The All-American Rejects have typically been a barometer band, one so consistently pop-radio friendly and adherent to a mainstream alternative sound that a listener’s opinion of its music tends to say a lot about the listener. There are some that fangirl over the band’s biggest hits from the mid-2000s, like “Dirty Little Secret” and “Gives You Hell”, and there are some that write off the group entirely. Whatever the case may be, this litmus test of music taste now has to come with an “early stuff” qualifier because the Rejects are starting to turn heads with its newest work.
Released over this past summer, Sweat is a two-song EP that comes after a five year rest and simmer for the Stillwater, OK, rockers. The new material moves along past the lukewarm reception of its last studio album, Kids in the Street, and catches up with the industry, which has long since put the alt-rock sound of the 2000s in a nostalgic time capsule.
With Sweat, The All-American Rejects embrace a more introspective sound to showcase its most mature songwriting yet. This is further enforced by an accompanying music video, which combines the two songs, “Sweat” and “Close Your Eyes”. The 11-minute narrative short studies a character in something of an identity crisis, portrayed with full dedication by frontman Tyson Ritter in a dramatic turn reminiscent of Jared Leto.
The EP kicks off with the exuberant title track, which effectively builds a bridge out to audiences accustomed to the band’s known sound as well as potential new listeners. Set against a lively swing rhythm, “Sweat” retains the band’s established knack for lyrical attitude and singalong hooks. More importantly, however, it fits in with current pop/rock radio trends without forcing it. The harmonized punky vocal inflections are gone, for example, replaced with a more straight-forward, clean-cut performance with supporting vocals more relegated to the musical backdrop.
The boisterous chorus has a specific meaning in the context of its verses, but for the passive listener, “I’m makin’ you sweat” invites different interpretations. Choruses like these are gold for media licensing, and it’s a wonder that a premium cable channel hasn’t used it in a promotional montage for Fall programming.
In the film, Ritter’s character moonlights as a dolled up lady of the night, experiencing thrills of various kinds along the length of “Sweat”. There is even a choreographed dance number that happens at the song’s memorable instrumental break. Although the gender-bending approach is probably more progressive for the band than the music landscape as a whole, it’s a commendable one that avoids the pitfall of being too self-satisfied. As with the music of the EP, it feels natural, not forced.
The second part of the film picks up with “Close Your Eyes”, a somber song that sets the tone for Ritter’s character come daylight. Wearing formal men’s attire, he socializes with a sizeable gathering of friends and family at his upscale house, a stark change from the gritty streets of the first act. The pensive camera work and acting invoke a hollowness in this character that remains a mystery until the very end. Further reflection on the music video can be found at the behind-the-scenes featurette below.
Of the two tracks, “Close Your Eyes” is easily the most radical change for the Rejects. Working with producer Benny Cassette, known for his work with Kanye West, the band presents an atmospheric cut that dials the guitars back substantially in favor of a spacious beat and soft synths. The tracking of the EP is key here, helping listeners reacquaint themselves with the band before dropping a song that sound nothing like The All-American Rejects have done before.
The important part of any group hoping to reinvent themselves is authenticity, and again, nothing is forced on “Close Your Eyes”. Where a number of aging bands are clamoring to trends that don’t suit them to stay relevant, The All-American Rejects seem to genuinely be feeling this new direction. While it may not be all that unique in sound from what’s out there already, this track is no less hypnotizing with its octaved but subdued vocals and its latter-half chimes in the smoky distance.
Both songs are genuinely good songs, and while they make for a short EP, they accomplish that which EPs are meant to accomplish. Establish a voice and leave the listener wanting more. As in the video for Sweat, The All-American Rejects have been indulging in a fresh new identity of late, and it’s one that will hopefully flourish on the upcoming full-length release.
This article was originally written for Cellar Door Music Group (cellardoormusicgroup.com). It is archived here with the publisher’s permission.