So, let's address the technicality right off the bat. Bethlehem Steel's new release Grow Up is actually an EP, not a full album. But with five tracks as strong and diverse as these, it definitely feels like a complete album by the time it concludes.
Bethlehem Steel's front-gal Rebecca Ryskalczyk will sound familiar to followers of the Fredonia-based folk band Paul's Grandfather; where she, along with Katie Preston (of the recently ROCKchester-reviewed Pleistocene) and Karrah Teague would create huge harmonies that soared over steady stomps and strums. Now, with Bethlehem Steel, Ryskalczyk is plugging in and turning it up for a more traditional rock setup. But folk-loving purists fear not, because the songwriting she displays on Grow Up is as stellar as ever.
Grow Up opens with the track, "Guts," which boasts a guitar riff with just enough dirt on it to sound like a determined drive through a Midwestern desert. The drums and bass that follow keep the wheels turning as Ryskalczyk sings, "I've been thinkin' about givin' my mind away." Growing up certainly requires a good deal of intestinal fortitude, so having the opening track of this EP be titled "Guts" seems quite appropriate.
In "Mountain Song," the gears shift to slow and somber. There's an obvious longing as Jon Gernhart's drums beat steady like an anxious heart, but it might be longing for the wrong reasons as Ryskalczyk pleads, "Come over here, baby, I need more salt in my wounds." Fellow Paul's Grandfather 'mate Katie Preston provides additional vocals on this one to make a haunting harmony.
Ryskalczyk is searching for "a place to be lonely" in the fast-paced "Switched to 6." Her guitar is shamelessly distorted here and the song isn't afraid to slam the brakes on at times just to show that it can go from zero to sixty in the tap of a foot. Zephyr Prusinkski's bass is also a major component of "Switched to Six," sounding like a rumbling, powerful engine.
The minor-keyed "To Levin" begins to set the stage for the end of Grow Up. Its lamenting lyrics-- which are sold beautifully by a perfectly executed fragility in Ryskalczyk's vocals-- are accompanied by an overall ghostly grit in the song that begs for a resolution.
In the final track, "Great Circle Mapping," the notion of growing up is especially prominent. Ryskalczyk at one point states, "We are our mothers and our fathers" followed by the suggestion, "I could move back to Buffalo and die there." The thought doesn't sound terribly appealing, which is likely the intent. Following a second, more emphasized "I could move back to Buffalo and die there," the song picks up the pace a bit, which nicely complements the line "We are constantly changing." The track ends with a lengthy instrumental section which subtly becomes increasing layered as it goes on. By the end of the five minutes and fifty-two seconds that is "Great Circle Mapping," it seems as though that final instrumental section somehow summarized Grow Up as a whole. The result is a drive that feels like it reached its destination too soon; but at the same time, it was incredibly fulfilling and rich with experiences. Ya know, kinda like growing up.