Review: The Ramshackle Army – “Whitewashed Graves” (EP)

In his debut contribution, Jay Stevens of Jay Wars and the Howard Youth has had an early listen to the ‘Whitewashed Graves E.P. slated for release in December by Melbourne celtpunks The Ramshackle Army.

In the two years since the Ramshackle Army put out their last release, 2014’s “Letters From The Road Less Travelled”, they have changed their bass player and drummer. These changes usually mean a seismic shift in the sound of the band – be it from simple drum fills to more complicated fills, or from Matt Freeman-style bass runs to simplistic root notes.

However, these changes seem to have reignited Melbourne’s premier celtic punk band. “Letters From The Road Less Travelled” was an excellent record, but the band seemed on the verge of perhaps becoming stale, or even becoming complacent with their songwriting. The choruses ruled, of course, but there was definitely something about that album that I felt left the listener wanting something more.

After listening to their new extended player, “Whitewashed Graves” (out 2 December), I left feeling that perhaps it was the length of the album that made it feel somewhat tired. This E.P., clocking in at just under 20 minutes, starts with a bang and never lets up. The band have rediscovered their sound, and have expanded upon it, combining the always present punk rock sound with the folkiness brought by banjo/mandolinist Josh and fiddler Kat. This record, really, showcases these two members more so than any other, beginning from opener “Back Up Again” – a positive song espousing the need to bounce back from any fall from grace – to closer “Dry Dead Bones”. Kat, always an important part of the Ramshackle sound, leads out almost as a dual lead with Josh’s banjo parts. While this is not a new step for the band, it’s done with more aplomb on “Whitewashed Graves” than any other previous Ramshackle release.

The guitar sound is big – really big. Whether it be due to excellent mixing and mastering, or whether guitarist Nathan really recorded around 45 heavy guitar parts on each song, I don’t know, but it adds heartily to this EP’s “turn it up loud and sing along” nature.

Of course, it wouldn’t be The Ramshackle Army without singalong choruses, and they are plentiful throughout this record, notably in excellent fist pumping anthem, “Dust & Cobwebs”, which should really have been the first single from “Whitewashed Graves” (it clearly lost out to “Foreign Soil”). This doesn’t mean that the record is just gang vocals though (although, there is plenty of this), singer Gaz seems to have honed his craft further, taking on the melodies with fervour, guiding you through the scars and stories inherent in the songs. Additionally, the lyrics showcase further maturity, dumping the worn out drinking songs for methodical, intense wordplay.

First Single: Foreign Soil

The rhythm section is tight, and, most important for a celtic punk record, interesting. Too often we hear celtic punk bands who refuse to play the on-beats, preferring that almost ska off-beat with little variation. New drummer Chad rings in the new year with expressive fills and drum parts that become almost their own melody. His tightly knit percussion molds perfectly well with new bassist James, whose beguiling bass lines are perfect for the fresh Ramshackle sound.

All in all, “Whitewashed Graves” is an unexpectedly thorough release from the Ramshackle Army. Colossal guitars, mighty leads, impervious rhythms, admirable lyrics and monstrous singalong choruses make this their strongest release yet, laying a path for bigger and better things from the Melbourne band.

OVERALL —- 8.5/10

Sound —- 8/10 Lyrics —- 9/10 Artwork —- 8/10 Originality —- 9/10

Images by Matt Gleeson.

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