Passafire Vines

-Kevin’s Take-

Sometimes, crow is the best thing you could eat. In this case, I’m quite happy to do so.

See, last month, I wrote that Reggae, on the whole, was a “genre not known for its originality.” As a hilarious joke, I received Passafire, which I humbly describe as “13 Lucky Reasons Kevin Is A Fool.”

Please allow me to paint some broad-stroke generalizations about this band before I go into the guts of their music. First off, there is something for everyone – and I mean everyone. There are amazing laid back head-bobbing grooves, ska-influenced speedy sections, digital elements sprinkled generously throughout, and super radio- friendly vocal harmonies. And this is before we talk about musicianship. It would not be a stretch to put them solidly in the Incubus / 311 range on the spectrum, but the styles on this album are so diverse, it’s unfair to lock them in anywhere.

The rhythm section of this band is made of a bassist (Will Kubley) and drummer (Nick Kubley) who share more than a name – they share a pulse. Both are extremely disciplined in what they do. The drums are consistently a solid foundation throughout, not always establishing groove or feel, but always carrying the song forward. A few notable fills certainly show off the chops Nick is capable of bringing, not to mention the straight up rock these guys can lay down. The Will, like-wise, is incredibly capable but highly selective about how and when to add flair – making for potent sections of chaos surrounded by elegant and tastefully structured song styling. As a drummer, I dream of having a bass player as in tune to what is happening around him (I imagine being family could help with that, but my brother sucks and doesn’t play an instrument).

On top of this, let’s stack Ted Bowne’s guitar and Mike DeGuzman’s keys that can (and do!) shred hard every bit as much as they lay back and hold melody lines in place. Styles in one song may range from Sublime-esque SoCal reggae/rock to pop to Prog-rock sections that would make Rick Wakeman feel threatened.

And finally, the vocals – holy smokes, the vocals. Think thick, smooth and creamy – Peanut butter and honey on hot Texas toast. So many comparisons come to mind; from Gavin Degraw to Sam Cooke and countless points in between. Bowne’s vocals have an ever slight gravel edge on a rich and full sound.

Some of the highlights from Vines for me are – yet again – displayed in the sheer range of style and sound, as you can see in my top tracks below.

“Earthquake” is the first track on this album and it has an absolutely smashing progression from a rather “roots reggae” sound into a very pop/ rock reggae mix, with driving and punchy drums and keys steering the song through the changes with nary a concern for your well-being.

Jump a head a few tracks and you land on “Souvenir;” coming in like a bull, with keys and bass again anchoring the sound and setting tone, before dropping into super funky upbeat reggae verses, then absolutely crushing it again on the chorus and interlude. So many dynamic and stylistic changes keep this song fresh through many, many replays.

Still up is the song “Phoney Imposter,” which is a beautiful Blue-Eyed Soul type of song (also, the amazing “Black Dog”) that simply brings out a softer side of fantastic musicians. The song-writing side of this band is highlighted in these moments, and punctuated with very signature sounds to make it their own.

There are many more high points on this collection, and I could go on for quite some time highlighting virtually every track. Suffice to say, this is a band you really need to experience yourself to appreciate. I would love to see them live at some point, so I certainly hope our paths cross someday, but in the meantime, I’ll be playing Vines a LOT, and it’s a sure bet to stay in my short rotation list for a while. Certainly one of my favorite albums of 2013, and I’m certain it will be for you as well.