Review: Old Game – “Lunatics”

Lunatics, the excellent new four-song EP from Pittsburgh-based quartet Old Game, out June 22, starts with the thump-thump-thump of bass guitar and drums in enveloping and snarling syncopation.

But, it’s not until the rousing chorus, after the glassy guitars that eventually come fall prey to a wall of crunching thunder, that the theme of the record is writ and writ large as vocalist/rhythm guitarist Brenda Leeds wails “There’s so much noise/ There’s so much noise.” On most other indie records, this would be a bit of passing commentary, a short aside, but Old Game turns it into a defiant mantra, with vocalist/lead guitarist Thom Hunter even joining the fray as the group batters the phrase to tatters, lending it a potency that’s almost inexplicably epic.

Distorted states of mind and, more specifically, battles with depression, relationship trauma and self-doubt are at the center of Lunatics, Old Game’s sophomore successor to 2016’s Flower Moon. This sense of being somehow infected with mental illness pervades much of the material, from aforementioned album-opener “Blue” to closer “Mt. Joy.” And then there’s the scene-stealing “WPIC,” short-hand for Western Psychiatric Inpatient Clinic, Pittsburgh’s psychiatric hospital. Leeds, a therapist-turned-supervisor, briefly worked there – it clearly left behind its fingerprints — and you can see traces of autobiography and self-reflection in the powerful lyrics. (“If I were you I’d lay there and stare at the wall/I’d analyze the lines and find all the faces that call,” she laments over one guitar that offers pulsing, trebly, finger-picked refrains and a lead screeching and roaring in the background. “I’d stare at my hands all day/ broken lines fading away/ and, in my dreams, those lines will route my escape“) The end result is nothing short of masterful; Old Game has managed to craft, through the eyes and observations of a real-life clinician suffering with her own demons, perhaps the most nuanced take you’ll ever hear on the imprisonment of inpatient mental-health treatment.

Old Game’s “sound” is wonderfully difficult to pin down.

While the rhythm section flirts with the pressure-cooker tactics of post-punk – kudos to the ever-engaging backbone presented herein by bassist Josh Hovanec and drummer Erik Pitluga – Leeds and Hunter do wondrous little tricks that heighten guitar textures and crank up the intensity and multi-dimensionality of the band’s delivery when it’s working toward a boil. At times, the group hints at post-rockers Victory At Sea, which also benefitted from a female-fronted delivery, and elsewhere – say, on the acid-tinged opening of the bombastic “Mt. Joy” – like a less monochromatic or roar-inducing Rolo Tomassi. Hunter exorcises his own demons on “Mt. Joy” (“Hey, find me in the next life … and this will make sense/ Come find me in the next life/ when you come back with wings,” he spits out.) but it’s Leed’s shadowy, occasionally haunted inflection that lend the record its heart. Without Leeds, this living, breathing beast would thrash and roll; with her, it takes on an emotional dimension that will surprise you on second listen … and third … and fourth. Haven’t made it to listen number five yet? You owe it to yourself to get there and get there fast. – Justin Vellucci, MusicTAP, June 11, 2019

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