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Album Review: Five Dollar Refund - Optimum At Best EP

Just before you read this EP review, if you have the chance, head down to your local low-level gig venue on a Friday night and watch any 3 month old amateur punk band. Like what you hear? If the answer is yes, then Five Dollar Refund’s EP Optimum At best ‘might’ be in your favour. If not, then it is probably best for you to keep listening to the production-heavy records that Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead seem to be giving away for next to nothing every few months or so.

Now, I can’t be too critical on Five Dollar Refund’s novice recordings that build up this 7 track release, as every band throughout the history of music and recording records have all started at this stage. And have only progressed further if their songs have the heart and soul for a record label to sign them up. Unfortunately, this is where FDR fall short on. Quite frankly, and bluntly, their songs and structure aren’t up to scratch.

I must admit, the opening build-up into the start of “Take Me Away” had me interested. I was every so hoping and praying for the kick into the main body of the track to be monumental. However, it really wasn’t. In comes a mish-mash of simple power chords and bash-bash-bash drum beats. You can tell almost at an instant that this is a band in their ‘garage’ phase.

Second track was an almighty, much needed improvement as it seems that they have learnt how to play their instruments with the slower pace of the guitars shaping a better song. The chorus has alot more to be desired as the mashup of instruments, all struggling to break free and show personality of their own clog up the, admittedly, catchy chorus of “I won’t wait for a tragedy/take me out when I’m 17”.

Three tracks in and I’ve begun to understand the influences that the band have taken upon themselves to include into their music. “This Summer Will Change Everything” has a very much New Found Glory style, with lead vocalist singing and heralding similar to Adam Lazzara of Taking Back Sunday fame. However, the praises for the vocals go as far as there; as shamefully, Lazzara isn’t the best singer to take an influence from due to his awkward vocal abilities only really being showcased by, well, himself.

A pleasant change in the first 3 songs common and similar structure finally happens on the fourth track “All My Life” as we are welcomed into an opening intro to the song that, dare I say it, could rival the atmospheric moments of Brand New. However, before I receive a swarm and flock of emails and comments from Jesse Lacy followers all exclaiming that “Devil and God is the most amazing music ever and nothing can compare to it”, the song is abruptly ruined by Five Dollar Refund’s typical mess and entanglement of instruments, trying to effectively break into some sort of crescendo. To be honest, less is more, and my honest opinion is that they should cut the louder moments and opt for the slower more precious sections.

This viewpoint is only strengthened further by the interlude which blows a fresh breeze of gentle calmness into your pleading ears and could modestly be present on Conor Oberst’s latest solo work.

However, as we now enter the ‘second’ section of the EP, it’s back to the usual same old shenanigans as ‘Optimum At Best’ is as typical rock-by-numbers affair. Admittedly, the songs had more structure as the band members have clearly found each of their own even standings and not fighting for the main focus of the listener.

Closer of the record, ‘I can’t Sing at 10pm’ took a very different direction with it sounding as if the band was expressing a variety of different ideas into a single track. The calmer moments again, outweighed the ‘heavier’ moments and I was beginning to come round as the song took shape.

I see this record as very much a chronological guide to the band’s writing history. The weaker songs opening the album and a complete head turn for some quality filled songs halfway through. I can see a great deal of potential in the future of the band if they focus more on the less cramped and less claustrophobic sections of their tracks. I would also dare say that there is clearly a fond scent of the albums ‘Clarity’ by Jimmy Eat World and ‘Something To Write Home About’ by The Get Up Kids in the band and if they continue to practice ALOT more, write some actual thoughtful lyrics and revamp their sound to a gentler physique, then we could have a nostalgic early 90’s punk-rock revival on our hands.


'Optimum At Best' EP by Five Dollar Refund is available now through their MySpace

Five Dollar Refund on MySpace

Andy Touch

Alter The Press!