album review

​The Expendables - Sand in the Sky

Released January 13, 2015
Dylan Sonderman
​Formed in 1997 out of Santa Cruz, CA, The Expendables released Sand in the Sky in January of 2015. The band fuses ska and reggae elements with a punk and metal edge. I went into the album without having heard any of their material before.

For me, Sand in the Sky hits a confident balance between being consistent and being dynamic. Several signature elements remain present throughout the record. In the main, engaging vocal harmonies cascade over ska drumming and solid basslines. The framework allows the deft solos and riffs of lead guitarist Raul Bianchi and guitarist/vocalist Geoff Weers to truly shine. Geoff Weers and Adam Patterson have great voices that work perfectly with the band’s style. The lyrics mostly revolve around fun party themes and introspection about relationships. A few tracks seem to contain a bit of classic punk cynicism and social commentary (“Anti-Social” slams the current obsession with social media), but the album keeps those elements to a minimum.

As I mentioned, I can’t claim to have comprehensive knowledge of the band’s previous releases, but by judging several of the songs I have listened to, Sand in the Sky definitely feels a bit softer and less edgy. There’s undeniably less emphasis on the heavy punk elements and shreddy riffs. The harder vibes have largely been toned down in favor of tight grooves and infectiously catchy songwriting. But that’s not at all to say it feels like sellout work; the album still evokes the distinctive qualities of the band’s earlier material and recognizably contains their signature sounds. To me, the songwriting feels like the product of extensive touring and seeing the sing-along and love song kind of material go over really well with fans.

The less-aggressive approach didn’t hurt my experience with the album much at all because I had no knowledge of The Expendables’ work to begin with. However, a few of the most poppy tracks lost my attention at times. I don’t feel that those songs are bad at all. In fact, even on my least favorite songs on Sand in the Sky, it’s still admirable how full and in-depth the arrangements come across. But after hearing what I felt were some of the more interesting and compelling tracks, I had a hard time enjoying the sing-along tunes as much.  Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

No member of the band does less than an awesome job, from both technical and musicianship standpoints. Weers pretty much excels on every song, particularly on the powerful anthem “We Are The Fire.” Raul Bianchi is an outstanding player. I think my favorite solo on the album is the badass harmonized lead in the middle of the song “Black Heart”, but the intro of “Starry Night” and the leads in “Up All Night" stand out, as well. The intro of “Weather Man” also features some great playing from both guitarists. “Anti-Social” and “Zombies in America” especially highlight drummer Adam Patterson’s precise and funky rhythms. Patterson's vocals are strong, as well. Ryan DeMars’ bass parts generally function in a supporting role, complementing the songs without standing out. But he shines with some excellent playing during the bridge of “Up All Night."

I definitely respect the consistency and focus of The Expendables, but the diversity of the songs on Sand in the Sky is what impressed me the most as a newcomer. The album is bookended by two very trippy and psychedelic tracks. In particular, the dub-inspired closer, “Stereo”, feels like a stoned-out jam right out of someone’s basement. Pop tunes like “That Spark” and the single “Music Move Me”, though not my personal taste, do help keep the album from becoming too one-dimensional. “Take Me”, probably my favorite song on the album, reminded me of Bad Religion in the best way possible.

The band does justice to their influences. They provide a really fresh take on sounds you’ve heard before. And they do it consistently. It’s really pretty cool to me how the band manages to blend contrasting elements like reggae rhythms, squealing lead guitars, layers of vocals, and swirling synthesizers in such a seamless way. Most songs possess similar chord progressions, which gives the album a pretty uniform-sounding feel, but each track has enough going on to keep it from feeling repetitive or boring.

To my ears, “Take Me”, “Starry Night”, “We Are The Fire”, “Up All Night”, and “Black Heart” are the standout tunes on Sand in the Sky. Fans of Sublime, Slightly Stoopid, Bad Religion, and 311 will likely appreciate this album the most. Really, I’d encourage anyone who thinks they might be into the album to check it out, especially if they’ve not already been exposed to the band. The Expendables definitely earned me as a fan.