Habitat Shuffle, who suddenly released the album on their Bandcamp page on August 20th. The band itself are basically the successors to Free Beer (M.O.B. or Sarah's Valley if you prefer), with singer Christian Lemay, guitarist Dustin Goodall, and bassist Ryan Gray being joined by Dirty Few drummer Blair St. John. "Sober Drive" was recorded at Tidal Records earlier this year with producer Dustin Jones, and was later mixed in Toronto by guitarist Simon Head (The Fairmounts.) You can buy the EP on a "name your price" model right now at this link, so while you can get it free, consider buying it to support the band's work! Plans for a physical CD release are coming "soon and/or never" as per their Facebook page, so take that for what it's worth.
A short EP with just 4 songs clocking in at under 10 minutes in total length, let's begin with a look at the first song, "Soda Date"! Lyrically about debating spending all of one's money on a date, fans of Free Beer might be surprised right off the bat to hear that Habitat Shuffle do not retain their earlier ska-punk sound, as this song instead takes on more of a laid back alternative rock style that doesn't sound unlike a mid-late 1990s alt-rock band. Christian's vocals here are grittier and bluesier than you may be used to also, creating an interesting grungy quality! Honestly, this song is a bit too laid back in some respects, as it meanders and seems to lose it's structure and pace at times, though Blair's drumming keeps up with the swings, and the last 20 seconds are much faster and more of a punk style if that's your preference. "Soda Date" isn't a bad song, and it has a mellow groove that I appreciate, but the song itself is a bit too loosely written and all over the place.
The longest song on "Sober Drift" is next, and it's "Only On The Weak Ends", which appears to be about a desire to leave home and go to a favourite beach instead. It's louder and more up front than "Soda Date", with more prominent bass work from Ryan, and the structure and overall melody of this song is tighter and easier to follow! At the same time, the song doesn't have the catchy melody of it's predecessor, but I do like Dustin's guitar ability here, and the vocals have more of a musical match for the grit and style. I like "Only On The Weak Ends" better musically, and fans of heavier music will likely take to it more, but it seems too deliberate at the same time. Third on the EP is "Resort", a song that seems to use vacationing and hotel motifs in regards to a relationship. This track has a bouncy early melody, effective singing, and a fun guitar track from Dustin, and it's definitely the best song on "Sober Drift" for marrying the best elements of the first two songs! The low grit to the vocals can be an odd fit for such a happy sounding song, and the end of the song seems too out of place, but hopefully Habitat Shuffle can build on this song in the future!
"Sober Drift" concludes with "Dice", a 30 second punk rocker whose lyrics (primarily shouted between instrumental sections) are basically of Christian enthusiastically playing craps, though I won't spoil how he did (listen to find out!) This is the heaviest and fastest song on the EP, and everyone's firing on all cylinders, though it's far too short, and I was hoping it'd run longer, perhaps with other casino games being played? As for my final thoughts on this EP, I do like what Habitat Shuffle are doing here, and it's an interesting switch-up from most of the guys' earlier Free Beer work, but there's work to do. The 1990s-esque alt-rock style gives a nice grungy quality to many of the songs, and I like Christian's singing style (which is reminiscent of grunge singers on the full songs), but "Soda Date" had a jumbled structure, and "Only On The Weak Ends" lacked it's catchiness. Things ended strongly with the fun "Resort" and the hardcore punk-esque "Dice", so hopefully Habitat Shuffle can build on these songs for future songwriting sessions!
Free Beer fans may be disappointed by the lack of ska and reggae themes, but Habitat Shuffle are off to a good start, there's ready-made chemistry between Christian, Dustin, and Ryan, and I'm interested to see where things go from here, so pick up "Sober Drift" at the above links! I hope you guys liked this month's CD review, but what's coming in September for our next review? Likely a new release, and one possibility is Telephone & Address' new CD "Need Not Apply", which is in post-production and may be available at the IDNS show that they're playing at on September 6th, but that's pending it's release. If nothing new comes out though, we'll review an archive metal, hard rock, or punk CD tied to a live performer at a show next month. Stay tuned for updates either way, and for our Soo Band Roulette review shortly! Thanks everyone!