A return to Glassjaw’s obscure though incredible 2011 EP, ‘Coloring Book,’ as it finally heads to streaming and digital platforms this weekend on Saturday, February 13th for its tenth anniversary.
I feel it’s important for me to open this piece by saying that Glassjaw is my all-time favourite band and that I have an absolutely undying love for their 2011 EP, ‘Coloring Book.’ Which is why I was asked to write this piece in the first place. (Thanks Alex!) If you were looking for some kind of unbiased or “objective” perspective about this EP, this is not that. So prepare yourself for a giant lovefest about the best EP that you might not even know existed until now. As unless you were an avid fan of Glassjaw who’d followed the band closely for the last 15 or so years, you would be easily forgiven for not knowing about the very existence of ‘Coloring Book.’
Having returned from a hiatus in 2005, Glassjaw toured sporadically, with a plethora of rumours spreading about the creation of new music in various forms. As someone who spent far too much time on the Glassjaw forum around that time, I can tell you that the information changed on a weekly basis and that nine times out of ten it was merely someone claiming that they supposedly heard it from a friend who apparently had a friend who was sorta maybe kinda close to one of the band members. There was talk of album three or four coming at some point, but no one ever really knew what the actual fuck was going on. For years, it very much felt like it would be the post-hardcore version of ‘Chinese Democracy.’ Was a new album real? When would it come out? Would it even be any good!?
Fast forward a few years and the band started slowly releasing singles randomly, accompanied by even more random touring stints. These singles – including the likes of ‘All Good Junkies Go To Heaven‘ and ‘You Think You’re (John Fucking Lennon)‘ – ultimately culminated in the ‘Our Color Green‘ EP that saw its official release on New Year’s Day 2011. And while it was very exciting to finally have those singles available as a full release, it was even more exciting to know that the night before at the Best Buy Theater in New York, Glassjaw had actually closed out a show with five brand new, never before heard songs from out of nowhere. Then, a few days later, the official Glassjaw website saw a complete overhaul, the release of the track ‘Gold‘ and the announcement that ‘Coloring Book‘ was going to be given away for free to those attending any of the shows on the band’s upcoming U.S. headline tour.
It was happening! The gods had finally heard the pleas of fans worldwide and blessed us all with six new songs to worship, and these six songs were unlike anything the band had released prior. This was Glassjaw with a more progressive, experimental-rock edge; them colouring between and outside the figurative lines all at once. Fast, frenetic drum patterns were replaced by slow pocket grooves, psychotic screams replaced by vulnerable crooning and aggressive, anxiety-filled riffs were replaced by Rhodes pianos and baritone drones. It was a whole new sound for Glassjaw but it was so fucking exciting. With this incredible EP finally getting re-acknowledged by Glassjaw, and heading its way to streaming and digital platforms ten years later this weekend, on the day of its tenth anniversary – February 13th, with an insane 120 vinyl variant drop happening on the 15th – there is perhaps a no better time to look back on this weird but wonderful body of work that remains one of my personal favourite releases in existence.
Out of the gate, ‘Black Nurse‘ hits you with the filthiest groove the band has ever written, leading straight into the of gnarliest yet simplest, driest guitar riffs you’ve heard from them. The prominence of bass guitar and the importance of its tone has been a huge focal point in Glassjaw’s music, but the smooth melodic lines implemented through ‘Coloring Book‘ really show how great bass playing can elevate things to another level. This, with the interlocked playing of Durijah Lang’s phenomenally tasteful drumming, makes for Manny Carrero’s four-string work to be one of the core highlights of this EP.
Moving out of ‘Black Nurse,’ you get hit with the sucker-punch of ‘Gold.’ A hypnotic Latin-esque drum beat holds down the rhythm section fort while singer Daryl Palumbo wails like he’s never wailed before. Somehow it feels like there’s so much going on yet still plenty of space within their stellar four-piece band dynamic at the same time. The guitar and bass parts all play against each other super well, but it provides just the right amount of tension before the chorus hits like a punch in the face with Palumbo pleading “How long before I breath you out?”.
Speaking of tension and release, ‘Vanilla Poltergeist Snake‘ almost feels like a return to the frenetic Glassjaw of old. Well, to begin with. After smashing you with some crazy fuzz bass in the intro, it drops down immediately to a delicate bass lead groove to carry Palumbo’s fragile vocals. Stabs of Rhodes piano coupled with overdriven, droning bass guitar carry the chorus while Daryl ominously proclaims that “no one gets out alive“. There are so many contradicting dynamics happening here at the same time, yet it just works.
‘Miracle In Inches‘ is a fantastic example of the bands varying musical textures at play. It weaves relatively simple parts together and forms a gorgeous platform for the vocals to shine even brighter. Note the counterpoint guitar stabs in the verses while the drums and bass keep the whole groove flowing. The song culminates with one of the sickest bass lines ever while multiple layers of drums and guitar building a droning, eerie wall of sound.
So, here’s the thing. ‘Stations Of The New Cross‘ is my favourite song of all time. Bar no other. I can’t think of a day in the last 10 years where I haven’t listened to it, and the song means so much to me for a multitude of reasons. It just has this beautifully hypnotic magic to its sound that gets me every single time. From the frail keyboard in the verses to the sparse yet percussion drenched chorus, or the riff-driven groovy bridge passage, it feels like a satisfying journey that pays off each time. If I could literally only listen to a single song for the rest of my life, this would be it. Just… listen to it.
A 90-second bass loop cleanses your palette from the musical perfection that is ‘Stations Of The New Cross,’ then the Rhodes piano kicks in once again for closer ‘Daytona White.’ Intricate brushwork on the drums gives the song a driving, jazzy feel while the bass and keys play off each other nicely. After a noisy, delay-soaked instrumental section halfway through, the songs dynamic plummets down to a sullen, almost remorseful finale. Seeing Palumbo repeating the line “I can’t breathe without you” while the band grooves themselves slowly out to a close. It’s one of those final songs that makes you immediately want to listen to the whole release again.
While just six songs, ‘Coloring Book‘ feels as meaty as their most seminal work, 2002’s ‘Worship & Tribute,’ given its musical complexity and wide dynamic range. There’s so much to latch onto, one of those releases where you catch more of the subtle nuances with each new listen. It somehow feels like a sharp left turn in Glassjaw’s discography, yet it still makes complete sense that they would do something like this. Which only speaks to how trailblazing of a band they are. They’ve never stuck on one style or sound musically for too long, yet they’ve always managed to sound authentic, which is a huge part of why they’re so admired and have such a passionate fanbase.
A decade on and ‘Coloring Book‘ still astounds me. It taught me a lot about being unafraid of exploring new musical territories and I owe the band more than I could ever properly articulate. I really can’t breathe without you, Glassjaw. Thank you for changing my life.