Album Review: Off Road Minivan – Swan Dive

User Rating: 8.9

O V E R V I E W

We all do a little something on the side from time to time. Some of us have our main jobs as a construction worker, but at the end of that shift we hop in our Jeep Renegade and give people a ride wherever it is they need going by moonlighting for Uber. Some of us are lucky enough to own a house. A beautiful home with our spouses and little ones, yet to keep up a little extra income we purchase a small condo in the downtown core to attract the young renters to pay such an alarmingly high month to month. And then there are those folk (this next one is highly frowned upon, but just simply used as one final example of something…on the side) who have their partner sitting at home reading a book, while they’re out galivanting with their…side…piece. TO THE POINT! SO many of us have that one main ‘thing’ we do, but whether it be for fun or income, we got a little something going on the side. In the wonderful world of music this is typically referred to as a ‘side project’, and often it is something quite different from their original group. To be fair though these ‘side projects’ are not always considered to be JUST something on the side, more so another band all of its own that requires everything else the originating member’s core group does as well. This is when you can truly feel the passion and creativity unfold. When these so called ‘side projects’ get the full focus and attention and aren’t just treated as a secondary avenue to release something a little different than what you normally create. Such is the case with Ryan “Tuck” O’Leary’s band, Off Road Minivan. Ryan, who’s regular band duties are for metalcore mainstays Fit For A King slappin’ dat bass and providing plenty of the clean vocals, set out a couple years back with some long time friends to create something more attuned to the alternative, emo, and grunge world. Releasing the EP entitled, Spiral Gaze (who’s title track would later make a reappearance on the new album) in 2018 they gave the world the first taste of their emotionally driven ‘tunes for anywhere, anytime, and any place’. A group with a name that brings up some interesting pics when googled without the word ‘band’ beside it, and has an interesting story all its own, has managed to create some of the most raw and thoroughly enjoyable alternative rock songs this listener as heard in quite some time with their debut LP, Swan Dive. Music that truly does tap into a multifaceted world of genres whether it be from song to song, or amazingly enough all on one track and touches on a vast array of subject matter from love to suicide, this album will touch your heart while you gather with friends around a fire, or are simply rockin’ out to it while you shake it out and vacuum all at once.

Genre: Alternative | Rock | Emo | Indie
Label: Tooth & Nail Records
Release: May 15th, 2020
Connect: Facebook | Instagram
Purchase: iTunes | Google Play

F L O W  /  L O N G E V I T Y  /  O R I G I N A L I T Y

One thing that I have absolutely loved about Swan Dive is its seamless ability to maneuver through a group of various genres that one could tell have been painstakingly paired with whatever the subject matter might be. Now mind you these genres are not strange bedfellows at the best of times considering many are derived from the same basic sounds if you will. And yet these genres (such as previously stated; alternative, emo, grunge, and perhaps a slight touch of post hardcore for good measure) do stand out on their own, and that fact is no different on this debut. Each song compliments one another yet sounds nothing like what came before giving each individual track its own personal identity. But one track that comes to mind as a standout when in reference to the bands uncanny ability to genre hop is “Carousel Blues”. A fitting name as the genres do go around just like a carousel, and the subject matter is quite sad at best. The verses of the track do have a very early grunge feel to them, while the choruses are more akin to the alternative/emo world, but the final moments of this song (at least instrumentally) bring out all the post hardcore in these boys. Hard hitting drumming and palm muted bass and guitars show these boys do indeed got a little of that heavy in ‘em (musically and not just emotionally). When one song alone emulates what most would consider ‘flow’ to mean on any given album, it’s a wonderful summation of how the entire album has the ability to accomplish exactly the level of listenability that anyone who’s really looking to enjoy their music would be looking for.

