The Riverboat Gamblers: Underneath the Owl

It's been three years now since Spin named Austin-via-Denton punks the Riverboat Gamblers to its list of "25 bands to see live right now," but still, the band's penchant for raucous showmanship and borderline out-of-control performances remain its calling card. That hardly means the band's recorded output should be discounted, though. Underneath the Owl, the Gamblers' first album since 2006's To the Confusion of Our Enemies, finds the band in a somewhat poppier mind-set, with no problem emphasizing the "pop" portion of its pop-punk sound. Owl's insanely catchy hooks now define the Gamblers' current sound, well showcased on lead single "A Choppy, Yet Sincere Apology," where front man Mike Wiebe apologizes to a disappointed partner at the top of his suddenly impressive vocal range. On cuts like high-energy leadoff track "DissDissDiss­KissKissKiss" and the Clash-like "Pilgrims in a Holy Land," the band utilizes its common call-and-shouted-response between Wiebe and his backing players to great effect. But Owl ultimately succeeds by taking risks: The toned-down "Sleepless" finds Wiebe cooing in an especially nasally tone, and "The Tearjerker" finds this band of punks even employing a pedal steel to properly sell its '50s rock-ballad take. Is Owl enough to dispel the notion that the Gamblers are first and foremost a live band, and always will be? Probably not. But as pop-punk records go, it flies quite high.

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Pete Freedman
Contact: Pete Freedman