I Just Can’t Hear You Anymore

Every city and town has a distinct sound if you have the ears to hear it. 

Some are subtle and delicate; some are angry and bombastic; some are coated in grime and desperation. The sound that comes from New Jersey is a kind of primal scream that leaves your throat raw and bloody. The lineage runs down the years from Bruce Springsteen to Bon Jovi to the Gaslight Anthem, on down to the current caretakers of rock music born of the beaches and highways of Jersey, the VanSaders. 

Way back in January 2019, I wrote about the new album, Standstill, from the Vansaders.  I had first heard them when they played at a Jesse Malin-led Joe Strummer tribute. Their set was a whirlwind of the kind of music that rekindles my faith in guitars and rock anthems that remind me to never give up on my hopes and dreams. During that set, Doug Zambon, their frontman, played an acoustic version of Joe Strummer’s “Burning Lights,” one of my favorites of the Clash legend’s solo career. 

Imagine my joy when spinning the pale green vinyl copy of their new album, “Caught In The Light,” to discover a hidden track that was, in fact, the band playing that same Joe Strummer song. It’s a terrific live version that transported me instantly back to that night when I first heard the band way back in 2017. I’m a little embarrassed to have only noticed the track’s existence on a cold night in December while listening to records while bagging old comic books. 

It wasn’t the first jolt I’d gotten from the album. Released on August 4th of this year, it opens with a song called “Red and Blue,” which is the kind of record opener that tells the listener that the band is absolutely not fucking around. It begins with a burst of drums and guitars that feel like an engine starting up, downshifting into a few seconds of stripped-down sound, then the vocals kick in and take off like an F1 car at lights out. 

“They said that everything would be how I always saw it, stay in line and sing in key and you’ll find it.” 

The questing “Red and Blue” gives way to 90’s alt-rock-inflected and powerful “You.” This song is soaked in the sound of my early 20’s that I thought was long since abandoned but seems to still exist, just waiting for a band like the VanSaders to corral it again. I’ve missed it and have to admit that this might be the song I’ve listened to most since the album came out. I don’t know if it’s the album’s best, but it’s undoubtedly the one that feels made for me personally. 

I’m not going to spend this whole piece comparing their songs to other bands and albums, but in the case of “Taking My Time,” the best way I can describe it is, “This is what Weezer would sound like if they made their debut at the Stone Pony instead of at Raji’s on Hollywood Boulevard. 

The lyrics for the next track, “So Many Ways,” provide the album name, “Caught in the light.” There aren’t really what you would traditionally call “slow” songs on the record, but this is one of the closer ones. It’s the story of a relationship on the edge, sung from the perspective of an imperfect someone pleading their case to their partner to not leave them alone. There’s a lot in the 2:32 runtime, and each listen lets a bit more of the story unfold. 

“Siren’s Song” was the first single from the album, if you can call a song released more than a year before the record a single from it. It’s a rough-and-tumble rock sea shanty about the bottle, the devil, and a woman who is more dangerous than both. It’s got a grimy borderline sinister vibe that makes it the kind of tune and sounds best driving too fast and too late on a dark New Jersey highway. If the song were a bottle, it’d be the kind with a label only reading “XXX.” 

If you’re listening to the album on vinyl, “Siren’s Song” closest out side A, and once you flip your hot wax, you’re greeted on side B with “Stones.” This is the sort of rock song that asks questions about the future and gets the kind of answers that make you wonder why you keep going on. 

“So the story goes, I’m out here all alone, The future seems so cold.”

Without getting into it too much, because honest to God, I just don’t want to think about it anymore, I wonder if this tune was written during the pandemic. It’s a terrific song, but it has a quarantine hopelessness to it that exists on every album that’s come out in the last year or so. It could just be a sad song too. Either way, when I first heard it, I listened to it on loop for a good 10 minutes before moving on. 

“Walking Between Raindrops” is another one of the songs that came out prior to the album. It’s the kind of song that you need to give a few listens to before you really get a feel for it. The first listen, it’s a damn good rock song. The second you start to pick up on the fighting spirit in the lyrics. By the third listen, it starts to settle into what it is, a song about keeping your head up in hard times with some genuinely stunning musicianship and probably my favorite guitar work on the whole record. Spend some time with this, and it will continue to reward you. 

“My Old Friend” is the other slower tune. It’s an acoustic goodbye that feels very personal but in a way that we can all relate to. Each time I listen to it, it makes me think of a friend I lost a while back who is never very far from my mind. The line, You’re not gone, I just can’t hear you anymore,” says it all. 

The pace picks back up with “Wasting Time,” which keeps the theme of trying through hard times going. There’s an edge here that’s a little bit sharper than the rest of the tracklist. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but this song sounds more desperate, closer to going over the cliff than the rest. If the album were a story, and I think it is, this is the climax. 

The finale is “When You’re Gone.” As a coda for the VanSader’s first album in a few years, it’s nearly perfect. The lyrics say, “I’ll miss you when you’re gone, I know I was wrong, and I think I might be too late,” which may be about a woman but could be about the gap between albums that was filled with so much horror, tragedy, fear, and desperation. 

“Standstill” came out a million years ago in 2019, before the pandemic and so much else, and now here on the other side, we have “Caught in the Light.” “When You’re Gone” feels like it’s about all the time in between when we wondered what would come next. 

If you stick around with the vinyl, the cover of “Burning Lights” starts a little while after “When You’re Gone” ends. It’s the perfect way to end things. It’s a song about traveling on, about exploring, about living life, and you only get to hear it if you have a little patience. 

It took a little patience and a bit of faith to get from one album to the next, but it was worth it. “Caught in the Light” is a testament to how guitars, drums, sweat, sand, ocean, and spirit can make a difference a few minutes at a time. It’s a tale of a few guys and getting through the tough times in a town that’s known its share. Every one of us that still believes in rock and roll says a little prayer each time we drop the needle on something new, and sometimes we’re lucky enough to have it answered by the Vansaders, who, at least for me, were just what I needed.

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