April 8, 2019
Released On June 9, 2010
Released By Virgin Records
Like a lot of my favorite albums, I was something of a crossroads when I first heard We Don’t Stand A Chance. I was about to graduate from college, faced with absolutely no idea how to fend for myself in the outside world, and my dad had just told me that there was a decent chance that he was going to be let go by his company which meant he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to give me any support. With the benefit of hindsight, this was probably just his way of trying to get me to not move back home right away, but I was young and stupid and instead, it just freaked me out and I panicked.
I freaked out and panicked so much that I broke things off with the girl that I was seeing in some kind of attempt for her to not see me as an aimless loser who didn’t even have the option of moving back in with his parents. (At least I think that’s what was going on through my head. Back then I romanticized the whole “broken hearted boy” image far more than I ever should have). It was around Thanksgiving break when I really dove into We Don’t Stand A Chance. I took the bus a lot to get back home to the city (if I had given it a single thought, going home for Thanksgiving was a perfect example of my parents still welcoming me back home, but alas, I was still young and still stupid) (and if anyone is confused by the timeline, I was a December graduate — hence going on Thanksgiving break right before finishing college) and it was always the perfect opportunity to zone out and listen to music. If my memory serves, I was listening to a lot of Off With Their Heads and The Dopamines back then, but those bands mostly acted as a soundtrack to my drinking, and since I couldn’t drink on the bus, I decided to give AM Taxi a proper listen.
AM Taxi’s social media presence listed The Clash and The Replacements so I assumed I would kind of like it, but what I had mostly been told was that they sounded kind of like The Gaslight Anthem. And while there were hints of Joe Strummer’s rasp in Adam Krier’s vocals, and the sequencing played out like a latter-day ‘Mats record, it really just sounded like a Gaslight Anthem record to me. Maybe I willed it into existence. American Slang had come out that year, and while I didn’t outright hate it, I definitely didn’t love it as much as I had wanted to, and We Don’t Stand A Chance sat closer to what I was hoping to hear, it became the Gaslight Anthem album that I wanted. Or maybe the two bands really do sound alike.
Regardless of whether AM Taxi’s similarities to The Gaslight Anthem are as pronounced as I believe they are, We Don’t Stand A Chance became the soundtrack to not only that Thanksgiving break but the rest of my winter. It was the perfect blend of catchiness and loneliness that I needed to get me through my mostly self-inflicted heartbreak. If I had discovered this album later in life, I might scoff at lines like “We hang like question marks at the end of every dream” but to my younger self that was some heavy hitting imagery, particularly when I had no idea what my next step was going to be. However, I was more drawn to the songs that were about romance. Or, more accurately, the songs about failed romances. “I am the ambulance that never comes” is probably excessive in its hyperbole, but at the time it really felt like it was the most fitting way to tell my ex that I was not the right guy for her. Weeks after we broke up, all I could think was “I’d love to hear your voice.” The most cutting song though? Obviously “Champagne Toast.” In hindsight, it all seems silly but at the time I really thought that I had some kind of trademark on being sad about a break up (and to a lesser extent, uncertain about the future). The entire chorus, “I don’t need a champagne toast. Save it for someone with a shred of hope that’ll hold you and be there, because you know I won’t. Someone deserves you and you know I don’t, I’m sorry” repeated the thesis of “The Mistake” and had me convinced that I had made the right choice.
The kicker to all of this, assuming you haven’t already figured it out by now, is that literally none of the things that I was worried about mattered and after a few months, nearly everything reverted back. I was wrong to worry about leaving my college friends behind: I spent months staying with friends who still were in school and basically lived in town through May. I was wrong about my dad’s future: to this day he still works for the same company although he’s stayed fairly consistent about not providing financial support. I was wrong about never finding consistent work: I had to bounce around restaurants here and there, but I think I’m doing okay now. And the girl I broke up with? I was wrong to end things. We pretty much started dating again the moment she returned to the States from a semester abroad. (We broke up a second time two years ago and haven’t spoken much since, but that’s a story for another album.)
I was wrong about a lot of things back then, but I wasn’t wrong about AM Taxi. We Don’t Stand A Chance was a fantastic break up soundtrack, and listening to it almost a decade later, even without acting as the backdrop to a major life change, it still holds up.
Heartland austerity combines with punk vitality to create a rock & roll lightning rod.
