It's 3pm on a Friday afternoon in mid-July and I'm driving on a desolate stretch of Interstate 81 through the mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. The sky is a shade above apocalyptic darkness and the rain is coming down so hard that I feel like I'm navigating a nuclear sub rather than a 1998 Toyota Camry with stiff leather seats and a gimp windshield wiper. Between roars of thunder that are involuntarily causing my vehicle to shift lanes, bolts of "HOLY SHIT!" style lightning, and steady pleas to my wife, who is clinging desperately to the car door handle, of "we're fine... we're fine..." it was a bit of a panicky situation. But not really. Because THE DRAFT we're on the car the stereo. And like them, I was weathering the perfect storm.
In A Million Pieces, the debut release from THE DRAFT, is a full-length that is part survive and part conquer. Featuring three-fourths of the now-defunct HOT WATER MUSIC (everyone but Chuck Ragan), the group survives by having a smooth, yet momentum-charged sound that's largely an extension of HOT WATER MUSIC's final recording The New What Next. As for the conquering - THE DRAFT do the things that guarantee instant affection from these ears - they deliver an endless stream of propelling rhythms and sing-a-long friendly verses and choruses. It's the familiarity that ropes you in (surely one of the benefits of losing just one vocalist, rather than starting a rookie in that position), and the subtle nods of progression that keep you entranced.
I've struggled at the task of reviewing HOT WATER MUSIC releases because few words have seemed to accurately describe the band's timeless, organic sound, and the way in which the group makes complex songwriting seem so incredibly natural and simple. To some extent, In A Million Pieces pushes the juxtaposition of reality and appearances even further along - THE DRAFT do inexplicable things to make things to make their music sound so straight forward; yet looking under the hood shows an engine that has benefitted from years and years of high-end care. It's that sense of veteran knowledge and excitement that causes a band to write an opener like "New Eyes Open" which shatters through hesitations and preconceived notions in a matter of seconds. "Let It Go" leaves the words 'And I won't lie unless you ask me to,' stinging in the air, while "Wired" takes aim with unexpected horn support and undeniably addictive shouts of the album title. THE DRAFT are penning tunes that smother instead of smolder. The final two tracks to the twelve song release are some of the band's best work, with "Longshot," and "The Tide Is Out," both riding the energy out to the last drop.
The most important pieces of music in my life are those that are tied to priceless periods of learning, growth, and personal exploration and experience. While it's much too soon to determine how THE DRAFT will fit into this longterm perspective, all I know is that if my wife and I didn't make it through that terrifying driving experience a couple of months ago, at least we would have gone out with an amazing soundtrack.