Lifetime [I]Somewhere in the Swamps of New Jersey[/I] Review

Beautifully encapsulates the melodicore heroes’ beginnings.

Though no longtime fan should be surprised, it’s amazing how Lifetime’s reputation and influence have endured through the past decade. Sure, there were plenty of knock offs immediately following the band’s ascension in the mid-?°»90s – namely Boxer and the first Saves The Day album – but did anyone think that the band’s manic pacing and chorus-less songs were gonna be relevant in 2006? I certainly thought the likes of Shades Apart and Texas Is The Reason were gonna be revered before Lifetime. But here we are, nine years after the band called it quits (after guitarist Peter Martin quit), and their hold on the punk / hardcore community is stronger than ever. Not that I have a problem with it: I’ve loved the band since ’95, when a college friend played me Hello Bastards. I remember being thoroughly impressed by their ability to not rely on repetition to sink hooks into you, as well as their intense energy that almost borderlined on ramshackle. Somewhere in the Swamps of Jersey, however, does not include Hello Bastards or its flawless follow-up Jersey’s Best Dancers (released after the band broke up): instead, it compiles all of the band’s material prior to the two said records, including two 7”s, one full-length, demos, covers, and a live set from ’93. So if you already own Hello Bastards and Jersey’s Best Dancers, this thing is all you need to complete your Lifetime discography. It’s as thorough as it gets. Sure, the more-than-dated sound that the band employed in their early years is pretty embarrassing – vocalist Ari Katz’ unsteady vocals and lifeless melodies (problems he would overcome by the Tinnitus EP), one-dimensional chugga riffs, overly “flower power” lyrics, etc. – but it serves as historical evidence of Lifetime’s evolution.

The full-length, Background, gets a complete remix here that greatly reduces the reverb and muddiness of the original, finally letting the nature of the organic instruments shine through. The original mix and the live set recorded around this era – included on disc two – sound pretty useless in comparison. “Myself,” “Ghost,” and the title track are all still highlights: maybe the band will throw some of these in, now that live shows are happening again?

For my money, Tinnitus and the b-side that this collection takes its name from (previously only available on an out-of-print 7”) are where the real goods are. They showcase Lifetime at their final destination: powerful, energetic, inventively melodic, compositionally left-of-center, and utterly infectious. Just try and deny ?°»em.

The 52-page, perfect-bound booklet is gorgeous, though I wish it contained somewhat of a family tree of the band. How else are people going to reap geeky knowledge that Chris Daly – who would go on to be in Texas Is The Reason (with liner notes author Norm Brannon) and then Jets To Brazil – was Lifetime’s first drummer? Or what happened to his mysterious successor, David R., before Dave Wagenschutz took over the sticks? And, of course, whatever happened to bassist Linda, who apparently never recorded with the band (despite having her picture on the back of the original Background album, as well as in the insert of this collection)? A doofus like myself can only ponder?°¦

As Lifetime get ready to record a reunion album and try their hand at a second life, Somewhere in the Swamps of Jersey is a perfect way to wrap up loose ends and look ahead. Everyone now knows where they came from and old-timers like myself can smile at the memories of first hearing the band, so let’s quit it with the nostalgia and get pumped for what’s to come. I doubt we’ll be disappointed.

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