Riot Fest 2014 will go down as the first large-scale punk festival powered almost entirely by nostalgia. The backward-looking bill featured something for every generation of punk-turned-grownup, from Cheap Trick’s vintage power pop to Mineral’s wistful emo. Younger bands still in their best years were pushed to the side stages or slotted to play for sparse crowds in the afternoon. One such band was Philadelphia’s Restorations, though to call these guys “young” would be to contradict their maturity as musicians, as songwriters, and as people.
Restorations may deal in the currency of nostalgia, but they’ll never be confused for a nostalgia act. On last year’s excellent LP2, they treated the individual subgenres of rock as colors on a palette, blending the urgency of hardcore, the jarring dynamics of emo, and the giant choruses of heartland rock into a collection that marked a huge step forward from their previous work. Before LP2, it was easy to lump Restorations in with all the other bearded punks playing monotonous anthems about heartbreak. But that album blew away the band’s peers in musical ambition and lyrical scope. These were guys with something to say and the tools (sharp guitar solos, a keen sense of texture, even the occasional organ) to communicate it effectively.
LP3 is a big rock record that builds on the successes of its predecessor even as Restorations’ DIY punk roots start disappearing in the rearview mirror. Whereas LP2 seemed at times to make uneasy concessions to those roots, LP3 finds the band indulging their own instincts without questioning whether or not the results will translate to a sweaty basement show. As singer and guitarist Jon Loudon recently told NPR about the recording process, “We got to do all the things we like … heinous feedback, giant chorus[es], too many guitar solos.”
The song he’s referring to specifically is “Separate Songs”, the album’s lead single and, sure enough, one of its most enthralling tracks. Here, appropriately enough, Loudon employs his bark to contemplate moving on from a long period of stasis: “Imagine not waiting for something to come along,” he implores during the bridge. “Imagine going outside to hear the sweet sound of separate songs.” It’s a lyric that could just as easily apply to the band’s own development as artists who came of age in the punk scene but have since come to embrace a diverse web of influences, from Tom Petty to Canadian indie rockers Constantines.
Though “Separate Songs” serves as an ideal entry point to Restorations, it’s one of a handful of tracks that captures the band’s elusive appeal. The intro to “Misprint” feels like hardcore slowed down to match the tempo of a bleeding heart at rest, but the song soon settles into a contemplative middle third where Loudon channels Eddie Vedder. At one point, the band drops out entirely save for one guitar, as he sings, “There’s this low hum/ All the things we left behind.” It’s a vulnerable moment that calls attention to what lies beneath the layers of distorted guitars: reminders of life’s little tragedies that can’t be drowned out by all the noise around them.
Such tragedies come to the forefront on “All My Home”, which opens with a tastefully subdued guitar riff. “Spent far too much time this year … scouring old photo books,” Loudon sings. Moments like this serve as the emotionally raw counterpoint to the album’s soaring, stadium-ready melodies. This is music that’s both triumphant and downtrodden, listless and visceral.
It’s a delicate balancing act, and certain moments suggest that the band is still fine-tuning its approach. The finger-tapped guitar solo on “No Castle” is a bit much, and the otherwise excellent closer, “It’s Not”, probably overstays its welcome by about a minute. “These days I believe in everything I’m hearing,” Loudon shouts as the song appears to be winding down. But then it punches the throttle and commits to another searing guitar solo, as if refusing to die.
Restorations is a band that indeed seems to believe in everything: the raw gut-punch of punk, the catharsis and euphoria of stadium rock, the necessity of looking backward and moving forward. In the hands of inferior musicians, that commitment to indulging all these beliefs would result in disaster. Here, it makes for one hell of a ride.
Essential Tracks: “Separate Songs”, “Misprint”, and “All My Home”