Down By Law is a skater punk band from California that’s been around since the ’90s. But they never had the breakout success that so many of their peers had. They began as an Epitaph staple, but since 1997, DBL has jumped from label to label. At the Redoubt is their first release through Pine Hill Records. The three-song EP dropped on March 22nd, a follow up to their 2018 full-length All In.
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that this was the first time I’ve bothered to listen to Down By Law. You would think that a band with a thirty-year career would have eventually reached my ears. It was only fair that I listened to their earlier material to properly judge their latest. While previous releases like their 1994 album Punkrockacademyfightsong relied heavily on chugging power chords, At the Redoubt has a more matured sound. There’s more exploration beyond plain distortion. In the opening track “Redoubt,” guitarist Sam Williams lightly picks at his strings, using a post-punkish reverb.
So many bands from the skate-punk era continue to write songs from their teenage perspective, even when they’re kicking 50 (I’m looking at you, Blink 182). But Dave Smalley doesn’t fall into this hole. His lyrics are wise and weathered. To pull a line from “For Your Eyes Only” completely out of context: “It’s time to act your age.” The only original member, Smalley was never a good singer, but has made his voice work along with his music over the years. His voice goes slightly off-key, but at appropriate times. After all, punk was never about being talented. It’s about using the tools you have to appeal to a massive feeling.
That being said, I prefer the songs that Smalley sings on. Williams takes over vocal duties on “Boring Things,” the more boring song of the three even with its humorous content. It lacks the energy established by the previous two tracks, and Williams’ comes off as flat. The pace only picks up during the guitar solo on the bridge, but still ends the EP on a weak note. After ten minutes, I’m not convinced At the Redoubt will turn around Down By Law’s long-sought fortune.
Written by Chris Aitkens
*edited by Kate Erickson