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Music Review: Red Collar – Pilgrim

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It’s not uncommon for birth pains to be the most acute on the firstborn. Red Collar self-released their debut, Pilgrim, in March. While Pilgrim sweats authenticity (like wringing out a red, white, and blue bandanna on the 4th of July), a win indeed for the band, it’s the birth pains of the album that require examination.

Pilgrim, as it's aptly named, traveled an unlikely road. In November of 2007, tapes whirred to the life for the first time under the tutelage of Brian Paulson at Track & Field Studios. Band members scheduled when they could, Paulson booking calendar time in between other projects. At points, fallow guitar lines waited weeks (maybe months) for vocals to be lovingly set beside them.

Of the pressure to rush a project, vocalist and guitarist Jason Kutchma noted, “There’s always a temptation…to get the album out there as soon as possible because, well shit, you spent enough money on the damn thing,” and so before ever hearing Pilgrim, its pedigree is evident: a work ethic of the stiff who doesn’t call in sick or throw in the towel when the chips are low. Pilgrim crept close to two years in the making. “DIY” seems to apply in this case.

When Red Collar rips into “Used Guitars” (the perennial crowd favorite) ten tracks deep into Pilgrim, having your ass handed to you by way of anthemic choruses and good ol’ fashioned rock and roll never felt so gloriously free of sarcasm, irony, and malaise. Others have noted that Red Collar lacks the tedious prefix applied to nearly every buzzworthy band lately: “post-“. If anything, Red Collar is post-pretentious-assholery.

Fittingly then, time after time Red Collar draws comparisons to two other acts unlikely to suffer nerdy genre wars: Fugazi and Bruce Springsteen. If you just can’t help yourself, call it blue (red?) collar punk rock or dirty anthem rock. It doesn’t matter really though. Regardless, the end result is a kick-in-the-nuts live show in which everything comes spilling out on the stage. Songs run substantially longer at a Red Collar show because one more chorus can always weasel its way in.

Red Collar coaxes that live show onto Pilgrim making it leading contender for best road trip album of 2009. On “Pilgrim”, the guitar strums have that full-extension, follow through flourish that requires full commitment to a locked elbow, and when Kutchma states in closing, “My name is Pilgrim, and I’m going home,” it’s nigh impossible not to embrace such optimism. There’s no mistaking Red Collar is a glass half-full lot. That’s not to say they wear rose-colored sunglasses. No, they meet the world head on.

I’m going to tell you what I am going to do. I am going to ignore the forecasts. I’m going to ignore the commercials that are trying snatch the money I don’t have. I will ignore the Chicken Little News Folk that depend on those X-Box commercials to pay their salary. In this uncertain era, no one knows anything and I know even less. But I know this for certain: I am through, absolutely through, trying to fulfill some arbitrary lowercase American dream.

Preach it, Jason. That “lowercase American dream” is the worship of the buck, the buck that Red Collar isn’t out to make at all costs. It’s that won’t-settle-for-less attitude that puts the “p” in punk and puts the bandana in The Boss’ back pocket. It’s woven into each track on Pilgrim. Detractors will reduce Red Collar to a passable rock band. They’ll search for the irony in the lyrics, the sarcasm, the pissed off despondence and won’t find it, and since “what you see is what you get” isn’t sexy, they’ll yawn and sigh and check their watches. Hot Chip hasn’t remixed a Red Collar track, so relevance will seem lacking.

Yet for the listener who still appreciates to crank knob in the car with the windows down all the way along the highway, Red Collar is more relevant than ever. In an era in which the live show is less and less live and more and more computer, Red Collar is less of the same. Remember that when sweat drips from your chin at a Red Collar show, and you can’t remember the last time you were allowed to have this much fun listening to four people leave it all on the stage.

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