United We Stand

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With their fifth studio album, United We Stand, Brad have been a band for almost 20 years. Living in the shadow of guitar player Stone Gossard's other (exponentially more popular) band Pearl Jam for the entirety of their existence, it's impossible to extract Brad from their associations to one of the foundational forces of grunge. The ten songs on United We Stand attempt a wide range of styles and emotional twists, but never reach far enough that you forget it's the guy from Pearl Jam and some other mainstays of Seattle's golden age of grunge making the sounds. Falling somewhere between the sound of incomplete Pearl Jam demos and lazy jam band pop, a ramshackle live-in-the-studio production is apparent throughout the album. Songs like "A Reason to Be in My Skin" and "Miles of Rope" sound more organic than produced. The creaky Americana-leaning "Make the Pain Go Away" sounds off-the-cuff as well, with buried cellos peeking out sheepishly from behind vocalist Shawn Smith's husky ramble. From the unfinished murk of their debut to their long-shelved 2010 full-length Best Friends?, Brad have embraced the "warts-and-all" mentality of leaving in the mistakes in favor of a more visceral live sound. More often than not on United We Stand, however, this approach yields a flat, lifeless sound with instruments either imbalanced or compressed into a state of dull submission. Slow and mumbly ballads like the overly long "Through the Day" and "Needle and Thread" are so uninspired and listless they sound like improvised open-mike night fodder from some forgotten coffeehouse circa 1995. Even when flirting with a Jack White-approved riff on rocker "Last Bastion," Brad can't quite get past Seattle's glory days, sounding like a watered-down Soundgarden by the time the chorus rolls around. Like post-'90s Pearl Jam, the band has a dedicated following and long-term fans will probably find much to enjoy on United We Stand. Those new to the band might find the album's relevance questionable at best.

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