by Nick Hanover
The Valley Forge kick off their Second Blood EP by asking “Can you feel the new times coming?” but judging by their sonic references, I think it’s safe to hazard a guess that the new times will look and sound a lot like the rugged rock of the ’70s and ’80s. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Throughout Second Blood, The Valley Forge show off a passionate dedication to the lyrical focus and vocal cord shredding tones of the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle and Neil Young, a triumvirate of righteously angry old men if ever there was one. Utilizing a stripped down percussive approach, The Valley Forge might have standard influences but they wield them in a way that puts them at odds with their more cluttered folk leaning brethren.
“New Times” is the immediate standout, in part because it so succinctly captures The Valley Forge’s unique structure. Apart from delivering his vocals like he’s screaming through a battlefield, John Valley also provides sparse percussion for the band, sticking to a floor tom and a tambourine and thus giving Tyler Speicher’s guitar plenty of room to alternate between screeching riffs and palm muted rhythm playing. Clearly calculated as an anthem of sorts for people who have felt a little out of place in their own era, “New Times” is coated in a simmering anger that keeps it from feeling like the wrong kind of preachy– this is closer to the carnival barker tent revival approach, complete with apocalyptic imagery. Even the video has the band looking like black clad end times preachers.
By contrast, “No, Not Me” talks a little softer but still carries a big stick, recalling the field folk melody of Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” as it lambasts corporate interests and the religious zealots who are too caught up in judging to actually follow the forgiveness oriented rhetoric of their own religion. Valley doesn’t run himself as ragged vocally here, which lets the melody breathe more than it does on other songs on the EP, and it’s a welcome respite from the heaviness. That said, it does make the lyrics clearer, which isn’t necessarily a blessing in this instance as Valley is prone to heavy handed refrains like this one: “Religical man, tell him where to stand /Will and the way, nobody better be gay.” Nothing about Valley’s songwriting is exactly subtle, but “No, Not Me” frequently veers into self-parody territory, which is too bad because the melody and structure of it shows off a different side of the group so well.
The softness also carries over to the album’s title track, which is about as close to a downtempo ballad The Valley Forge gets, though it’s paradoxically also the EP’s most epic track at nearly seven minutes in length. Valley’s lyrical focus for most of the EP is more detail oriented, honing in on observations and anecdotes, but “Second Blood” is more abstract, complete with a wordless background vocal from Speicher and bassist Sarah German, who function a bit like an angelic chorus here. There’s also some subtle organ playing filling out the background, providing the song even more of a gospel boost. It’s a suitable contrast to the more uptempo “This Side,” where the lyrical and sonic focus is on staying on the right side of temptation.”This Side” notably also uses those angelic backing vocals, but there’s less pay off, its chorus doesn’t quite reach the same heights.
That’s a fitting summary of the current state of The Valley Forge, too– ambitious, bold and passionate, the band is capable of making some divine music and the high water marks of Second Blood are more than enough incentive to keep checking in on the group. The legendary influences they’re pulling from obviously pack a heavy burden, but as the group gets more comfortable with the unique elements of their sound I think they’ll develop into one of the more remarkable Americana-leaning bands in Austin.
Catch The Valley Forge this Thursday, September 4th, at Swan Dive.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover