Fiscal Cliff is a band deeply steeped in the misunderstood emotions one might expect to feel growing up in New Jersey. This fledgeling band of the New Brunswick basement scene—made up of singer-bassist Micah Prussack, singer-guitarist Carlos Bustillo, lead guitarist Luis Garrido and drummer / keyboardist Manny Ray—was founded by Prussack and Garrido after the dissolution of a previous band.
Dedicating themselves to playing as many shows as possibles and establishing themselves in the scene, they somehow found the time to record an album: the result, Dog Years, was more than worth the wait.
The fruit of their labors, partly tracked at 9 Lives Studio in Jersey City and featuring album artwork designed by Alex Lobo, is centered around the theme of youth and the melancholia that comes with coming-of-age. Fiscal Cliff have described their sounds as “bluesy indie;” this record, packed with fast-paced guitar embittered by ennui, doesn’t make you question the descriptor for a second.
Every track was written using a “democratic” songwriting process, described by Garrido as “based off of initial lyric drafts inspired and presented by any single member of the band…wrangled and pushed and pulled until the song truly encapsulates the emotions that are trying to be evoked.” The collaborative free-for-all atmosphere encouraged by this technique makes the individual songs hit-or-miss, but has kept the album’s mood remarkably cohesive.
Whether the songs veneer between happy (summer song “The Shore”), dark ( “The Spring”) or hopeful (cymbal-tinged “Bartholomew’s Court”), they are all uniform in suburban escapism. Despite being marked by the sound one might expect from an indie rock band, the album’s centerpiece—and by far the record’s most outstanding track— “The Fall” owes quite a bit to folk. Opening with a direct quote from 1995 film The Usual Suspects, the song almost immediately rattles off into a fast-paced, lively guitar romp. This banger ends in a victorious guitar solo; not an uncommon occurrence on this album, but it feels especially earned at the end of this track.
The record’s energy ebbs in later tracks, but electro-acoustic closer “Lackawanna” saves the album from watering itself down after the pangs of energy that kicked it off. After the high drama and emotionally tolling music so prominent elsewhere on the album, this quiet moment offers a welcome step back, helps ground the record, and proves Fiscal Cliff has more range outside of the “suburban angst” shtick that dominates the record.
This is an album for anyone who ever left a suburb with only big dreams bolstering them forward, this is an album for the lonely, this is an album for the rising. With solid production, an enrapturing universal theme, and a balance of the emotional highs and lows without diluting the drama, Dog Years is a sweltering debut from a band to watch.