Release Date: May 22, 2012
Record label: Volcom Entertainment
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Garage Punk, Indie Rock, Punk Revival
The Riverboat Gamblers' attempts to polish up their style and refine their manic assault on 2009's Underneath the Owl was something of a misfire, but they've clearly learned from their mistakes, and though The Wolf You Feed doesn't return them to the ragged glory of 2003's Something to Crow About, it successfully does what its immediate predecessor did not -- it redefines the Gamblers' sound in a less aggressive and more subtle direction without robbing the music of its soul or its guts. The Wolf You Feed is a few notches slower than the Gamblers' best work, and guitarists Ian MacDougall and Fadi El-Assad have traded punk rock downstroke for a more straightforward and muscular hard rock approach, but the attack is still direct and aimed at the heart, and the band has the good sense to write songs that are well-suited to their new approach. Melodically, there's plenty of cocky swagger here, but a darker and moodier undercurrent runs through the tunes, recalling a less-mannered version of the early Afghan Whigs, and the menace of "Comedians," "Gallows Bird," and "Dead Eyes" shows the Gamblers have found a strength in their new material that runs parallel to the fury of their younger incarnation.
Divisive previous platter, 2009's Underneath the Owl, peaked the Riverboat Gamblers' organic evolution from Tim Kerr-produced Texas punks to national prize. Where the ex-Big Boys/Poison 13 guitarist controlled the splatter of the Denton émigrés' eponymous 2001 debut and brought raw power to Something To Crow About two years later, the Austin quintet's pair of succeeding albums for Volcom polished the mosh – check "The Biz Loves Sluts" on To the Confusion of Our Enemies in 2006. To many, Owl then sanded off too much of the punk in favor of pop.
Riverboat Gamblers have been one of the most consistent (and consistently underappreciated) punk bands in the scene for more than a decade, expertly balancing force and swagger on their fifth album, The Wolf You Feed. The Austin, Texas, quintet vaguely resemble a recently graduated garage band on the opening 1-2 punch of “Good Veins” and “Bite My Tongue,” which dovetails nicely into the moodier, retrofied “Comedians. ” The Gsmblers are at their best when the tempos are perpetually high, though; “Soliloquy” and “Blue Ghosts” both scorch like lost Rocket From The Crypt B-sides; on the other hand, the chamber pianos of “Gallows Bird” and the lackadaisical vocals from typically game frontman Mike Wiebe on “Loser Neck” cause those songs to plod a bit too much to remain interesting.