It seems that after many years of the Indie music landscape being dominated by either dream pop or blues rock, many new bands are moving back towards a more grunge or college rock-centric style. It seems, however, that recreating the raw passion and noisy guitar-driven rock of the late 80’s and early 90’s is easier said than done. Toronto band Return for Refund is unfortunately on the list of bands who fall a bit short. While they name their influences as some of grunge’s brightest stars like Soundgarden, Nirvana and The Offspring, Return for Refund’s self-titled debut album ends up sounding more like pop rock a’la Nickleback.
Pop rock is not necessarily a terrible place to be, but it appears Return for Refund had loftier goals for their debut EP. Formed in 2013, Return for Refund began composing songs and rehearsing right away but this EP was not released until late 2014. Their sound is clean and technically sound and it is clear on the album that all the songs are well-produced. What is lacking seems to be more in the category of emotion and connection with the music, and this is why they may fall into the category of pop rock rather than more serious indie or grunge.
All Return for Refund’s members have strong roots in music. Frontman and rhythm guitarist Drew Clementino learned the guitar at the age of 12 and has been in bands in some form since then. While he says he is heavily influenced by bands like Nirvana and Black Sabbath, he also concentrated on creating his own sound. His vocals are indeed unique while taking on some of his influences, as his vocal timbre could be said to sound a bit like early Ozzy or Dexter Holland from the Offspring.
Lead guitarist Sasha Molotkow’s playing is clean and technically sound. The band feels he adds a metal edge to its style, but it is not quite that intense. A better descriptor would be 80’s-style hard rock or watered-down grunge. Karlis Hawkins is probably the most skilled musician in the band. With his funk and blues background he brings the most unique element to Return for Refund’s sound as a drummer.
The six song EP Return for Refund does not necessarily have anything wrong with it. The opening song, The Fields is a perfectly acceptable, cleanly composed hard rock song. TV Light has some interesting politically-charged lyrics, while Between My Sheets has a bit of the metal edge Molotkow is trying to achieve. The best song on the album is probably YOLO, an ironic poke at pop culture which achieves some real punk passion. Some is Better than None has a bit of funk edge but it is probably the least clean-sounding song on the album, with a poorly executed rhythm guitar riff driving it. The album closes with the somewhat weird Those Bombs, a blues/country concoction which does not really go with anything on the album and seems out of place.
Overall, Return for Refund is a decent rock band, and they seem to be gaining some attention on Canadian college radio charts, but their sound simply lacks passion. The end result is less Offspring or Soundgarden and more Nickleback or Creed. It seems in the case of Return for Refund, the band has the right idea technically. They have intelligent lyrics and all the members are well-heeled musicians, but something is lost in translation. As the band’s members become more familiar with each other and with the style they wish to create, hopefully they will be able to relax on technique and add some much-needed passion on future releases. Return for Refund is available to stream or purchase on Bandcamp and the band has released the video for their first single, The Fields, on Youtube. All relevant links are listed below the video in “Sources.”
Review by Layla Klamt
Return for Refund – Facebook page