H2O – Don't Forget Your Roots
Record Label: Bridge 9 Records
Release Date: November 15, 2011
Tossing up punk rock's ubiquitous "go!" comes as second nature to NYHC band H2O as rehashing the notion of a “positive mental attitude." Look again, and the two-letter word symbolizes that Toby Morse and his bandmates are quite the death defying bunch. Not in a Cyclops laser beam shootout kind of way, but how an aging band continues to release albums with a seemingly worn yet medallion worthy motto: "still here, still here, after all these fucking years." Since 1995, that H2O optimism has blitzed vanity tainted scenes leaving no shirt un-clutched. Despite their survival luck, covering 14 songs can be self-flagellating--- like Punk Goes Pop volumes or random bands trespassing into the best-left-alone territories of Adele. To H2O's credit, they've shared stages with 80% of the selected bands on Don't Forget Your Roots. Thus DFYR, in its limited lyrical tweaks and stunts, is nothing more than their pulpit of fidelity to the genre.
Obviously, dichotomies are the album's defining feature: the tame organ ballad vs H2O's upbeat rocker on Ramones' "I Wanna Live"; the bat-shit berserk H.R. swapped out for subdued Toby Morse vocals on Bad Brains' "Attitude"; the grand brass backdrop on Mighty Mighty Bosstones' "Someday I Suppose" anti-climatically swapped out for Todd Morse's guitar leads; melodic bootstraps rock vs Rusty Pistachio's triplet guitar chugs and heavy duty gang vocals on Social Distortion's "Sick Boy". But two of the best covers on the record are a near resurrection of H2O's Go-- Embrace's "Said Gun" and Dag Nasty's "Safe"-- making room for the band's trademark bouncy harmonies. The H2O aesthetic remains unscathed, in its recognizable style of grit above glitz, and clamor minus the glamor.
It remains to be said that Morse's limited range only goes so far, as old age once again proves to be a toll taker. Even so, his familiar "school one knucklehead at a time" tone is bullet spitfire. Guitarists Todd Morse and Pistachio are a missing links squad who attempt to fill in parts from the originals with sustained leads or modified riffs. The drummer and bassist go into tag team mode to showcase a poppier side. None of the songs are pristinely whitewashed in a hot tub full of Benjamins, nor do any walk on eggshells to satisfy the listener's nostalgic urges. As far as the "still here" quintet is concerned, their sound remains unfiltered and straight-forward. This is the reason Morse doesn't go full blown H.R. on Bad Brains' "Attitude" (to preserve the H2O aesthetic). Don't Forget Your Roots grabs the band's unshakable 16-year attitude to shape itself into a brick-wall tribute, leaving the stigma of covers for actors and impersonators.
So even when H2O don't push limits, they're carrying a mirror at all times. All the finger pointing and banter and blare on the album are the vines and roots from the originals, although some walk a fine line between skippy and skippable where true umph is due. But as a whole, it's quite the switchblade that edges more nicks in the punk rock family tree.