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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Artist: Cafebar 401
Cafebar 401’s self-titled album introduces this Dutch band that’s a bit beyond easy description. Alternative-garage-beat ‘n’ bass-pop band.
"Full-Pro Disco" has that combination of hard rock with dance tendencies like Skillet, Placebo, or what Jesus Jones would be if the guitars were raunchier. "Senses Working Overtime" borrows a title from a classic XTC song, but that’s about all this song takes from XTC. The sound is hard rock coupled with Tije Oortwijn’s falsetto vocals on the chorus. I suppose you could call it all melodic hard-edged dance rock.
However, when the acoustic guitars and balladic breaks come in, featuring Oortwijn’s plaintive vocals, Cafebar 401 seems akin to the many grittier bands who are also ready with melodic blends of distortion and ballad, like Audio Adrenaline, delirious?, Seven Day Jesus, or Bleach. Interestingly, that little group of Christian bands has harder-edged songs that are always tempered by a production that keeps their vocals on top of the mix. I’ve always assumed that this sound would typify Christian band due to the mission of getting the message heard, but here Cafebar 401, without being a labeled Christian band (I can’t speak for their personal faith), has a similar mix, the vocals rising above the bursts of guitars.
The comparison to Placebo is most appropriate, thought, with that combination of a core of heavy guitar, lyrical flourish, and dance beats.
Towards the end of the album, "Today" takes Oortwijn’s acoustic ballad, kicks in a spare snare/high hat beat, topped by a bright, wandering keyboard line. It is a song mourning for a lost relationship ("I’m sure/It’s over now/We’re older now"), and the beat and keyboard while headed in a slightly more upbeat direction, actually only make the grief in Ooortwijn’s vocals all that more apparent.
Cafebar 401 shows that they understand how to take these combinations—hard rock guitar, keyboards, singer/songwriter lyrics, dance beats—and use them to actually move the song forward, to create a feeling and style that works towards the song. This isn’t some grand experiment, "let’s see if we can put all of this stuff together." This is a band creating something that couldn’t happen without each of the pieces being present.
Following "Today" is the despairing "Using Few Words." A guy I’ve been visiting in the county jail asked me, "How do people view God? Do all people view Him as forgiving?" Here’s the song for us to talk about and explore how people view God. Oortwijn cries out, "I never thought her dad would die/He using few words told his daughter goodbye/Do you believe?/She thought she had/When God turns His back on you/It’s the devil instead." In those moments when God seems absent, it is hard to believe that He is truly there. "Using Few Words" is one of those songs that forces to take a look at those difficult questions.
You come a long way on Cafebar 401’s debut album, from the full-on fun of "Full-Pro Disco!" to those closing plaintive songs. Yet, there’s no dragging-and-kicking here; you’ll be glad to go with Cafebar 401 from start to finish.
Benjamin C. Squires,