Don Babylon – Foul
The 2017 debut from Don Babylon, Babe, established the trio as one of the most promising indie rock acts to emerge in recent memory and their new follow up Foul! builds on that with another personal slice of rock singer/songwriter tracks. The band makes no bones that the songs are culled straight from their lives, but it’s never an obscure listening experience – you don’t have to be in a rock band to get these songs. Anyone who’s ever harbored ambitions or dreams of following passions that, perhaps, don’t bear financial fruit will react to a collection of songs where one of the biggest subjects proves to be the price you have to pay for following your dreams. A guy’s gotta eat and we can hear the palpable dissatisfaction, reflected through a serio-comic lyric and arrangement, with working a crap job to keep yourself afloat comes through with the song “Line Cook Blues”. You just want to chuck it all, write songs, play guitar, but it doesn’t pay the way a steady paycheck does and you have to strike an uneasy balance in order to keep your music alive.
The music on Foul! is so good you might miss out on the sharp lyrical invention underlying the album as a whole. One of the best songs for imagery, “Bed Sheets”, has an airy, yet edgy, jangle and David Gaither’s drumming gives the song a strong spine from beginning to end. The same penchant for well observed imagery comes across during the song “Really Fast Cars” and it’s one of Neeley’s most emotive vocals as well. The condensed sway of the musical arrangement has a revolving feel leaving me slightly transfixed and the wide open posture of Neeley’s singing follows the song’s melody lockstep, but it works well. Gaither’s propulsive percussion is the bedrock “Mach 3” is based on and it has a stripped down spartan push that switches gears at key points, but never bores listeners. It’s one of the punkier tracks on Foul! and the feedback break near the end sets up the song’s final lap in the best possible way.
One of the highlights of the album comes with “Rocky 27”, a title with a smirk, referring to the band’s recent relocation to the Philadelphia area and re-launching themselves with a round of songwriting that’s produced this album. It’s a no hold barred account of their personal travails, big and small, as struggling but talented musicians and the unbridled passion they pour into both the writing and performance helps push this over the top. Leland Bickford’s bass rumbles out of the gate to begin “Ain’t Got No Money” and Neeley lays down appropriately inflamed guitar lines. His vocal, likewise, reflects loads of frustration and even anger with the endless scramble to just keep money coming in. It’s uncompromising and rousing despite the subject matter. This is as pure of an expression of the band’s reality we’re ever likely to hear and doesn’t mince words or music to make its point. It’s a personal album, sure, but Foul! is unreservedly entertaining from beginning to end.