To be honest this sort of music as a whole has a ton of stay power, as it fits in with genres that so many can get behind. Now I’m not making a direct comparison, but SIMILAR groups such as Jimmy Eat World, more recent Pianos Become The Teeth, and even the odd album or song (at least) from Dashboard Confessional, have music that has been around for some time and yet you still hear plenty of folk ranting and raving, or at the very least talking about it. This goes to show that Off Road Minivan, while thankfully giving the world their own unique take on this sort of tunage, do fit into a mold of sorts that has an already cemented foundation of popularity. It’s the fact that music like this is so easily accessible by so many. It’s easy listening without thankfully actually being easy listening. BUT it is more so because this band writes QUALITY music. The lyrics of substance and actually mean something AND have the ability to mean something to the fans as well. The music while at times simplistic in nature is anything but lacking in talent or boring. It’s in its more grounded ways that it finds its beauty and delivers complex layers of sounds that tell a story all on their own. So, yea, Swan Dive will be around for some time on all fan’s playlists…and perhaps a song or two that pretend this ‘isn’t their thing’.

I believe that Off Road Minivan have found their own way of staying original in a world of music so drenched in the monotonous. It is this ability that I’ve spoke of before to so fluidly change up the genre if even just ever so slightly that helps them to stand out in a world of ‘samey’. To be fair if it wasn’t for that fact (among some other reasons I’ll get to shortly), then this band may have gotten lost in the sea of bands who WOULD HAVE sounded so similar. One thing as well though that can help any band to stand out, or be ‘original’ if you’d prefer, is whether or not their lyrical subject matter feels as if it’s coming from a real place. That they mean every word and the passion to drive that home is palpable. Well boys and girls, Off Road Minivan deliver on this in spades. None of what is sung feels forced or fake. None of Tuck’s lyrics seem copy and pasted from a subject which some other band has sung about before. This all came from the heart and it shows wondrously.

Off Road Minivan – Vampire

Off the album SWAN DIVE, out May 15th – http://offroad.ffm.to/vampire __ I can’t remember the difference between knowing what I see and wantingthe feeling, y…

V O C A L S  /  I N S T R U M E N T A T I O N

 

Well, anyone who listens to metalcore and is a fan of Fit For A King already knew that Tuck could sing. Long before Ryan Kirby started to belt out a few more cleanly sung lines, Tuck was the man (by that I mean the only one doing the cleans…), and although Kirby can belt (!), it’s Tuck’s harmonious hums that most fans associated as the main clean vocalist. But you give that man an avenue to be THE vocalist and he’ll truly show you all the fine range he has to offer. YEW! Can that dude sing or what?! It was on one of the first singles, “Vampire”, that I personally begun to fully see what he had to offer. On the verse Tuck delivers a softer and lower register that could almost fit in with a shoegaze tune perfectly, but on the chorus (that beautiful chorus) he does things with his voice that would make the stoniest of hearts melt (and to be fair it IS his singing, but also being paired with the sound of the instrumentals that make hearts soar so high). On songs such as album opener “It’s Harder To Make It Below Third” and others like “Platinum” he gives us that full range of low to high, showing there’s no metaphorical ceiling he can’t push through. It’s the fact that he does have such a range, and a voice that at times cold almost be comparable to someone like Dustin Kensrue of Thrice, yet nonetheless be so unique that make this music that much more enjoyable.

There truly is beauty in simplicity. Music such as this doesn’t actually all for any exact style of playing your instruments. What it really needs is a sound that can tell you a story all on its own without words being paired to it. A sound that can deliver on any emotional feel without someone telling you what it is you should be feeling. And let me tell ya; every single song on Swan Dive does precisely this. Whether it be that sad and lonely feel set forth on “Taconic” or that upbeat lovey dovey vibe of “YOU”, the band guides the listener’s heart and mind on the emotional journey before a word has ever been sung. And with all that being said there is also a harmonic layering in most songs that again helps to make these tracks (and the band as a whole) stand out from other groups that MAY be comparable. It’s these points that show the band didn’t just slap a few chords and beats together and say ‘yup, that’ll do’. They mapped out each note and sound to bring us something so much more deep and profound.

