In 2015 it takes much more than boldness for 3 adult men to set everything aside, in order to pursue their musical ambitions as 3 piece rock band. Rock is genre so full of dated tropes and worked to the proverbial bone, that mainstream media turned that harlot haggard at least 20 years ago. Since then, keen observers will have likely noticed that it exhausted so many styles and trends that it is the equivalent of an originality & relevance minefield for revivalist hopefuls.
Where comically high amounts of such hopefuls fail annually, Toronto’s Return For Refund really set a standard for their peers take notes from their 2014, self titled debut EP. It takes an original vision, fluid, multi-genre influences and musicianship, conductive group chemistry, and some goddamn gusto.
What Drew Clementino (Lead Vocals, Guitar), Sasha Molotkow (Backing Vocals, Guitar) and Karlis Hawkins (Backing Vocals, Drums) seem to have internalized that rock is broad in it’s subgenres and ambiguous in its expected role. The 6 rock tracks on this EP are all built on Drew Clementino’s foundational guitar and vocal styling’s, which I can only describe as sleazy (in a good way). Sasha Molotkow, the second guitarist, really compliments this unique style, with uncanny ability to jam a catchy harmony into anywhere or crevice where it may fit and Karlis’ lively, groovy drumming, really tops the band’s vibe to project a boyish, tongue-in-cheek-sort-of-anarchism-and-fun.
For example, “The Fields” is homage to that particular hard rock sweet spot, which involves motorcycles, distorted power chords and showboating guitar solos dished out so fast that the pedal effects sound like they are blowing a digital raspberry.
Don’t take that at face value however, as this is simply the band’s way of joking around, not breathing new shock value into tough guy-hard rock. Everybody knows that became irrelevant 30 metal subgenres ago. On its own “The Fields” actually a surprisingly complicated composition when you focus on Sasha Molotkow’s guitar, which clinically injects a compelling, technical layers of riffs to what would be an otherwise an intentionally by the numbers track.
Return For Refund’s personality really starts to shine in, “TV Light”, where Drew (singer) decides to verbally beat himself up in his own lyrics, whilst ripping a pretty sweet Iron Maiden riff duet, with Sasha Molotkow’s, which an humorous reframing of rock star’s reputation for smashing things. By the third song, “Between The Sheets in the album, it is clear that the band has a great sense chemistry and ridiculousness, which has the subtle effect of the listener rooting for their recorded shenanigans. For context: “Between The Sheets” is an epic ode to System of a Down’s more ambiguous songs (the ones with the catchy guitar riffs, psychopathic ballads and inclusive crowd chants that must’ve came out of an Irish pub in movie. The rambunctious attitude aside, Return For Refunds strongest merits lie with their last 3 tracks, “Yolo”,” Some Is Better Than None” and “Those Bombs”. While “Yolo” sounds like a Nirvana track criticizing the 2013 disambiguation, “Some Is Better Than None” not only borders on being lyrically profound, but really channels the sound of early-day Offspring. It is on these grungy tracks, clearly influenced by the 90’s that the vocalist, (Drew) manages to funnel his delivery into an intriguing direction. My personal favourite is the closing track, a real upbeat, finger-wager titled “Those Bombs”, This major key-Rockabilly throwback is a metaphorical celebration of life, by its virtue of possibly being the one of the cheery, catchy pleas to not die in a fire, in all of music. Drew Cleminto completely breaks pace, to transition from desperate, malnourished rocker delivery, to a level of masculine wholesomeness in the realms of greats such as Sinatra. This track stands out because it directly contrasts every on the EP, but in the best way possible. It provides a context for Return For Refund’s ability to create music more technically and thematically stimulating than this fun but ultimate pulpy release.
Return For Refund’s debut EP definitely hints at a promising potential within the band, particularly the chemistry the trio has now. On its own terms however, the self titled isn’t significantly above average. It is well produced, sure, but the band needs to refine their style and direction to avoid being known as a talented novelty. I’m sure that they will figure that stuff out by their debut album’s release. That aside, it’s definitely to worth it to see Return For Refund live, as their energy is likely as charming as it is ridiculous.
Review by Alex Slakva