Emotion Meets Passion From a New Perspective

On the Follow Through (Shellshock Records)
Derby City Project

By Kevin Gibson

You see music reviewers tossing around words like "ambitious" and "experimental" all too often when writing about albums and bands. I suspect that, as often as not, it's because they don't understand what the hell they're listening to.

Sometimes perspective is the most important ingredient to at least trying to understand. I put Derby City Project's latest release in the CD player the same way I do dozens of others every month, with no expectations and no reason to care either way. But I'm here to tell you that, no matter which way your musical tastes might lean, if you read front man Brandon Shell's foreword before listening, you will not hear it in the same way as if you don't.

Shell's friend and DCP co-founder Lee Stout was killed in a rock climbing accident in July, three days before they were to fly to Las Vegas to mix and master the album. The emotions within the songs here might not have been written for Stout, but they feel so much stronger when taken in the context his passing unintentionally creates. A songwriter doesn't necessarily have to be in pain to leave an impression, he just has to sincerely feel. Shell leaves no doubt about that over the course of these eleven cuts that play like a concept album.

Energy becomes passion in the hands of someone in tune with his or her own emotional state. A lyric can become wisdom, and a chord change can become an emotion in itself. Travel with Derby City Project from "Reminisce" through "Love and Hate" and you'll see what I mean. "Not a day goes by that I don't see a fading reminder of what used to be," Shell proclaims as the former song revs into its explosive pulse. "Beware of the flame when you're soaking in kerosene," he warns in the latter. One wonders if a passionate writer like Shell is even able to heed his own advice. If he were, would he be so passionate? And supporting cast members Beaux Underwood (guitars), Matt Jaha (guitars) and Bryce Shell (drums) manage to catch their front man's fever and consistently translate it into near-perfect musical translations.

Lyrically, "Give and Take" doesn't find the same success, and "Balance and Mass" is a little too self-aware. A surprisingly juiced-up take on "San Francisco" doesn't seem to fit, but works nevertheless. But even the lesser songs in this collection fill their role and know their place. By the time you roll into Shell's spooky tribute, "Angel," and find yourself lost in the album's outro, all is well. You might not have heard a word, but you will have understood to some extent. I'm not even sure I understood it all. But I certainly felt it.