C O M P O S I T I O N  /  P R O D U C T I O N

When an album comes together and is finally ready to be released into the world, one must consider that there will be fans that pick apart each and every detail and moment within said album. Including but not limited to: how it delivers on the sake of being an enjoyable listen overall, is it repeat worthy, do the lyrics have substance, does anything feel rushed, and so on, and so on, and so on (…). And as a reviewer, that’s (at least to a degree) what my job is. To truly hear AND listen to the album from front to back and take note on each and every detail, so I can tell you the fans what it all means and what to expect. Well my friends, I often have the absolute honor and pleasure to review some of my favorite bands and others that may be new, but I am beyond excited for, and Off Road Minivan are no different. From the EP to the first singles of this album I was beyond stoked. To be honest my main love in music is actually in the core world, but I do love the softer side of things as well and Swan Dive has more than delivered on so many levels. I (and many others will) appreciate the fact that this feels like anything but a ‘side project’. This is the real deal. And that oozes through in every aspect of the group. The words, the sounds…they all just came together so exquisitely that you can tell every member took the time to focus on every little detail. The writing in all aspects of this group show passion, drive, and a love for what they have manifested.

I know it seems like I have a lot of opinions on what a band like this ‘should have or do’, but to be completely clear it’s all just based on personal opinion. I’m no musician. I’ve been playing guitar for many years but I’m probably what most would consider sub-par when it comes to my skill level. I do like to sing…but I’m sure most would prefer I kept that to the shower. I’m just a massive music fan and with that comes opinions is all. And my OPINION is that music like this should have stunningly clear production (except for on maybe those grunge-esque moments if you’re really trying to emphasize on that specific genre). Luckily that does appear to be yet another thing that Off Road Minivan took into consideration on all levels. The music is so crisp that every single layer and element can not only be heard but felt. And without overproducing, the vocals soar and ring out, hitting every note and our ears in the most fantastic way. THIS (in my opinion) is one of the most important aspects to consider when delivering your final product.

Off Road Minivan – YOU (Listening Video)

Listen to “YOU” off the album SWAN DIVE, out May 15th, 2020 on Tooth & Nail Records http://offroad.ffm.to/vampire __ Don’t say that you want me Darla broke a…

F I N A L  T H O U G H T S

I was dying for a softer, more alternative sounding album that really hit home to be honest. I had been listening to core album after core album for so long, that I was missing something that I could simply sing along to (and that my non-core fan girlfriend would not mind me blasting in the car). This isn’t a complaint really as I do love core as I said before, but it had been since Pianos Become The Teeth’s Wait For Love. That was an album that absolutely hit every aspect of what I love in an alternative album in both sound and lyrics. Two long years I had to wait, and then finally out comes Off Road Minivan. This album is spectacular. It delivers on raw emotion all while giving us songs that can be used as that coveted sing-along or what play sin the background while you gather with friends. Its simplistic sounding nature is actually in the end what makes it so complex, and with a vocalist like Ryan “Tuck” O’Leary, you’ve got a sure fire hit that so many will enjoy. Whether you’re a fan of solely that softer, alternative sound, or like myself you dig a shit ton of core and just want to broaden your listening horizons, this band will give you everything you need. This is a more than solid debut from what I can only hope will be a band that delivers so much more for years to come.

Summary
This is a debut from a band who sounds as if they've been around forever. Off Road Minivan is set to release their debut LP Swan Dive, but this is a debut that never suffers from any of the usual first time release qualms. The album is so jam packed with heart, raw emotion, and talent that it could be coming from a seasoned band with decades of experience. Whether you're a straight up alternative fan or a core fan who's looking to broaden their listening tastes, Swan Dive will have all that you're looking for and more. Off Road Minivan is anything but a "side project" and the palpable passion heard throughout the album shows this exquisitely.
8.9
Great
Vocals - 9
Instrumentation - 8
Originality - 8
Longevity - 9
Flow - 10
Production - 9
Composition - 9

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