The Modern Era: Where Was I (When I Needed Me)

Paul Whyte

This week will continue on with reviewing Twin Cities bands. If you’re just now reading this and missed the last few weeks, I really enjoyed the latest albums from The Great Depression and Bae Tigre. I noticed that the band, The Modern Era, will be playing a show up here at Beaner’s Central on Friday, December 12 and that they just released a new EP titled “Where Was I (When I Needed Me). I’m always up to listening to new music and learning about new bands so it seems fitting to give this band a write up.
The Modern Era is a relatively new band, they are approaching their second year together. The group of rockers consists of Jack Swagger (guitar/vocals), Ben Pelowski (guitar/vocals), and Nick Pelowski (bass/vocals. As far a drummer goes, they have one, but he shall remain unnamed apparently. Anyone who has worked with bands for awhile knows that good drummers come and go. At least this seems to be the case for this band.
The band has released two EPs in the last year, with this current one being their third. This brings me to my first thing to point out about this group. The current EP, which can found on bandcamp, has three songs on it. The other two releases have four songs each. It’d suffice to say that these EPs are all pretty short and there’s nothing exactly wrong with going the EP route, BNLX from Minneapolis is a great band and released a bunch of EPs before making a compilation album out of them. The thing that gets at me is the production of the material. The band is an alternative garage band and that aspect is very obvious. Studio time is expensive, but there’s nothing in the production that would indicate that they spent more than a couple tries through playing these songs. This is no nonsense rock and it pretty much stays that way with every song on this EP and the couple of other songs I listened to off the other EPs.
How good this new EP will be to the listener will depend entirely on how much they love rehashed material from the 90s. The Modern Era really has the feel of some forgotten 90s alternative band, so much so that it seems like there was a reason they were forgotten. Is this band bad? No, they play their instruments pretty well. The vocals are alright for the most part. Is there anything to really engage the listener with something new or unique? No, not really.
The album is short and sweet, which is kind of nice because none of the songs really pop out in particular. The first title track, “Where Was I (When I Needed Me),” starts with a four chord intro and then lands into a little bit of crunch with distortion and an accompanying guitar. It then eases back for when the vocals come in. The lyrics don’t really stand out in any way and the fact that they’re overlaying instruments that were going to be rock but then decided not to be takes the air out of it entirely. The song goes quick to the chorus and it’s not a surprise that it brings out the hook, “Where was I when I needed me.” There is no question mark at the end of this hook so it’s more of a statement than a question I guess. It feels meaningless in its mix of pop and rock. It’s almost like this band deserves to be make it big and be played on mainstream radio because it has the same obscure and lackluster air about it that much of modern rock and pop stations love to shove down people’s throats.
There are two more tracks on this album, the next one, “When You’re Young,” follows a similar formula to the first. Clean guitar playing just two chords that breaks into distortion and then again backs off for when the vocals come in. I do like the lead guitar and bass work, but the songs are so dry to begin with that they fail to impress in anyway. When the chorus drops, things get more rocking, but guess what the one line of the chorus is? Yes, “When you’re young.” If I was completely wasted watching this song live, I might be able to get into it, but as far as a listening experience, it is tolerable to listen to but makes me want to listen to something else.
The final track, “While You Were Here,” has the most substance to it. It rocks sufficiently and there is a heavier breakdown (for this band) that involves some vocal harmonies that make the song kind of interesting. Overall, it’s my favorite track on this album.
With a review like this I like to give some feed back of what I think could be improved. First, riffs. The lead guitar does have some riffs going on but it just highlights the four chords that are banged out. Some creativity with riffs would help. Second, quit being so predictable. Yes, they’ve mastered the “verse/chorus” aspect of songwriting but it leaves the listener with nothing other than that. Having an intense breakdown somewhere within that contrived song could really switch things up a bit. Third, better production. This album sounds like they played a show to an empty room and the sound guy didn’t give a shit. The levels are fine, but there’s nothing at all interesting as far as effects or anything clever in how it was recorded. I’m not saying that there needs to be cool delay on all of the vocals or whacky sound effects on the guitars, but this album is remarkably dry and adding a little something in the right places might make an alright song at least a little better.
Although this isn’t the most positive review I’ve ever done, I’d still encourage people to check out their show at Beaner’s on Friday. This band will no doubt pack a little more punch live. They will be playing with 7th Street Project (if you look them up you get to see articles about road construction on 7th Streets across the nation) and El Cameleans (no luck on finding anything about them either after a couple of tries). I’m not really helping here am I?