Since 2004, Minneapolis based Words On Music has been running a series of re-issues of For Against recordings. The last re-issue was the 1990 compilation In the Marshes, and rather than proceed to Aperture, the 1993 album which followed the In the Marshes, we have a brand new album from For Against! That's right -- even though the band's catalog is being given a loving re-issue treatment, the act is still a going concern, and April of this year saw the release of Shade Side Sunny Side, For Against's seventh album overall. Those who have been following the re-releases will find that this album fits in nicely with the re-issue series.
But that is kind of deceptive. You see, following In the Marshes, the band split. Vocalist Jeffrey Runnings was the only one of the original trio left, and he rebuilt the band. Paul Englehard joined as drummer at that point, and he is still in that position. However, the four albums in between where we left off and where we are now featured a completely different guitarist, Steven "Mave" Hinrichs. Hinrichs has retired, and former For Against guitarist Henry Dingman III has returned.
So, even though the band released 4 records over the 17 years between when In the Marshes first came out and the present, much of the original lineup has only just now reunited. The end result sounds much more like old For Against (the stuff that has been re-issued to date) than the stuff which came out during the middle, non-Dingman period. The guitarwork of Mr. Hinrichs tended more towards the jangle-pop side of things, while Dingman plays moody, bass-thick, effected cording that is more post-punk. This is For Against's darkest record since, well, since Dingman left the band! Funny how that works. (And i find it odd that Dingman has stepped back into his guitarist role after all of this time! For most of their existence, he was not the guitarist. And since they are playing Atlanta on tour, i wonder if Dingman learned the material from the period he was not in the band, or will For Against play a show of Dingman guitared tunes? Hmmm….)
Thus, Shade Side Sunny Side, is an album of dark moody guitar, thick basswork, and thudding drums. This is a noisy record, much edgier than the singer-songwriter pop that For Against had been doing. Dingman's presence is really appreciated, and fans of the bands earlier work will be very pleased.
The album is about 50 minutes long, and For Against pack a lot into that time frame. Things start off with a squealing guitar intro, Dingman torturing his guitar while Englehard pounds away on the floor toms, and Runnings adds a nice keyboard drone. Then the voice comes in, with a slight hint of echo, "You can only get so far, with the je ne sais quois", and the guitar squeals away. A great intro, and this tune, Glamour could have been on December.
The next track, Underestimate, is more acoustic, and more in keeping with the songs that Runnings was doing without Dingman. So one old school track, one middle period track, and then track three, which i think blends the two together. The song is called Why Are You So Angry?, and starts with light guitar work and tinkling keys, but gets all squealy and distorted on the choruses. It invokes the spirit of For Against's post-punk forbears, while still staying rooted in the confessional pop that the band has done for most of their existence. And it is catchy too!
The next track is more of the angry post-punk. It's called Aftertaste, and is in the same spirit as the album's opener, although at an even more breakneck pace. This reminds me, in some small way, of early U2 in general spirit. Runnings doesn't have the loud booming voice of Bono though, so the song seems understated and, well, less pompous. But the drumming in particular and instrumentation in general have that epic sweep to them that U2 captured so well on their early records.
For Against follow this up with a seven minute cover of the song Friendly Fires from an old UK band called Section 25 that i have never heard of. Some Manchester post-punk act from the very early 80s. Probably something that Runnings and Dingman listened to when they were in high school so long ago. The lyrics however, could have been written now. Then again, i guess people have been dying from friendly fire in warfare for as long as there have been projectile weapons…
Friendly Fires, is a heavy song, and not uplifting. So Runnings does the logical thing and puts a sad, piano-ballad after it. The song is called Game Over, and it is kind of a "fuck off" song to someone who has left. This is another seven minute song, and to be honest after 14 minutes of depressing material, i am ready for For Against to do something different.
Fortunately, the next song is not depressing, but rather kind of psychedelic. Spirit Lake features some nice distortion on the bass and really minimal sparse drumming. Dingman's guitar chimes away, and becomes almost bluesy in the middle. This is a fine tune, and reminds me of The Purrs in a weird way. Same spirit i guess, although i highly suspect that For Against do far fewer hallucinogens than that Seattle band…
Quiet Please is next, and features an odd occurrence -- Runnings sings through some distortion. This might be a first, but i would have to go back and listen to all of those middle period records again to be sure. It is not something he does often, at any rate. In the middle of this song, where things most distinctly get not quiet, Runnings in bellowing into something that makes his voice sound overdriven and tinny, like he is on a the radio and the volume on the receiver is turned up too loud. A neat effect, and it makes Quiet Please really stand out.
Finally, For Against wrap up their seventh album (or fourth, depending on how you look at it) with a pleasant pop tune called Irresistible. A nice enough end to the record.
Overall, i am impressed. Speaking personally, i am glad that Dingman is back. There is something special to the dynamic of Dingman and Runnings. I think that they sound better together, and i have to say that i think this is the best For Against record since Dingman left the band back in the late 80s. Then again, i was a fan of their early work. What will people who got into the band during the Dingman-less era think? I honestly don't know. I think that this record is edgier than those middle records, but maybe not everyone likes edginess. So who can tell what those fans will think? This old fan is very pleased to see For Against back in action.