CD Review: Eleven – Waxmen

I had the pleasure of being introduced to three-piece hard rocking band Waxmen in their live incarnation, playing with Future History.  To give you an idea of how much this band gives to their gigs, they thoroughly warmed up the crowd despite a sleepless, jet-lagged frontman.  That’s so rock star, it hurts.

It shouldn’t be surprising:  Waxmen brings an impressive pedigree of collective years established on the indie scene and a past win from the Toronto Independent Music Awards.  Currently gearing up for a future album release, I felt it fitting to take a look at Eleven and give you a taste of the uncompromising approach to music that defines Waxmen.  If, like me, the 90s hold a special place in your musical heart, listen up.

Solider Girl:  Opening cut “Soldier Girl” is “single material”:  it’s standard radio-friendly rock, done well, but knowing the rest of the album as I do, it’s not Waxmen at the top of their game.  It’s not a bad song by any means, and from most bands cramming the airwaves, it would shine.  The curse of being quality, right?  Opening riff is particularly tasty on this one.  Get used to that:  the band’s got a knack for their guitar hooks.

Better Off:  It’s safe to say that Waxmen fall into that alt-funked-rock niche, with moments of shredding that evoke early Metallica.  This tune is heavier on that melodic funk than “Soldier Girl” and better exemplifies the band’s strengths.  One can’t help but hear Stone Temple Pilots on this tune (and others to come) – in a good way.  The grit-powered vocal with an undercurrent of vulnerability is Stefanuk’s specialty and such an asset.

Overcast:  I love the swagger of this tune.  It’s the sonic equivalent of bravado and confidence after a few rounds at the bar, cutting a path across a crowded room towards a woman or man of choice, knowing you’re going to get attention.  There’s a near-jazz breakdown in the middle that’s playful and so enjoyable.  A standout.

Outside:  An anthem for those damned by the man and refusing to buckle.  Guitars:  very classic rock-era – a little bluesy; a little prog;  lot of sass.  I almost hear a little Led Zeppelin influence here – very tasty.  I really feel, being this far into the disc, that “Soldier Girl” is the odd man out here.

Sticky Situation:  A little more radio-friendly straight rock than other tracks, this one’s a highlight too.  Catchy chorus meets tasty rock crunch and a groove that sticks in the skull.  “You’re sleepwalking in a  sticky situation” is one of the more memorable lyrics I’ve heard this year.

Cannonball:  More down-tempo that the rest of the album, The “man down wrong” tune, perfect for a bitterness-cleansing night with a good buddy or two and a case of beer.  Sweet guitar solo.

Way Down:  Gloriously grungey.  I’ve been having luck with acquiring bands that evoke my teen years lately, and Waxmen are one such band.  I miss when bands really focused on the melodic capabilities of guitars – giving them their own voice, their own message to convey.  Finger Eleven used to have it before that piece of crap “One Thing” went huge, but I digress.  This song shifts in a few directions, really evoking a sense of free-fall.

Flesh And Bone:  If you weren’t already feeling the 90s, here comes that “almost robotic/megaphone” vocal distortion we all got to know very well (Raine Maida was a heavy offender).  Like “Way Down”, this one is a little shifty, keeping the sonic-scape fresh for the ears.  A great headbanger for when you hate the world or just want to be alone, damn it.

Run Away:  Horns!  Me gusta!  Sassy and filled with flair, this one’s another standout.  Punchy lyrics, sneaky little horns.  Again, a more classic approach to guitars – Billy Gibbons approves.  Bluesy straight-up rock.  This one comes off as a bit of an experiment and it pays off.  I’d like to see more of this from the band.

Freak Accident: I can’t quite put my finger on the why of it, but this one just doesn’t grab me like others on this album.  It may be partly that I feel it’s been done on this album already, to a degree.  The guitars are a little plainer, for want of a better description.

Human Is My Name:  What a contrast from the previous track!  Clever wordplay peppering the lyrics in a rebellion against those who view people as products or perhaps chattel – extend that metaphor as broad as you care to.  Compared to other tracks, the guitars aren’t as upfront, but that’s fitting, given the power packed in the lyrics.  Solid album closer.

Final Comments:  Waxmen do a great show at showcasing their strengths on this album, for the most part.  What could, in other bands’ hands, be a pretty typical alt-rock outing transcends to something far more flavourful, thanks in large part to the guitar work and the bluesy groove slipping in between choruses.  Stefanuk brings a strong voice made for rock to the table, and while he may never escape comparisons to Scott Weiland, he has his own sound.

What I would love to see on the upcoming album would be a greater sense of exploration, a tossing of the rock song rulebook completely out the window.  The tracks that hooked me the most were the ones where something changed directions and caught me off-guard.  I’d also like the band to strive to capture their live sound in studio, because I know they punch harder than this live.  They’re not the first artist I’ve noted this about, but I do hope they take heed.  Or, you know, release a live album.  I’ll take that. All in all, a solid album, with ample potential for continued success and growth.

Highlights:  Overcast; Sticky Situation; Run Away; Human is My Name

Lowlights:  Solider Girl; Freak Accident;

Final Grade:  B+

Why don’t you do yourself a favour and take a virtual walk to the Waxmen Facebook page and learn all about them?  Go on.  I insist.

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