As humans, we’re built to avoid pain. Touch something hot? You’re wired to think twice about touching that thing again. It’s the stuff self-preservation and adaptation are made of. Yet why is it that in generation after generation, we’re drawn to making, listening to, and re-listening to music that focuses on suffering? It’s fascinating, and while I’m not sure I can answer the question as to why, the question of how is just as interesting, and AM Taxi has one answer. As you make your way through We Don’t Stand A Chance, you hear narrators tasting just about every flavor of unease you could imagine, from sadness and longing (“Maydays And Rosaries” offers such an elegant expression of the latter: “I will always think of you when the phone doesn’t ring”) to frustration and anxiety. Behold the chorus of “The Mistake,” which illustrates stress in sharply painful terms: “I am the ambulance that never comes, the antidote you spill / And in the accident, I’ll be the failure in your brakes / I am the truth you couldn’t take.” It really is hard to take, but the song provides crucial relief in the form of a breakdown section, which hits just after the 2:20 mark. It’s a technique AM Taxi reaches for throughout We Don’t Stand A Chance — building in quieter passages in which you can take a deep breath and consider the melody and the chords that support it before joining in on a final, triumphant chorus. It’s not just a good use of dynamics; it’s evidence of an understanding that you can’t safely plumb emotional depths without some sort of pressure release. (I’m tempted to make a scuba diving analogy here, but I’ve never done that and the mere thought of it scares the crap out of me. Self-preservation, y’all.)
Have you ever tried to explain what rock’n roll is? These days it’s used mainly as a quaint umbrella term which represents a time none of us remember anymore when ‘proper’ music was eschewed in favour of something a little more rebellious, upbeat and — more often than not — dancefloor friendly. If music throughout the ages was something mature adults appreciated as an art form, then rock’n roll was the music of the youth. But of course, once boundaries are broken, we simply wind up seeing new boundaries. And so it goes that hundreds of sub-genres of music, each more extreme than the last, push us into territory that ranges from the ridiculously melancholy to the absolutely terrifying. It’s easy to forget that sometimes you just wanna rock out. That’s where AM Taxi’s We Don’t Stand A Chance fits in nicely. In as much as I can identify what a rock record sounds like, this is it. From Adam Krier’s smokey rasp, to the muted pops of a tom tom on “Charissa,” it’s music that most people can appreciate whether you typically revel in punk or pop. And while album opener “Dead Street” sets you off on the right path with a rock anthem, the album doesn’t relent. It takes a much-needed break on “Maydays And Rosaries” for some dubby guitars and drones in the silence before launching right back into the familiar ’90s pattern of easy guitar, which busts out into a chaotic and aggressive hook. Given that it came out in 2010, it was a little late to the party on that one but let’s face it, nobody told Silversun Pickups that either and they did just fine. The record finds a balance between rock ballads and pop anthems that should not be interpreted as a form of mediocrity. On the contrary, this Chicago band seems to have perfected the sound that would make similar bands like Gaslight Anthem very, very popular. And while Gaslight Anthem went down a slightly grungier, messier path which could be considered alt-rock crossover, AM Taxi doesn’t feel the need to indulge trends in the same way, By the time you reach “Paper Covers Rock,” the up-tempo and quality of production has made it a satisfying listen whether your partying with friends or making your way from A to B on an introspective night ride. I appreciate this album because it pays homage to the roots of rock and roll and it reminds us that you don’t need to exploit extremes to be great.
