Before the release of Ben Kweller's ultimately underwhelming eponymous record last year, a record that began with driving rockenspiel (this is my blog and real words just get in my way) was basically guaranteed my seal of approval. But I've learned my lesson, and now, even when a band wears a bit of Springsteen-fluence on its sleeve, I have to listen twice before I'll recommend it. Today I'm listening to the new Steel Train record Trampoline for the second time. I still like it.
I saw Steel Train a few years back play with labelmates Hellogoodbye and House of Fools at a CMJ Showcase, and was duly impressed by the band's live chops. I was disappointed afterwards listening to their first record, which while having its moments (like "Road Song"), seemed mostly to fail at capturing the band's live vitality.
Trampoline accomplishes this important thing: It's a notch in a doorway somewhere in the offices of Drive-Thru Records, marking the progress Steel Train's recorded output has made thusfar. It sounds a lot more like how I want a Steel Train record to sound, my first impression of them having been their live show. There are some tracks on Trampoline with nasally vocals and electric guitars that border on run-of-the-mill indie rock, but for the most part every song on this record stands on its own as something you'd be happy to hear when it came up on shuffle. It's got personality. Especially check out Leave You Traveling and Firecracker to see what I mean.
Drive-Thru has been extremely successful in a capacity that many similarly sized labels have not: career development. Although Steel Train represents a departure from the mostly pop-punk fodder I and Drive-Thru grew up with, it's refreshing to see the label sticking to its roots and nurturing this band, like it has many bands before, to come to its full potential on its own terms. I like Trampoline, and I'm already looking forward to Steel Train's next record.