Riverboat Gamblers

It's been three years now since Spin magazine named the once-upon-a-time Denton residents in The Riverboat Gamblers to its list of the 25 bands to see live "right now," but still, the band's penchant for raucous showmanship and borderline out-of-control performances remain its calling card. That hardly means the band's recorded output should be discounted, though.

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Three years removed from 2006's To the Confusion of Our Enemies, the Gamblers' last studio release, Underneath the Owl finds the band in a somewhat poppier mindset—or at least a place where the band has no problem emphasizing the "pop" portion of its "pop-punk" sound. As such, it's Owl's insanely catchy hooks that define the band's current sound. Lead single "A Choppy, Yet Sincere Apology" showcases this quite well, as frontman Mike Wiebe apologizes to a disappointed partner at the top of his suddenly impressive vocal range. Elsewhere, on cuts like the high-energy leadoff track "DissDissDissKissKissKiss" and the Clash-like "Pilgrims in a Holy Land," the band utilizes its common call-and-shouted-response between Wiebe and his backing players to great effect.

But where Owl ultimately succeeds is in the risks it takes: "Sleepless" finds Wiebe cooing in an especially nasally tone, helping the toned-down, heavily '90s-influenced track stand out as a winner, and "The Tearjerker" finds this band of punks even employing a pedal steel to properly sell its '50s rock ballad take.

Is it enough to dispel the notion that the Gamblers are forever a live band, first and foremost? Probably not. But as pop-punk records go, Owl flies quite high.

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