“You First,” the opening track on Western Estates’ debut EP Me First, starts with a churning electric guitar that makes its indie-rock intentions clear. But the drums that come in don’t fall into the usual pattern; after sliding into the rhythm of the song, they fall into a call and response with the strong yet quavering vocals, before the end of the verse opens up into a catharsis surprising in its timing, but so welcome when it comes.
And that’s all in the first 20 seconds. In its 1:10 running time, the New Haven-based band runs “You First” through a series of changes that catch the ear without losing the pulse, as the instruments switch up their strategies, build to a final moment, and then cut out with the kind of ending that says one thing: Play me again.
That combination of energy and inventiveness drives all of Me First. The members of Western Estates — Laura Klein on vocals and cello, Glenn Furst on guitar, Matt Cranmer on bass and backing vocals, and Jarrod Ruby on drums — are all veterans of other music projects, and that experience shows. “White Knuckles” shows the band exploring a darker sound that still feels of a part with “You First,” even as the wall of guitar leaves space for a cello. “One and Done” gets anthemic, but then features, halfway through the song, a lyrical duet between voice and cello that then moves the song into more lush yet urgent territory, until Klein’s voice walks off into the distance. “Alone, To Get Her” starts with an angular, machine-like feel that expands and explores a new set of melodic ideas. And “Absentee,” the album’s closer, shows the band’s sound at its biggest, as cello, violin, electric guitars, and voices create something close to a drum-propelled choir.
In less than 20 minutes, Me First thus covers a lot of musical ground, showing a band whose musicians are already very comfortable in their own skins and perhaps even more comfortable playing with each other. All of that lets them stretch out and take a few risks with complete confidence. They never quite do the same thing twice, and they never lose the energy that makes rock music fun in the first place. Even though this is Western Estates’ debut recording project, and despite the playful brattiness of its title, Me First sounds mature.
There will always be a place in the musical world, and in the Elm City, for kickass, adrenaline-fueled rock ‘n’ roll. But as the genre itself is well into its seventh decade, Western Estates places itself among the bands who are figuring out what to do now with the sound that’s been passed down to them. The promising answer on Me First is to create a sound that is both familiar and surprising — that delivers on sheer intensity, yet rewards those who listen close.
What will Western Estates do next? Those wanting to find out in person can show up at Westville’s Lyric Hall on Whalley Avenue this Friday, Dec. 2, where Western Estates celebrates the release of Me First by headlining a bill that also includes King Bongo, Swamp Yankee, a solo set from Olive Tiger, music videos from Klein and artist Tony Juliano, and a video art show in front. Three of the four acts are distinguished by the inclusion of a cello. Does that seem like a lot? Given the eclecticism on display on Me First, that kind of release party makes all the sense in the world.