Welcome is sort of a departure from the norm for Jake Ewald. As one half of Modern Baseball’s songwriting tour-de-force, he normally deals with introspection in his songwriting; vignettes from real life that get thrown the “relatable” bone constantly. And rightly so; Ewald is better than almost anyone at painting details of the everyday, making the small details of his own life human enough for any listener to be able to mesh them into their own with ease. In his solo project as Slaughter Beach, Dog, however, he mostly deals with the entirely fictional. Welcome is a concept album dealing with the relationship between two ennui-filled characters, Annie and her significant other (referred to only as “T” in the lyric sheet), in the titular town of Slaughter Beach. The scene is slightly hard to establish, dotted across lines on the record and in the band’s B-sides, but there nonetheless; Annie is grounded to her parent’s house, grieving over the loss of an older brother, and T spends his days working in his father’s hardware store whilst both juggle their free time with drug habits.
‘Mallrat Semi-Annual’, as much as it’s a suitable musical opener to the record, also serves well in building the plotline; T meets Annie at a questionable house party, and it’s easy to tell where it spins off from there. Ewald murmurs about conversational anxiety, introductions and familiar wallflower behaviour over rising arpeggios and sneaking drum fills that set the tone for the rest of Welcome – not dissimilar to his catalogue in Modern Baseball, but musically far more varied and fleshed out (aside from this year’s Holy Ghost, admittedly amazing in its own right).
Whilst tracks like ‘Mallrat’ fit within the infinitely vague genre of indie rock, Welcome takes well-timed stabs at other influences – ‘Drinks’ and ‘Politics of Grooming’ take queues from country, in soaring guitar bends and almost square-dance thumping drums, and wordless record closer ‘Toronto Mug II’ delves into thrashing post-rock in its 2 and a half minutes. Despite the range of motion at play here, Ewald manages to keep everything together – every song works beautifully in execution, with ‘Forever’ and ‘Jobs’ holding particular impact. They’re amongst the strongest lyrically, too; lines like “I am your excess; your old pride” and “There ain’t no purpose fighting holy wars for something you’re not” are part of greater wholes, but stand up straight on their own.
Welcome works a lot into its almost half hour – there’s time for the protagonists to almost get mugged, go over their familial trauma, and roll through New Year’s with their relationship just about intact. There’s a wealth of human experience to find here, even if entirely fictional – whatever ground Ewald covers next, whether based in real life or not, is sure to be equally poignant.By Jowan Mead