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CD Review: By Land or Sea 

By Land or Sea Hell Broke Loose
(2010, Independent)

The first of these 12 new songs from By Land or Sea (formerly Frankie and His Fingers) is “Tinman,” a chordy, dreamy, Nordic post-rock ditty whose life is sadly and prematurely snuffed. What follows is a diametrically opposed barrage of tightly wound and spirited, postpubescent, power-trio pop. Samantha Niss’s drumming is intricate, striking, and directed in its bombastic interplay with Adam Stoutenburgh’s cutting, midrange bass. Like glue to dowel, this combination swirls and stabs and sucks the songs into sweet submission in spastically precise fits and spurts. Frank McGinnis is dexterous in his able handling of the anti-solo-riff guitars and the vocally dense and emotive verse.

The team is partial to angular but driving beatdowns that are admirable in their brutally constant deliberation, but eventually tiring after six or seven songs. Also unfortunately, the overt drums and hooky bass continually steal the limelight as the guitars yearn for some raw blood, volume, and gristle. The strenuous timbre of the voice and the frequent battering from an over-the-top delivery also strain to find an adequate home in the mix. The music school-worthy chops are so beautifully contained and pristinely separated that what seems to be appropriate production at first ultimately becomes the downfall, as ass-kicking soul is lost in a powerhouse of flat-lining sameness. The band laid out its heart and guts in this collection of songs, but it would have benefited greatly from a rawer Steve Albini recording ethos and another ear to the rail—a point made all the more poignant as these gripes fell away during a recent gripping and faultless live performance.

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