It’s been difficult for me to write a review of the deluxe addition of Alkaline Trio’s new record, This Addiction (which includes 6 bonus tracks and a live performance DVD), because what I really want to do is try and convince you that Derek Grant is one of the best rock drummers to emerge since…well, probably since Tré Cool of Green Day made pop punk commercially accessible to Generation X. I’ll attempt to do both.For starters, let me throw out a few facts about Grant:
1) When The Vandals are going on tour and Josh Freese and Brooks Wackerman are busy, then Derek Grant gets the next call.
2) The owner of the drum company Grant endorses told me that the drummer sells way more kits for him than any of his other endorsers (and this company has multi-platinum selling artists on their roster).
3) The Alkaline Trio had a few technically proficient drummers prior to Derek joining the band—presently, when you see the Trio perform live, Grant plays many of these previous drummers’ difficult drum parts one-handed. It’s ridiculous.
Now about the new album...it’s good. For those of you unfamiliar with the band, here’s what you can expect from an Alkaline Trio record—a bunch of drug and suicide metaphors about relationships, extremely catchy but simple guitar riffs, the same vocal hooks used over and over again on every record (we’ll call this “style”), and there’s always some great drumming. Now here’s what I like about the new Alkaline Trio record—there’s a bunch of drug and suicide metaphors about relationships, there’s some extremely catchy but simple pop punk guitar riffs, I keep hearing the same vocal hooks used over and over again on every new record they put out (I don’t know, maybe we’ll call this “style”), and there’s some great drumming (which you can always expect from Grant).
With their new album the band returned to their former recording engineer, Matt Allison. They took a step away from their mega-production major label sound back towards the sonic qualities of a high-end independent recording. This Addiction’s production is much closer to the earlier Alkaline Trio records (before Grant joined the group) and suits the band much better. The trio is great at writing simple songs that sound best when recorded quickly. A great example of this was their compilation Remains, a collection of b-sides they piled onto one record a couple years ago. The personalities of the band members, characterized by black comedy and melancholy, are what carry this group—not technical song writing or arena rock production. The cathartic reasons this band plays music is really their appeal.
There's no one "single" on the record, but check out “Dead On The Floor” and “Draculina,” and “Eating Me Alive” (which includes a keyboard riff probably taken directly out of a Richard Simmons workout video from the 80s). The tunes push and pull at the right points and sound fluid, like they “just happened,”—not like a producer brooded over a particular arrangement for weeks in a studio.
About five years ago when the entire punk scene started locking every bassist's right hand with the drummer's right foot on the kick drum, Grant was one of the first drummers to fill space with more playing instead of restraining himself. For example, around this time the Alkaline Trio released a track called “Warbrain,” where you can hear Grant and bassist Dan Adriano just going for it musically—both aware of a pocket between the two of them, but dancing in and out of it. And why not, that’s the fun of a trio setting, isn’t it? There’s plenty of space to stretch out a bit.
Grant’s approach works perfectly beneath guitarist Matt Skiba and bassist Andriano; he creates and implies a musical pocket without making the foundation of the groove too obvious. He moves in and out of the pocket coloring the simple pop punk tunes, but without ever getting in the way of the music or vocals. This is exactly why the Alkaline Trio is so engaging to listen to—you never know when or how Grant will enunciate or set up any individual part of a tune. He’s basically “dropping bombs” in a pop-punk group (dropping bombs is what be-bop drummers used to refer to when a drummer would play sporadic bass drum accents underneath straight time to add excitement to the tune). But, the overall impression of Grant’s drum tracks feels similar to standing in a well-built house--you’re aware the foundation is there, you just don’t see it.
An example of one of these moments can be heard and seen at (2:46) on the Alkaline Trios “Help Me (Street Video)” that was released on their last record Agony and Irony (which you can check out here).
Grant supplies a simple fill/groove enunciation in between a vocal line in the final pre-chorus of the song. The crash/fill beautifully bridges the narrow gap in vocal line, but it’s a musical statement that is played responding to the bigger conversation taking place above the song’s structure.
That clip also highlights Grant’s uncanny ability as a performer. His name can be comfortably placed next to Josh Freese, one of the best entertainers out there (again, there’s that Vandals connection). Grant’s arms are always flailing all over the place, he sings backup harmonies, he’ll drink a beer in the middle of a song while pounding away some crazy drum part with just his left hand (and he’s a right-handed player).
While the bonus tracks on This Addiction were slightly disappointing compared to the extra tunes that accompanied Agony and Irony, one of Grant’s most creative drum parts can be heard in the intro to “Those Lungs.” To the trio’s credit, this reflects their good judgment in the selection of the final tracks that appeared on the record. The bonus DVD that accompanies This Addiction justifies paying the extra 5 bucks for the deluxe edition—you need to see Grant perform live.
Finally, if you ever really want to hear Grant’s most technically impressive playing check out The Suicide Machines’ first record, Destruction By Definition. Grant recorded the album when he was 18, and it still sounds like Stewart Copeland on crack.