The Boxkar website includes a quote from John Cooper, FOH Engineer who has worked with Bruce Springsteen and Sheryl Crowe: “Boxkar is what rock’n’roll should be – straight ahead and hard-driving. I have to be careful listening going down the road or I’m going 90 miles an hour!”
This reviewer agrees.
Apparently, that opinion is shared by the Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) Awards. Boxkar has won WAMI’s for New Band of The Year, Rock Band of The Year and Band of The Year; nominated six times, Chris Szebeni won Vocalist of The Year honors and “Coming Out Swinging,” the band’s third album was named Album of The Year.
“Five’ is the fifth self-produced/self-financed album from Boxkar, the Appleton-based outfit that has been producing local original music for the last 14 years. Szebeni continues to lead the band that includes long-time compatriots Matt Hammen playing bass and guitarist Tom Thiel. While drummer Matt Gieseke still joins the band for bigger gigs, Szebeni plays drums on the new album.
This is the band’s second effort with producer Tony Anders, whom Szebeni refers to as a “hidden gem.”
“He has a great knack for all kinds of music and a great knack for pop rock,” he said. “He has got a great sense of hooks and modern-style production. He likes to push the envelope and create new sounds.”
“He knows national quality sound,’ Szebeni added. “He gets it.”
There are sonic hooks and flourishes throughout the album, but the albums wins because of the songs.
The album marks the debut of Thiel as a co-writer.
“We knew that we did not want to be the old Boxkar, but we also knew that would happen naturally,” Szebeni explained. “We knew that putting Tommy T and me together – it would be different. Tommy has a feel for alternative sounds that add a lot of nuance, some darkness. Tony is also a big part of the sound.”
If hard-rocking bass, kick drums and power chords are not your thing, you may want to skip the opening cut, “Ever After,” which opens the album with a sonic assault driven by Hammen and Szebeni that will get you dancing, driving 90 miles an hour…or both. The Chicago House beat provides a foot-stomping foundation for Thiel’s ambient guitar that fits tightly to the point where the band sounds as though it is, at times, just one instrument.
The second cut has Szebeni, “on my own for the first time” dealing with the complexities of new love and new meaning in “Hangover Heartbreak.”
Upon first listening, “I’m Over You” confirms that the band was right in making it the first single off the record. You’ll notice later that you’re still singing the hook. An easy, melodic intro leads to an increasing tempo and a rock groove powered by Hammen and Szebeni that fits the lyric, inducing one to listen to the words and wonder if it’s true…Thiel’s guitar solo is one of the highlights of the album. It will be difficult not dancing to this tune and it seems a natural for radio play.
Rock and pop traditions are served by “Live For Today,” a time-honored theme that gets an updated treatment from Anders. The instruments, the vocals, the lyrics and the tempo achieve a simple but effective synchronicity that would fit perfectly to a “Sounds of The 60’s” playlist but retains the unique Boxkar sound and feel.
Thiel’s acoustic guitar sets a nice frame for the ballad, “Come Down,” where “she waits for you” while Szebeni wonders “if he could have had it all” but resolves that “I will come around.”
The first few notes of “On and On” alert the listener that the rock power has been turned back on, but the song has its turns, nuances and harmonies that add layers to the sound and meaning to the lyric.
“She’s a mess, a beautiful mess,” sets the tone for the thoughtful and tender “Beautiful Mess.” The tune features more stellar guitar work from Thiel and some ear-grabbing interplay between his guitar and Szebeni’s vocalese. It’s back to an increasing tempo and solid rhythm work on “If U Wanted Me To,” another hook-laden rocker where it appears that the drums, bass and guitar are all making power a priority.
Szebeni’s reflective reminiscences of misguided loves are the focus of “Times” where “even in the good times I still see some new times,” and he’d “rather have a hard time with you than a good time with him because I know there will be better times for us.”
The album concludes with “Moment,” that sets restrained, thoughtful vocals on Thiel’s acoustic guitar which he later augments with poignant yet understated electric stylings and ends with with Szebeni’s a cappella, “This is our moment.”
“This is by far our most honest album yet,” Szebeni said. “This is who we are. You’re going to hear songs that are radio-friendly, but were not written to be popular.”
“We’re three guys who have been friends forever, and who have played in this band forever,” he continued. “We are very tight when we play together. We’re not done. There is more to come.”