Thirty Something Records

PILOT TO GUNNER - Games At High Speeds LP

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Limited 20th anniversary reissue

Pilot to Gunner's debut full-length thankfully doesn't make the mistake of so much turn-of-the-century emo rock -- namely, it doesn't forget to actually rock. There's something of the Dismemberment Plan's passion and explosive joy in Games at High Speeds, not to mention a bit of that group's subtle complexity and sudden shifts, but Pilot to Gunner isn't a shallow knockoff. Lead singer Scott Padden avoids over-the-top screams or whines, and, more intriguingly, his vocals are toned down in the mix, slightly hollow even -- as if he wants to avoid dominating the songs, though he's not muffled or intentionally unclear. His delivery brings hearty pep to the songs without sounding like pointless cheerleading, and if he sometimes tries to fit in a lot more words than any particular line should use (check out the verses of "We Got Games at High Speeds"), he never loses control. He and guitarist Pat Hegarty throw out the feedback and spiraling riffs as needed -- call it math rock for a less patient atmosphere if you like -- while the rhythm section does its business without much fuss. The album's at its best when it's casually anthemic -- a strange description, perhaps, but it explains why the chorus of "Zero Return" sounds so suddenly gripping and charging without being chest-poundingly obvious. Other fine numbers include the snarkily titled "It's So Good to Be Here in Paris" and the rock-out fun and angst of "The Lurid Loop's Dead." Games at High Speeds ultimately isn't a surprising reinvention of the wheel and gets a touch samey towards the end, but it still makes a fine first album from a band that shows some distinct promise. Points also for the matador/bull artwork in woodblock print style. ~ Ned Raggett, All Music Guide