Can anyone reading this, imagine Neil Young, Tom Petty, or the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, all proclaiming their anthemic refrains on top of a band with guitar tones, rhythms, and somewhat shouty background vocals that collectively feel strangely pop punk? That’s what AM Taxi (formerly known as American Taxi) exudes up from its core. Adam Krier’s vocal style doesn’t project as much of the thicker steadiness as does Springsteen’s, but the proud Chicagoan is also far closer to that sort of balanced sound than the higher register, thinner toned, occasionally shrieking vocals more common and familiar to fans of the pop punk genre. The subtle micro fragments of sonic character bestowed upon other elements of the band’s music, like the ever-so-mild but still noticeable static filtering over an otherwise clean toned lead guitar hook on “Charissa,” also lean listeners less toward the straightforward, proud kind of all-American rock n’ roll more likely from the aforementioned greats. It’s little decisions like those, that promote thoughts of deliberate imperfection, scrappiness, and just a bit more of a lively rebellious fire within, that elicit a sense of kinship with wild pit filled festivals like Boston Calling or Warped, over undoubtedly energetic but less unpredictable events like a gig on Good Morning America from Central Park or a Sunday summer show from New York City’s Pier 17. Pivot over to an aspect like the song titles and AM Taxi’s pairing of musical positions is no less evident there too. While some are vague and require investigation (“The Mistake“) or, for lack of a better word, generic (“Reckless Ways“), many others are just quirky enough to earn another stripe of punk-driven quality (“Tanner Boyle Vs. The 7th Grade,” “Maydays And Rosaries,” “Paper Covers Rock“). Of course, the actual song content doesn’t shy away from telling universal and relatable stories through an everyday person kind of lens, who are the people Springsteen and Petty resonate with so there’s no shortage of the other half at present. Still, the often explicit somewhat brash nature of the album’s narratives is another tick of the tempestuous young adult box: “These avenues are the dying proof / They fucking don’t make these nights like they used to / You can come home anytime you want / But I’m sick and I’m thinking about you / I’m sick of thinking about you.” But thankfully this uncommon duality doesn’t come across as in constant flux with itself, risking an uncomfortable listening experience. Instead, it’s more like a definitively individual set of attributes that happily coexist and create a unique blend. Think of a good old-fashioned Milky Way bar. People like chocolate and people like caramel. They’re both enjoyed individually. And they make something different and just as appreciated, when put together. But no one ever tries to say that the individual components of this candy bar should make themselves like the other. They coexist, but their proximity is what makes the candy good. And before it existed, no one imagined it would be the enjoyable thing it is today. Similarly, blue collar American rock and pop punk aren’t typically seen together and one shouldn’t expect to see either trying to be like the other on this album. But they do work well when cut to tape together and unlike the album’s very title, the music certainly stands more than just a chance at giving you an interesting new style duo to consider in the future.
Listening to this AM Taxi album had me searching for its 2010 context. I didn’t have to look far as that was the second year I published a “Best Of” list on my blog, AnEarful. Looking at my eclectic Best Of Ten, I notice a very different energy than what We Don’t Stand A Chance delivers. At the top two spots, we have The Walkmen and Kanye West at their most emotive on Lisbon and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, respectively, while third is the exceedingly clever (Measure) by Field Music. The sunny, polyglot funk-soul-reggae-Latin of Gecko Turner’s Gone Down South comes next, followed by Treats, the ear-splitting classic debut by Sleigh Bells. Then we get Sharing Notes, the second EP by the late, lamented Breton and, at number seven, Mount Kimbie’s wonderfully disjointed Crooks And Lovers. Holly Miranda, her gorgeous voice somewhat swamped by Dave Sitek’s production, comes in at eight with The Magician’s Private Library, while a late-career Brian Eno masterpiece, Small Craft On A Milk Sea, hits the penultimate spot followed by one of Spoon’s best, the mighty Transference. Nothing there is as anthemic as the high-energy rock & roll that AM Taxi were going for, but I also think there was a lot more musical variety, even on the “indie rock” albums, which is more of an indication of my taste than anything AM Taxi is doing or not doing. But that’s also why I find myself hanging on the little production and arrangement touches they wisely sprinkle throughout the album, like the chill intro to “The Mistake,” that Robert Fripp guitar tone on “Paper Covers Rock,” or the shimmering guitar and light reggae of “Maydays And Rosaries.” The latter has a brief and charming (uncredited) female vocal, another shot of necessary variety. Besides all that, you have a rock-solid rhythm section (pay special attention to bassist Jason Schultejann — he’s no joke), guitars that hint at Strummer/Jones interplay, and enough shouted choruses to wake the dead. So, while maybe they didn’t stand a chance to get on my Top Ten in 2010, you can’t keep a good band down, which means it’s time to check out their 2019 release, Shiver Next To Me.
Noir reflection against the backsplash of some Prohibition time travel.
