It's Good to Be Back, the first full-length release from Cincinnati's The Vains, is an album created by struggle, tempered by compromise and forged in defiance.
Fans of Social Distortion, Bad Religion or even The Gaslight Anthem should stop what they're doing and go grab a copy of It's Good to Be Back, not only to help support the local music scene, but simply because it is a great album performed by a damn fine band.
Late in 2013, shortly after the initial tracks for the album had been laid down, lead singer Adam Stafford posted on Tumblr that the band was taking a short hiatus and that drummer Kris Ulrich was taking some time away to focus on his collegiate studies. The writing of that post is an indication of how grounded in reality these musicians are - but more so - how much they genuinely care about each other, and their followers.
Five months later, the first 100 copies of It's Good to Be Back arrived in the mail and the band is now preparing for an official release date and a show to celebrate.
The sound on It's Good to Be Back is bold, brash and knee-deep in cheap beer, black leather and failed relationships. Stafford's vocals remind me of The Frankl Project's Jake Tippey with his angst-filled shouted anthems of rebellion and general discontent.
Musically, there is a great deal of symmetry between The Vains and The Frankl Project as well. At first listen, the songs sound really good in the car, driving fast with the windows down. But as you become more familiar with the lyrics, they begin to paint a picture of internal struggles with intense coming-of-age themes. The language contained within It's Good to Be Back is so raw and close to the heart that I can only guess it is at least semi-autobiographical.
The album opens with the heart-wrenching "House of Cards," a story of overcoming chemical-dependency that resolves itself throughout in the album in songs like "C'est la Vie," a tale about letting go of - if not throwing away - the past and "Prodigal Son," an anthem of redemption and facing of the truth.
"Confessional at 5am" is a ballad to unrequited love, facing of one's fears and facing life itself. There is a simultaneous young person's angst and a mature self-awareness present in this song that balances perfectly with the acoustic guitar and makes it a song that can be easy-internalized.
There is a rich and dark iconoclasm in "The Long Way Home" in which Stafford juxtaposes biblical characters with drunks and users in a seedy self-perpetuating tale of abuse and deceit.
At the end of the album we find "Asleep at the Wheel" and "It's Good to Be Back." In "Asleep at the Wheel," The Vains do a remarkable job of reprising the album's previous themes, both lyrically and musically while "It's Good to Be Back" speaks to the realization of one's true self - one's past, one's flaws, one's strengths - and the acceptance that all of that is what makes one human.
The struggles that it took, both personally and musically, to create It's Good to Be Back are clearly and honestly expressed in all twelve tracks of the album. As difficult as those challenges appear to have been, I hope that by expressing them in song, a sense of catharsis has been reached and that, in the end, the success of the album makes it worth it.