Stroke 9 is back in the independent ranks for All In, its first full-length since 2002's Rip It Off. That album's chunky post-grunge guitars are still a factor on In, most notably on "Run Away," and vocalist Luke Esterkyn is as preoccupied with girlfriends and trash culture as he ever was. But the Bay Area trio has also moved toward a layered pop sound that supplements Esterkyn and the prominent guitars with keyboards, programmed drums, and a multitude of mixing board effects. "Stop Saying Goodbye"'s filtered acoustic guitars and crackling drum machine give way to a big chorus worthy of Vertical Horizon or Switchfoot, while the plaintive string samples and kicky chorus of "Set You Free" mark the contribution of ex-Third Eye Blind guitarist and songwriter Kevin Cadogan. Esterkyn adopts a sort of half-rapping vocal for "Faux Gucci Girl" and the existential musings of "Rod Beck." "I woke up this morning with this weird feeling/And it was kind of like I was not myself anymore...," he says on the latter, and its laconically grooving, assembled backing track recalls Better Than Ezra's own hip-hop dabbling on the 2001 effort Closer. Stroke 9's melodies are strong enough to buoy All In, particularly on "My Advice," "Part'e," and the aforementioned "Stop Saying Goodbye." These tracks make the best use of Esterkyn's ragged vocal charm and the band's flair for big choruses inside the newly processed framework of synths and flitting electronic flourishes. But there's still a nagging emptiness to this music, like its lifespan is as short as the decadent post-party Esterkyn describes in "Faux Gucci Girl."
All In Review
by Johnny Loftus