Album Review: Nathan Gray – Working Title

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“I found a brand new direction.” It’s these words that launch the latest solo album from BoySetsFire frontman Nathan Gray, and they encapsulate the entire mindset of Working Title. His 2018 album Feral Hymns was his first journey towards exorcising the demons of his youth, and in this latest collection of songs, Gray tackles the constant battles he and all of us face in overcoming our personal demons. And he does so with his most driving, empowering and accessible songs to date.

When describing his latest work, Gray said “A lot of this album is about how you’re never fully there, but I think that’s how it has to be. There’s that living experience of realizing that you’re not trying to cure yourself.” This is completely clear on the opening tracks. “In My Defense” is a rousing anthem, riding power punk riffs as Gray’s shouts a melodic rally cry “I’m a work in progress indefinitely”. It’s a concrete statement of accepting your flaws and fighting towards a better tomorrow.

Mid-tempo anthem “Working Title” keeps with this theme, with Gray (and Chuck Ragan on backing vocals) singing “I’m just a working title that’s for sure, but I’m not giving up until I’m much more.” “I’m A Lot” continues these ideas with a little more tongue-in-cheek wordplay (“If you think that I’m too much, I’m a lot. But I’m less than I was in all the right ways”). It’s clear Gray has been dealing with his own personal struggles, both mental and physical, and this album is his catharsis.

Having recruited a full band for Working Title (drummer Jake Blochinger (The Banner), bassist Chris Rakus (Boysetsfire, The Casting Out), and guitarist Ben Christo (Sisters of Mercy)), the majority of the tracks are full-on bulldozing punk rock bangers. “The Markings” is fast and hard, with dirty 70’s riffs, but is tempered by an upbeat spring in the chorus and whimsical keyboard melody. “No Way” and “Never Alone” are big, empowering anthems, meant to be sung along to by a full crowd in a sweaty club. Gray’s empathetic songwriting is strong on both these tracks, and one can feel him reaching out to all outcasts to build a community when he sings “if you’re here, let this be the one place there’s no fear”.

The album retains a few more somber tunes, which resonate with emotional gravitas. The brisk harmonies and beautiful piano melodies on “Refrain” could have easily fit in on Feral Hymns, while the acoustic “Mercy” is the heartbreaking sound of someone falling under the weight of their own pain; “”I’ve got way too many demons in my head trying to talk at the same time.” Album closer “Down” is a moving final statement from someone who knows they’re in their final hours; “I’m down to my last breath, down to my last song, and I ain’t holding on.”

While empathy, healing and empowerment flow through all the tracks here, there’s an extra romantic fire igniting “Hold”, which sounds like Springsteen having an adrenaline rush (“Give me a place in your heard where everything’s broken…I will hold you when you get too tired, I will hold your fire”). This is the one song on the album that sounds like it’s being directed at a single person, while the rest address a more general community, or Nathan himself. No song is more rousing and life-affirming than “Still Here”, where Gray shows off his impressive vocal range as he passionately sings about surviving the “wreckage” he’s lived through and is still “miles ahead”.

Every song on Working Title is packed with memorable choruses that demand jumping and fist-pumping, but most importantly, the tracks connect on a personal and universal level. It’s easy to imagine these songs being cathartic for Gray to write, as that catharsis carries clearly through the impactful songwriting and were certainly felt by this listener. This is the album we all need as 2020 starts to help get us through the year to come.

The album drops on January 31st, but you can listen to the pre-released tracks below:

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