In a similar vein as The Mountain Goats’ All Hail West Texas, Slaughter Beach, Dog’s Welcome tells different perspectives of people all in the same place. Whether the songs are full band romps or stripped back acoustic numbers, Jake Ewald brings a textured town to life in his first solo effort.
About midway through Welcome, Ewald sings:
My friends don’t need jobs
Cause they all sell drugs
Spending Fridays setting fires
With their college degrees
And I think to some degree
They are more practical than me
Just like on All Hail West Texas, Jake Ewald does what John Darnielle does on a song like “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton;” he shows that these characters are real. Just like every Mountain Goats fan knows a Jeff and a Cyrus, Ewald and the audience all have friends selling drugs, pissing away college degrees. While at times the album seems dystopic, Ewald shows a love in dysfunction through chugging anthems like “Monsters” or “Mallrat Semi-Annual.” “Monsters” sees an older brother sticking up for a defenseless younger sister at the end, in a fond memory in a now deteriorating home. “Mallrat” shows the perspectives of people on a first date, both anxious out of spite and nerves.
These guitar heavy, up-tempo songs are definitely some of the most lyrically intricate and visually interesting songs where Ewald sings about fonts on gravestones, New Year’s Eve and “Halloween in Hell.” Some of the more tender moments come from the softer songs. “The Politics of Grooming” is reminiscent of Garth Stein’s novel The Art of Racing in the Rain. The song is seemingly told from a dog’s perspective as his owner watches the world she’s come to know fall apart and die around her. “Toronto Mug” and “Toronto Mug II” are both about what it’s like to be stuck in the sort of decrepit town that Slaughter Beach is. Whether you’re searching for a DVD or “counting cracks on Essex Street,” you only have a souvenir mug from a foreign city to provide you with a real sense of escapism.
Musically, Ewald is able to go many different places naturally on this album. Whether it’s palm-muted power chords on “Mallrat Semi-Annual,” classic rock melody on “Drinks,” sweet finger-picking on “Bed Fest” or the funky, math rock of “Forever” nothing is out of place. There are moments that bare some resemblance to songs like “Hiding” or “Note to Self” from Modern Baseball’s Holy Ghost, Jake Ewald’s main outfit. Still, this sort of concept album has more to do with The Weakerthans or the Mountain Goats than it does with Brand New or The Front Bottoms.
While Welcome doesn’t have the confessional lyrics we’ve come to know from Ewald and Modern Baseball, it does have the honest quality that storyteller-songwriters always need. In creating a fictional work in its own universe, he’s created characters that reflect real people as well as his more personal work does. It seems as if the biggest running theme in Slaughter Beach, Dog’s songs is paralysis in small town life. It’s an extremely pop-punk sentiment on an album that owes very little to pop-punk. It’s a vastly personal exploration that can be both hilarious and heartbreaking within its 28 minutes.