I often wonder how my fellow OYR contributors listen to the records each week. Do they use ear buds? Headphones? A factory car system? An installed car system? Traditional home stereo? I’ve got them all beat. I listen to every OYR record on the same pair of shitty Sony Vaio desktop mini-speakers that came with my very first computer as I headed off to Old Dominion University in 2001. No joke. The reason isn’t that I want to be funny or ironical or subversive. It’s because I trust these speakers more than any others in my collection. I’ve been steadily listening to music on them for 18 years, so I have supreme confidence in evaluating what sounds good on them and what sounds bad on them. I say all that to say that We Don’t Stand A Chance is a superbly mixed project. Aside from the emotional weight of records like “Tanner Boyle Vs. The 7th Grade” and “Maydays And Rosaries,” the consistently even-handed mix of this album is what stood out most to me. Even on the most Wal-Mart-ish of speakers, we can hear each and every layer of these records. Think of a mix like a seven-layer cake: the more defined the layers, the better the mix, and the more enjoyable the cake. I mean, the listening experience. I’m fat. In any case, go back and listen to “Champagne Toast,” which builds from an acoustic solo all the way up to an electric wall of sound. All the while, you can clearly identify every layer of the record from the bass to the drums to the tambourine all the way up to the vocals, which by some miracle don’t clash with the electric guitar. And that would be the icing.
Right from the first note, AM Taxi’s We Don’t Stand A Chance hits like a shot of adrenaline. High-energy pop punk infuses this album, the sound straight from the early 2000’s though the album wasn’t made until 2010. There’s a black lace and hot pink lipstick vibe to the softer selections on the album, the vulnerability and sense of being heart-wrenchingly flayed open tinged with a defiance even as the band willingly opens up. That duality, the dance between indulgent emotion and anger at feeling emotion, informs a good part of the album, but there are also solid pop punk jams that just make you want to dance. AM Taxi plays this record like there’s a whole crowd in the recording studio, fueling their drive as they play; you can just see them playing in a tiny packed venue, baby punks dancing and sloshing beer right up against the stage.
Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite
When I first put this album on, “Dead Street” played as three minutes and fifty-seven seconds of silence, and I honestly thought that was the coolest idea for opening an album that I’d ever heard. It turns out that Spotify was just glitching and this record isn’t quite that conceptual, but regardless, We Don’t Stand A Chance didn’t let me down. Songs like “The Mistake” were instant earworms. The opening chords make it seem as though you’re about to hear a dream pop song, before distorted guitars and strained lead vocals take over to deliver the heavy lyrics. Songs that can work across genres within four minutes are rare, and not unjustifiably so. It’s not easy to synthesize influences within such a short span of musical space, but when you listen to tunes on this record, you hear alternative, jazz, metal, and ambient music combine into a unified sound. Some of the stops and starts on songs like “Tanner Boyle Vs. The 7th Grade” show progressive rock influences, which tells me that the production approach on these tunes included a lot of focus on arranging parts and distinguishing verses. While I love a good jam, songs that sound planned out and focused also hold a special place in my heart, because I know how much work it takes to piece together those arrangements. I respect artists and producers who are mindful of the musical decisions artists make that listeners react to unconsciously, and AM Taxi certainly had their heads in the right place when they took these songs to the studio. I’m certainly a new fan, and can’t wait to share this album with friends who I know enjoy the alternative genre. I also love the album title — that’s a 10/10.
Affected but assured, each song matches the different reactions to heartbreak and setbacks.
By the time the chorus of “Dead Street” hit during my first listen, I was sure I’d heard that exhausted, broken-in shoe vocal somewhere before. I kept listening, certain that I’d figure it out by the album’s end. Nope, no dice. But I just had to know. So naturally I went to AllMusic and looked it up — oh yeah, it’s Adam Krier from Lucky Boys Confusion. That answered that. Then the memories came flooding back, two in particular that are a short chronological distance apart in my life. Both of these memories occurred during my high school years, somewhere in 2002 I believe. First, my discovery of LBC via LimeWire. I came across “Dumb Pop Song” randomly and downloaded it purely based on the title. I had no idea what it was gonna sound like; I just liked the name. I wasn’t even sure that was the real name of the track, but I tried it anyway. This was when my parents had a 128k DSL line that rarely hit that speed. Oh, the (first world) agony of it all. Just typing the song’s title now, it has once again invaded my brain with its stupid, and stupidly catchy, hook. And second, there was this time that my older cousin played “40/80” in his car and he had to explain to me what it was about. That was an awkward car ride, for sure. In hindsight, I probably asked too many questions which probably didn’t help. Come to think of it, he’s claimed to have never tried marijuana, so I’m not sure how he was able to clear up anything for me. Huh… Anyhow, this is all just a long and tangentially-related way of saying that We Don’t Stand A Chance was a stick of nostalgia dynamite for me.
