Release Date: July 4th 2018
Rocket Coma are a bare-bones rock band based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. After forming in full force in 2010, the band initally tested the waters with a raunchy-sounding 17 track demo in 2014. Following this, they released their first official full-length album ‘Dangerfield’ in 2016, which saw an effective combination of the punk rock and grunge genres to create a hard-hitting impact on the local music scene. Following this, they chose to take a more laid-back approach to their sophomore effort, incorporating influences of blues, classic rock and country alongside their previous punk and grunge influences. The resulting product, ‘Rock//Icon’ showcases an exciting and innovative ensemble who are undoubtedly heaps of fun and a real testament to the rock & roll way of doing things.
Pickslides and squealing lead guitar confidently kick off the album’s laid-back title track ‘Rock Icon’. Whilst firmly rooted in the blues rock genre, the band effectively showcase a wide range of influences, from the classic rock lead guitar work to the soul-influenced backing vocals on the song’s hook. The band also have a fantastic live feel about them, opting to leave in the occasional out-of-time fill and murmuring between members at the end of the track. I thought this was very fitting of the genre and added a real sense of genuity and humanism to the recording. ‘This n That’ continues the laid-back blues rock feel and retains the classic rock-influenced lead guitar work, which is clearly a signature trait of the band. My attention quickly turns to the guitar arrangements and tones; Regarding three-guitar bands, it can often be tempting for the guitarists to play over each other or struggle to effectively arrange their parts. Rocket Coma avoid this problem through excellently selected guitar tones and fitting arrangements on each track. In contrast to their previous efforts, each guitar tone is rather thin and only moderately distorted; this not only fits their genre well, but also allows the band to layer their parts in order to create a huge guitar sound. Arrangment-wise, one guitar plays chords whilst another supports with a riff, forming a solid foundation for the lead work to sail atop the arrangement. I thought this was well executed and is a ball I’d very much encourage the band to continue to pick up and run with.
‘Black Friday’ opens with a set of ambigous chords accompanied by ambient feedback, before once again settling into the band’s signature laid-back groove. However, just as we think we’ve got their groove down to a tee, the band hit us with an unforseen tempo change for the chorus. This shows that the band have more than a few tricks up their sleeve and are willing to use of a variety of different musical devices across the album to keep us on our toes. Particular praise also goes to bassist PZA Rocket for truly gluing the arrangement together. He provides a great melodic bassline in the more ambient verses, effectively countering the vocal melody and filling out the arrangement, before dropping back to root notes for the faster, guitar-laden choruses. This shows phenomenal attention to detail and lets us know he’s clearly kept the arrangement at the forefront of his mind whilst composing his part.
‘Don’t Stop Please’ undoubtedly features one of the biggest hooks of the entire album, delivered by a large reverberated backing vocal section. The backing vocal arrangements utilised by the band are incredibly effective and add a real presence to the material; I’d certainly hope that the majority of band members contribute to the backing vocals in a live setting in order to best represent the material. At this point, it becomes rather notable that we haven’t heard a great deal from keys player Nick Rocket. I strongly believe that having a few synth-based lines padding out the arrangement or even taking the lead would be a phenomenal asset to much of the band’s material and is something I’d encourage them to incorporate. ‘Bush and Dick’ has a much more classic punk rock feel; PZA Rocket once again takes the limelight here, making use of his bass part to relentlessly drive the momentum amongst the ambient guitar feedback and squealing lead lines. The lead vocals feature a crisp distortion, which compliments the genre of the track perfectly and adds a suitably sarcastic snarl to the lyrics of ‘I don’t trust my government/I could be president’. Whilst this track is more reminiscent of the material on their previous effort ‘Dangerfield’, the production and guitar arrangements show a clear progression of their sonic identity, confirming the band is very much headed in the right direction sonically.
‘Decorations’ is based around a Latina-influenced minor chord progression and embellished with a fantastic string synth line amongst grungy guitar drones. Whilst the band do have a tendency to hop from genre to genre throughout the album, they’re very much aware of their signature traits and have effectively channeled them into a recognisable and ever-developing sonic identity. They make use of elements such as ambient guitar feedback, classic lead guitar work and blues rock grooves consistently and constructively. I’m looking forward to seeing how they further refine their signature traits and continue to channel them into a fully-realised sonic identity over their next few releases. ‘Bears a Mark’ is based around a shuffle beat and sees a strong return of the warping guitar feedback. The vocal production features a tight delay and lo-fi vibe, which successfully ties in with the previous track. What’s notable by this point is that whilst vocalist Quinn Rocket often delivers his lyrics in a soft and easy-listening manner, the production effectively adapts his vocal delivery to the needs of the track. This shows he has an incredibly versatile vocal delivery, which is something I’d encourage the band to highlight within their marketing.
‘Owe Woe’ is a catchy, slacker-influenced track carried by jangly guitar chords and a walking bassline. I thought the guitar solo on this track was very well crafted and medodically sound, serving as a nice contrast to the more rapid lead guitar work showcased on many of the other tracks. At this point, my attention turns to the album’s production, which is very good. There’s a very dry and live feel to the production, which is very suitable for the band’s genre and overall attitude. All levels, effects and frequencies are well balanced and the band have clearly taken the time to obtain appropriate takes and tones at the source to make for a convincing product. ‘Chatterbat’ features strong influences of ska punk and disco. Bob Rocket’s drum part on this track is excellent; he doubles up his hi-hats to accompany the disco groove in the verses, before opening up into a propelling one-two kick and snare beat in the chorus. His fills are excellently placed and effectively guide the band from section to section, showing a very well thought-out approach and once again showcasing the band’s excellent attention to detail.
‘I Wanna Rocket’ features a more classic punk feel and has a very strong Ramones influence. It’s clear that the band have taken a huge amount of inspiration from bands such as The Ramones for their visual identity, with all band members making use of the stage-surname ‘Rocket’. The members have also effectively coordinated their image, making use of long hair, beards and sunglasses. This forms an inherently strong visual identity and should stand as an example to many other groups who do not take their visual identity as seriously. They’ve also effectively tied their visual identity into their sonic identity by making the word ‘rocket’ a recurring theme throughout their material, which is something many bands really struggle to achieve. The album rounds off with the more laid back ‘Quinn for the Win’, which successfully brings all signature traits full circle. The track features everything from unexpected tempo changes to the blues rock groove and left me excited to see where the band choose to venture next. Whilst ‘Rock/Icon’ dabbles in several different genres, it’s overtly clear that the band are well on their way to achieving a fully-realised and well-channeled sonic identity. Their visual identity and overall attitude is phenomenal and I’m confident they would be incredibly convincing in a live setting. Highly recommended for any fans of punk, blues or classic rock.