Tom Gabel – Heart Burns – EP Review

Tom Gabel had a busy 2008.  Not only did the front man of Against Me! headline the Van’s Warped Tour with his associates all summer long but he also recorded his own solo EP called Heart Burns and toured solo on the Revival Tour this past fall in support of it.  The seven song EP was released under Sire records and has Tom Gabel taking things under his control, making for a good listen.

Tom Gabel playing at the Vans Warped Tour in Cleveland 2008
Tom Gabel playing at the Vans Warped Tour in Cleveland 2008

Just in case you didn’t know, Tom Gabel was Against Me! from the get go.  He started the band at age 16 all by himself and played acoustical shows in support of his first release the Acoustical EP.  In a nutshell, his success with his solo material, which came from years of hard work and dedication, soon turned into the band Against Me! many are now familiar with.  Hoards of fans have eaten up many of their albums that incorporated folk with punk rock and high sing along qualities. The rest is history.

Of course that history includes the heartbreak of many dedicated fans when Against Me! went so called “corporate” and signed to a nation label. They released the radio friendly New Wave, one of the band’s most successful releases to date.  Tom Gabel and his band mates were called sellouts for what they did but, regardless of their decision making, they have moved on with new fans all over the world and seem to handle being seen in the spotlight quite well.

Now why Tom Gabel chose to do another solo album remains to be determined.  Some may think he wanted to stray away from the band to focus on his individual talent while others think he went back to his roots as an apology to all of those die-hard fans.

Regardless why he chose to do the Heart Burns EP, I was looking forward to it, as I became a fan of all of his material once I finally pushed aside the hype and decided to actually listen to the band.  The first time I was told about Against Me! I wanted nothing to do with them.  I hated them without ever giving them a chance.  Soon thereafter I was working at a record store and a little scenester girl I worked with played the CD and I was hooked.   I have since seen Against Me! live every time they come to my city.  They put on an amazing show.

Leading up to the EP’s release, Tom Gabel took use of networking wonders MySpace and released one man performance videos for each song released from the EP.  The videos were just a taste of the EP with rough cut versions of politically charged songs and were visually pleasing.  Check out Tom Gabel’s MySpace page if you want a taste of them and while you are at it, check out a previous blog I posted with some other videos there for your viewing pleasure. (I also posted a couple of my favs at the bottom of this blog…)

After seeing the videos I figured this EP would in fact be a collection of those mostly acoustical songs and nothing more.  When “Random Hearts” started with electronic beats leading to Tom Gabel’s trademark raspy singing I realized this was something entirely different.  My initial taste of Tom Gabel’s new solo material sounded like Against Me! meets The Faint without all the dancing.

The following “Conceptual Paths” added elements of folk with very mild reverb on his voice at times.  I loved this song and to think I just stared playing the CD.  “Cowards Sing At Night” humored me; it was clearly about John McCain as the song ended “your war is over Johnny”.  The simple indie rock riffs kept the song flowing

“Amputations” seriously reminded me of classic garage rock with its heavy on guitar distortion.  At one moment I am reminded of “Ballroom Blitz” with the way Tom Gabel sings “There’s no heat between lovers and a summer night.”  Perhaps if you hear the song you will know what I am talking about.  Aside from the sweet similarity, the song is incredible and by the end you are surrounded by the trademark Against Me! group signing.   The song was initially played by Against Me! acoustically last March at in-store events causing a lot of fans to question if the song happened to be a New Wave b-side.

Just when I thought I could not be more impressed by this EP “Anna Is A Stool Pigeon” came on.  The lyrics, a hidden secret love story revolving around an activist guy who fell in love with an undercover FBI agent unknowingly, were an adventure alone.  Chuck Ragan from Hot Water Music added back up vocals and harmonica kept my interest.  Butch Vig from Garbage, who also is the executive producer of the EP, even added his drumming skills to pull together one hell of a track.

This EP is continuing evidence that Tom Gabel is to be heard by many regardless if he does it on his own or with Against Me!.  I have high expectations for his musical career and I see him not slowing down anytime soon.  You don’t have to like Against Me! to enjoy the Heart Burns EP.  Sure it has its sing along moments and for the most part sounds like Against Me!.  I am sure all the die hard will rave about it, or bitch about it for the sake of it not being Against Me!, but it is a genuine effort and to be enjoyed by all.

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