California English: Bands on the Rise, Philadelphia Edition

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

After a stellar SoCal-style spring break, I was inspired to listen to the music of two Philadelphia bands, Free Energy and Good Old War, to psych myself up for the flight back to the City of Brotherly Love. Spoiled with gorgeous weather at home, I was stoked to see that warm weather was also forecast for Swarthmore during the first week back. Coincidentally, the tunes of Free Energy and Good Old War suit the coming of spring and warm weather vibes.

Free Energy

I first fell in love with the power pop-rock of Free Energy after one listen to “Free Energy,” the first track off their debut album, Stuck on Nothing. The combination of the high-throttle electric guitar and pump-up lyrics like, “This is all we’ve got tonight / We are young and still alive / Now the time is on our side,” immediately grabbed me. To top things off, Free Energy utilized Bruce Dickinson’s favorite instrument: THE COWBELL.

Free Energy was quiet on the new music front for quite some time until (magically) they released a new single called “Electric Fever” this past week. The surprise release does not disappoint, as Free Energy’s signature electric guitar eruptions are found in full form, and yes, the band even fulfilled the request for MORE COWBELL!

Best of all, there is more new music to come, with Free Energy planning to release their sophomore effort, Love Sign, this summer. In a recent interview, the members of Free Energy described their transition from a ‘70s vibe on their first album to an ‘80s rock aesthetic on their new effort, which sounds quite promising to me.

As I anxiously await Love Sign’s release, I’ll opt to blast “Bang Pop” in the meantime while enjoying the glorious Swarthmore spring weather. With one of the catchiest refrains of all-time, “Bang bang pop pop / Where does the moment stop? / Bang pop pop / Oh-way-oh,” how could I resist? It brings backs memories of the Free Energy concert I attended last spring, when “Bang Pop” was the second-to-last song and a multitude of fans joined Free Energy onstage. It was chaotic, but epic. The lead guitarist for Free Energy even jumped into the crowd right in front of me. His sweaty back got very close to my face and I was okay with it. The concert was as much a party as it was a live music gathering and I couldn’t hear straight for a week. When Free Energy starts touring again, I highly recommend you catch one of their shows, as the experience is unbelievable!

Good Old War

Good Old War is an indie-folk collective featuring the musical talents of Keith Goodwin, Tim Arnold, and Daniel Schwartz. Within the last names of each respective member are the words: good (GOODwin), old (ArnOLD), and war (SchWARtz), which provided the inspiration for the band’s name.

An album shows its true greatness if it can pass my rigorous “play-in-the-car” test. On my first full day of spring break, I set off to the Marine Street beach in La Jolla with my family and elected to have Good Old War’s new album, Come Back As Rain, as the soundtrack for our drive to the coast. The first track, “Over and Over”, was perfectly suited for the warm shining sun with its peppy percussion and intricately strummed acoustic guitar. Even the lyrics were appropriate as the gorgeous three-part harmony sang, “I’m sure you’ll have some big plans if I just go / Move to the West Coast / See something else for once.” Even though I do not like the idea of anyone going through a breakup, I can personally attest that there are plenty of worthy sights to see if the singer feels so inclined to move to the Golden Coast.

Another standout, “Calling Me Names,” also tackles the issues of a crumbling relationship. Sometimes responsibility is not properly claimed by one of the participating parties and can include such childish behaviors as, “Instead of making sense / And talking like we’re friends / You think it’s a better idea / Calling, calling, calling me names.” This dense lyrical content is contrasted by beautifully plucked acoustic guitar and wafting “ooooo”s and “la-la-la-la”s by the backing vocalists. With the incredible weather that we have been recently blessed with at Swarthmore, I feel that the prayers sung about in “Better Weather” have been answered. This track has quickly became part of my soundtrack for the spring. Overall, Come Back As Rain is one of the most gorgeous and uplifting albums I have heard in quite some time. Every song is a gem!

I was bummed that I was flying home when Good Old War played a Free at Noon concert at World Cafe Live, but was very pleased when I found an audio stream of the show. I was impressed with the band’s ability to carry over their flawless vocals from studio recordings, and I could feel the energy seeping through my laptop’s speakers. Luckily, Good Old War will be ending their U.S. spring tour with a homecoming show at Union Transfer in Philadelphia on Friday, April 27th with The Belle Brigade and Family of the Year!


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