I’m usually very good at recognizing voices, but I almost always initially think that John Cafferty is Bruce Springsteen. I put on AM Taxi’s We Don’t Stand A Chance this week, and my immediate thought was “oh, so… it’s like Bruce Springsteen joined the Goo Goo Dolls?” As the album continued though, I wondered if maybe it was more Cafferty than Springsteen that I was hearing? So I let it play as my mind drifted and started imagining a reboot of the 1983 cult classic Eddie And The Cruisers, but with AM Taxi taking the place of the Beaver Brown Band and Johnny Rzeznik playing the older version of Adam Krier. I kinda think it could work — who do I need to call to make this happen? When I sat down to write this, I checked out the band’s Spotify bio, and giggled to myself when I saw that they “take [their] cues from The Replacements and Bruce Springsteen” because I really like it when I’m right about something like that. And then because I am on cold medication and easily distracted right now, I decided to listen to Goo Goo Dolls’ “We Are The Normal” to see if I was correct in feeling like they were another influence and laughed ’til I choked when I noticed for the first time that that song had been written by… Paul Westerberg of The Replacements. I love it when my roundabout thinking is validated. But, yes. Let’s get on this Eddie And The Cruisers reboot.
50 Foot Pop Queenie
One thing I love about listening to a band/artist for the first times is trying to pick out their influences. Specifically, if I can name them. Greta Van Fleet for example — I can easily hear the Zeppelin influence, and I find a lot of times that there is usually a strong underlying influence of one particular band, style, genre, era, et cetera over others. What I liked about AM Taxi in this particular album was that I could hear quite a few different influences throughout, and I’m sure it’s different for everyone — which is yet another reason why music is just so amazingly personal. I heard Cheap Trick, The Offspring, Dashboard Confessional, which makes sense as they would fall somewhere in the punk sphere. But I also detected a few others that I couldn’t quite name, but helps create a truly well-rounded album in my eyes. It makes me feel nostalgic for the days of 2010 when this album was released, and I can just hear that era of angsty emotional punk. Yet it also sounds like it is an album that could have been released yesterday, falling in line with the sounds of The Glorious Sons and Catfish And The Bottlemen for example. I think that’s why it makes it timeless and almost anthemic — each track has its own unique sound, yet all tie in together to make an excellent album that should definitely be heard!
I can’t help but get caught up in how AM Taxi was a casualty of its time, as well as a victim of the present. We Don’t Stand A Chance was the band’s first outing on Virgin Records following some solid EPs and a respectable touring reputation. But it was released in June of 2010 — the same exact month White Crosses by Against Me! and American Slang by The Gaslight Anthem both dropped, two big records with punk roots that bleed over into other rock scenes. You can argue the sound, style, and quality of these three records all you want, but it’s very clear that each of these records were courting the same audience. The difference was that Against Me! and The Gaslight Anthem were well-established by this point, coming off either a solid career (Against Me!) or a breakout album (The Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound). And both records were different than the usual offering from the bands, so not only was the audience rushing to dissect those records, but the critical press was also taking note, either praising or trashing the changes to the band’s sound. These three records were all released within days of each other, and it’s clear just by looking at it that AM Taxi was just a victim of circumstance. But that victim status, at least for this specific record, has carried over to today… because today, you can really appreciate this record for what it is. Honestly, it’s a shame other outlets haven’t stumbled upon this record. It’s a record in serious need of a revisit and would probably make some publications’ “Best Of 2010” if they had the balls to amend it. (Side note: I fully think every best of list should be amended 5 years later with 5 additional picks. Don’t change the rankings — just add five records you think were erroneously left off back then.) So what is this record exactly? Sharp, sly, lively, and absorbing. Boisterous rock energy that can unite those who idolize The Replacements, those who talk about Born To Run in exalted words, and those who can still joyously remember every single frame of the music video for “Fat Lip.” Even more, for fans who were put-off by the shift by The Gaslight Anthem and Against Me! back in 2010, AM Taxi provided a perfect counterbalance. Whereas those two bands were concerned with writing new songs to fit bigger spaces and larger crowds, AM Taxi went in the other direction, writing songs that fall short of pretension by staying fascinatingly catchy in melody, spirit, and tone. And while they might not have written songs that warrant the band playing a massive venue overpacked with rabid fans, they did write the songs that the majority of fans there are just dying to hear… and the band is dying to play.
A Divorce Before Marriage by I Like Trains
Chosen By Chelsea Kostrey