Chances are if you frequent NPR.org or Spin Magazine you’ve likely heard of Ex-Breathers within the last couple months. I was lucky enough to spend a good chunk of my formative years in their hometown, Tallahassee, FL, and got to see them grow from some of their earlier projects.
The guys have been in about 100 bands between the three of them, and every one had a little of what Ex-Breathers have become. Jack Vermillion, bassist, has always had a knack for gritty, in-your-face low end and unadulterated vocals. David Settle, guitars, gravitated toward the off-timed stuff, while Adam Berkowitz, drums, has been rooted in hardcore for some time (though he adds plenty of his own flare to Ex-Breathers).
Past Tense is an aggressive yet smooth record, with just the right amount of noise. The dynamics are king on this record, and it has the most impressive vocal performance to date for the band, in my opinion.
Most of this is epitomized in the first track, “Blank.” We get a little vibrato out of Jack and the music seems to be all over the place but Adam never strays from the pocket — there’s also a nice recurring 5/4 riff for a bit.
The most impressive thing about this record is how much they can sound like a straight-up hardcore band while still throwing in a ton of choppy riffs and poly-rhythms throughout the album. “Car” is all over the place but it takes a few listens before your can tell how mathy a song it really is. Despite the ‘one’ jumping around, you can still bob your head to the down beat without losing your place. Same for “Existing to Remain” and “Windows.” In a wheelhouse where it’s easy to be masturbatory, Ex-Breathers puts just enough originality on their classic sound to make them truly one of a kind.
They wrap-up with a sentimental-turned heavy-tune: “Thin Lines,” which runs into “Gravity Sewer,” a perfect closer. The album is a brief one, though a little too dynamic to be called a barn burner. They certainly put a whole lot of special into it.