on this album, is more than made up for with pure gusto and an obvious love of what they do. For those who still hanker after old school college rock and the noisy end of roots rock for their listening pleasures, ‘Surface Noise’ should offer a lot to enjoy, perhaps even more than its surface noise more than implies. It might have endured a long birthing process, with the band sharing tracks intermittently over the course of a couple of years, but fans should consider this release more than worth that wait.

April 2024

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