War Poets are an American group based in Minneapolis. They aspire to build on the traditions set by artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and The Beatles insofar as they wish to use music to shed light on various different social problems. Searching for the American Dream was recorded in a barn at Drum Farm Studio, a beloved haunt of John Richardson (formally of Gin Blossom).
Such is their wish to be known as powerful advocates of social justice, they have made it their raison d’etre – even the name War Poets is deliberately chosen. They liken themselves to artists who deal primarily with issues of war, conflict and inequality. In fact, their first release was named Dulce et Decorum Est as a reference to the famous Wilfred Owen poem. War Poets are comprised of frontman Rex Haberman on guitar and vocals, Mike Menard on Bass, Maureen Koenig McFarlane on keyboards, Whelan Q Keenan on drums and Jonny James and Park Evans on guitar.
Given the gravitas and profundity of their mission statement for this EP, it comes as a surprise to hear quite an upbeat, poppy sound. The opening track Daydream is from the point of view of an inmate in one of America’s prisons. Lyrically speaking, Daydream is not anything remarkable. To take on such a heavy topic like the American prison system, really requires more in depth thinking than a repetitive “I Daydream, I Daydream…” for a chorus. It does however have quite a catchy guitar riff and an easy toe-tapping rhythm which plays quite pleasingly on the ear. Shadows then, is a tale of redemption and dependency with nice Plato-esque imagery regarding the shadows on the walls of the cave. This song also features a guest singer in the form of Minneapolis’s own Desdamona (winner of a Minnesota Music Award). This inclusion of a hip hop singer, however, is at odds with the soft-rock style of the song. The end result is that the featured singer sounds shoehorned in.
The highlight of the EP is On My Own. This ballad tells the story of a homeless man Haberman once encountered. With its slow pulsing bassline and punctuating percussion, this song is easily the most musically complex on the record, even if the lyrics are slightly saccharine and patronising. Koenig-McFarlane really shines on the keyboards in this song. For a more original and layered sound, perhaps they might consider giving her more space to play. Special mention must also be made of Sarah, an addictively rhythmic tune about a prostitute. Haberman has stated that this song calls for shame and guilt to be removed from all discussions of prostitution. An admirable sentiment which is somewhat undermined by the lack of any thoughtful insights on the subject. If one wasn’t told the background of the story, one would never guess that sex workers were being discussed.
War Poets might be a tad lightweight given the import of the issues they discuss. These topics are not given the weight they deserve, and the punk-pop bent of their style has a tendency to infantalise the seriousness and severity of the topics they choose to write about. This aural manifestation of teenage angst does not lend itself well to grown-up debates regarding gun culture, incarceration, the sex industry and increasing socio-economic divisions in the USA. Overall, War Poets are ambitious and driven, but fall just short of producing anything thought-provoking or original.