There is perhaps no trickier time for a young band to maneuver through than the sophomore release. If you’ve made it this far, the debut was probably well-received, either critically or commercially, and you’re a little more confident heading into album number two. On the other hand, though, debuts are typically made up of the best material a group has written since their inception, while the second record is usually written in a much shorter time span. The Bitter Roots
’ Moral Hazard
sadly doesn’t live up to the Seattle duo’s strong debut, but there are a few bright moments to be found.
Let’s get the bad out of the way. This LP suffers from what I like to call Similar Acoustic Syndrome. You’ve heard these types of songs before. They’re full of mid-tempo, acoustic chords, sincerely gentle vocals, and straightforward drumbeats with nothing distinguishing them apart. The first two tracks, “Separate Boxes” and “The Big Black”, fit into this category. Neither are bad songs at all, just filler-ish. They bleed into each other and really test one’s attention span. While “Life” fits into this pattern, it also separates itself by being the low point of the album. An attempt at storytelling between a father and son falls flat because Jeff Stetson’s lyrics are far too literal. It reads more like a screenplay than a melody.
On the other end, when The Bitter Roots reach a high point, they really launch into the stratosphere. “Falling” glides on a descending acoustic arpeggio. The interplay between lead and backing vocals creates some excellent harmonies that gradually rise throughout the chorus. Due to the wonderfully low-key production, the entire song feels like it could have been played live in your living room. “Victim” acts as a heavy monster that explodes from a swampy intro and doesn’t look back. Guitars growl around Stetson’s darker-than-usual lyrics about someone turning themselves into a victim. It’s an aggressively awesome presence that is sorely missed throughout the rest of the album.
The Bitter Roots may not have hit a home run here, but they aren’t out of the game yet. (Yes, baseball season has started, if you couldn’t tell.) While many tracks will quickly fade from your memory, the few standouts will definitely hold your attention.