Album Review: Explorers Unveil Debut Full-Length, “Scott”

Cover art by Scott.

There are different types of debut albums. There’s the ripper that comes out of nowhere (PUP), and the one that kills the band (Op Ivy).

There’s the obscure, little self-release that becomes a treasured part of the discography years after they’ve broken in to the mainstream (most popular bands — this category is impossible to predict, only appearing retroactively — that is, it’s contingent on a series of factors over time, including but not limited to: the band releasing subsequent albums, the continually rising success of each subsequent album, and the resultant in the band’s profile, etc.).

There is, of course, the ‘hotly anticipated’ — where the band has maybe put out a few EPs, or developed a really kinetic live show that has people talking -– and its often less-flashy cousin, the ‘long-awaited,’ where the band has done the same bolstering of its reputation with shorter-form releases and exciting performances, but over a decidedly more protracted period of time before releasing an album.

At times — especially in local, geographically-limited scenes — the ‘long-awaited’ can cross over in to the territory of the ‘overdue’. Local rock act (the) Explorers gleefully straddle that borderline: finally, after what seems like forever, the shred-hungry quartet have released their LP, “Scott.” Unapologetic, the record is a collection of songs that have stained the walls of every DIY space and show-friendly bar in the Lehigh Valley and then some. Its aesthetic is like a conversation about ambient lighting in a New Age book store while the whole place burns down. It’s art rock for meatheads, or jock rock for the nebbish and dorky, either/or. They’re po-mo crooners, weird and sexy, self-absorbed and indulgent; this has been their identity as a band for a long time, and now it’s finally on wax, as it were. Artifice has become artifact.

If you’ve seen Explorers live, you know their onstage chemistry is superlative. Amidst worn down and chipped mannequin torsos and projections of choice surrealist images; in front of packed rooms where they often know every single face staring back at them personally; in bars, warehouses, and galleries; these guys are continually tight as heck. They’re loud, boisterous and, at the same time, well-manicured, sanded, and lacquered into something interesting. Offstage, the guys are monads – all inscrutable in their own personalized way, though generally unassumingly so, often so far as affably. (TL;DR – they’re fun.)

“Scott” is familiar territory in a lot of ways. If you’ve been actively going to shows in the Lehigh Valley in the past few years, there’s a very good chance you’ll recognize a few or many of these songs. What’s nice is to see them collected, arranged (the tracks are for the most part self-contained, though “Follow the Road”, “Add Vices”, and “Lysis” form a nice slightly off-center trilogy at the heart of the record), and contained in a physical form. The layout of the front cover and back tracklisting is beautiful. The album art is a painting done by a longtime friend of the band, whose name also provides the title of the record.  It’s an excellent piece of art in its own right, and somehow says things about the band that I would need  volumes to encompass. I could stare at those pleading eyes on the album cover for hours, and that’s kind of the feeling a lot of these songs seemingly intend to motivate in their listener.

If you don’t frequent places like the Funhouse in Bethlehem, or the Alternative Gallery in Allentown, this Explorers LP might make you consider starting. To their credit, the members of the Explorers – who self-produced, recorded, mixed, and mastered their LP – have continued up until the very moment of release to refine these recordings and bring them as closely in line with their ferocious live antics. In the short term, “Scott” is something to be proud of – it’s a self-release that feels as polished as a studio record, a rewarding keepsake for longtime fans, and an enticing entry point for future audiences. It’s at various times appropriately catchy, thrashy, trashy, catty, bratty, fatty, and daddy. It’s a solid release.

Knowing these guys, though, they in all likelihood will – like how Kubrick was always re-editing The Shining, even up until the end, on the set of Eyes Wide Shut – continue to tweak the levels and re-record snare sounds on this album for years to come, trying to capture that extra little bit of the way their live show pumps people up, like the way Nick’s face turns a certain type of red when he screams. Or, like the way their songs emotions flow through Todd like a conduit before they even reach the audience, twisting him this way and that, moving his feet.

Standout tracks: “Seven Minors”, “Add Vices”, “Lysis”

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