Don Giovanni recording act Roadside Graves return with the somber song cycle “That’s Why We’re Running Away,” their first studio collection of new work in five years.
Metuchen-originated Roadside Graves return with their latest Don Giovanni release, “That’s Why We’re Running Away.” The 11-song collection is their first studio effort of new material since 2015’s “Acne/Ears” and follows the 2018 anthology “God Makes Junk: 2001-2016.” Like them, “Running Away” has been released on the New Brunswick-originated label Don Giovanni Records, also the home of such fellow Jersey acts as Screaming Females and Mikey Erg.
The cycle of songs about acceptance opens with the LP’s first single, “Sit So Close,” a pulsing pine about a couple navigating the game of life as they grow more distant from it and each other. A mix of organic and synthetic sounds by keyboardist John Piatkowski drives the haunting, rousing track.
Throughout the LP, Roadside Graves examine the struggle to accept defeat and loss and whether to give up peacefully. Along the way, the songs share a comfort and honest self-reckoning within the tiny space between running away and believing.
The reflective tale continues with the atmospheric wash of “The Cutter,“ another tune aided greatly by Piatkowski’s keys. Vocalist-lyricist John Gleason matches the haunting atmospherics with a patch of pain that lyrically and vocally convey a sense of loss, which at times seems to be levied by the hand of God. Lowlight’s Renee Maskin and Dana Sellers add to a celestial blend of vocals, joining on the track their drummer Colin Ryan, a co-founder of the less active Roadside Graves.
The LP’s second single, “I Cried,” is up next with a country lilt that flexes the band’s alternative roots rock muscles. Like Lowlight, the keys stress the “alternative” within the quasi-title track, which best explains why the characters portrayed throughout opt to run away. I also love the bends in Jeremy Benson’s guitars, which recall Roy Orbison and Chris Isaak.
The acoustic duet “There Was a Way” also shares the band’s folk roots, as well as the sadness expressed throughout the album about loss caused by misconnection. The third single, the natural-sounding and -themed “The Sea Is Empty,” is my favorite track, offered halfway through the depressing, but excellent collection. Colin’s vibraphone adds to the unsettling sadness of either a personal or global apocalypse where the sea not only is empty but the grass is red and the animals are our equals.
“Hotel Lights” offers another lush wash of keyboards within a dreamy soundscape about the nightmare of a lost love, the tale of which is told within a dark, lonely hotel room as the lights -- and lyrics -- shine on the pain. The saddest song on the album is followed by its most upbeat-sounding, “I Wasted My Life,” with an accompaniment that combines keyboard wash with guitar tremolo. A Colin-patented drum surge also accompanies the tale of waste caused by a lack of control.
The album’s sadness continues with “Dead Kids,” which beautifully and poignantly expresses the fragility and futility of life through the eyes of children whose futures are bleak. Whether as part of a very ordinary or typical youth or one rifed with the angst of injustice, their paths all lead to a place of horror heightened by the indifference of those who have the power to alleviate it.
“Soldiers” is augmented by a carnival-like keyboard that recalls The Band’s Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson. The otherwise somber track also gives a nod to The Partridge Family with the ironic refrain, “Get happy.”
“Let’s Get Lost,” a tale of escape in the wake of physical and emotional wounds, features the beautifully rootsy accompaniment of mandolin and accordion, while the closing choral effort, “We Have Loved,” ends the LP with its greatest strengths. They are Piatkowski’s eclectic keyboards and Gleason’s lyrics, which sum up the pain chronicled throughout the LP, while expressing a futile reaction.
Together 20 years, Roadside Graves, who include solid Bill Wyman-like bassist Dave Jones, are scattered around the globe from Point Pleasant to Spain these days. Let’s hope that if they can band together to make a great record, they can do so to play a live show once the opportunity presents itself or at least the montage of a virtual one.