With some musicians, the phrase ‘side project’ would strike fear into even their most ardent fans. The general consensus being that to step away from their main band is to indulge their most eye rollingly, pretentious whims. Occasionally though, a side project comes along that may just be a match for the band that spawned them. Slaughter Beach, Dog are the brain child of Modern Baseball’s Jake Ewald.
The concept behind the band is an ingenious one. Each song is written from the perspective of the inhabitants of the fictional town, Slaughter Beach. This allows Ewald to step away from the hyper personal lyrics of Modern Baseball, while still retaining the melancholic but hopeful themes of his previous work.
‘Phoenix’ is a gorgeous and maudlin album opener that sets the tone nicely for what is to follow. Ewald follows the time-honoured tradition of turning every day Americana into something poetic, crooning about hot coffee and family photographs. ‘Gold and Green’ was the opening single from Birdie and it evokes Winnipeg legends The Weakerthans while still maintaining that trademark Ewald sound. When he sings about making his garden grow “inch by inch and row by row”it could be an acknowledgment of the healing process for Modern Baseball… or it could just be a song about his garden. The ambiguity is a world away from his parent band and it adds an ethereal mystique to his song writing.
‘Pretty O.K.’ is perhaps the most MOBO song on the whole record but the insistent verse gives way to a melodic and gentle chorus that sets the song apart from Ewalds usual sound. ‘Bad Beer’ is the albums catchiest and best moment. The tale of an up and coming band drinking subpar beer on tour sees Slaughter Beach, Dog rise above the sum of their influences to produce something truly theirs. It is an affecting toe tapper that might well be the best song Ewald has ever written.
‘Shapes I Know’ ties a familiar melody into a story of teenage alienation and awkwardness. The stop start chorus reflects the protagonist’s inability to find a place where they belong. ‘Sleepwalking’ is perhaps a little too indebted to John K. Sansom and The Weakerthans but as an album centre piece it serves as a welcome change of pace, being the most traditional ‘rock’ song on the record.
‘Buttercup’ slows the pace down to a point where Ewalds vocals are almost spoken. Whispered even. At almost five minutes it is the longest song on the record but it is also the most successful at encapsulating the albums themes. Ewald wrings every ounce of emotion from the minutiae of everyday life as he sings about “how little we have changed” and scratching “an old wound”.
‘Friend Song’ sounds like it could have come straight from Welcome, the band’s first record, with its rough around the edges feel and simple instrumentation. The difference is the maturity in the lyrics as Ewald laments that he “still likes to look at your pictures”.
‘Acolyte’ closes the album as a meditation on young love, broken down bars and stargazing. With Birdie, Slaughter Beach, Dog have done more than just justified their existence. They have marked out Ewald as a contributor to the great American songbook, a troubadour, a story teller. This ‘side project’ has allowed Ewald to spread his wings as a song writer to the point where the term ‘side project’ may well be disingenuous when referring to Slaughter Beach, Dog.
This article was originally written for Gig Junkies.