‘Down the Line’ is an Inspired, Soulful Debut from Student Band The Stripers
Headed by blues-inspired instrumentals and passionate vocal performances, “Down the Line” is a concise collection of songs about love and longing.
Courtesy of Thacher Smith ’24
If you have been to a handful of student concerts on Dartmouth’s campus, chances are that The Stripers were performing at one of them. Members Christian Beck ’24, Jack Reilly ’24 and Kieran Norton ’24 formed the band in the summer of 2021, and The Stripers have been a Dartmouth ubiquity ever since, energizing events across campus with songs that are as danceable as they are heartfelt.
For that reason, I, like many, was both excited and curious when they announced “Down the Line,” their first EP of original material. Not every group of artists can materialize the energy and passion of their concerts with a digitized album. Would the atmosphere that The Stripers are able to create so consistently in their live shows come through in recorded form?
After hearing the EP, though, I am happy to say that the answer is yes. A short but sweet collection of six contemplative, blues-rock ballads, “Down the Line” embodies everything that makes The Stripers so fun. Beyond that, it is thoughtful and focused; amidst its infectious energy and poise, it gives attentive listeners something to latch onto.
Easily, my favorite aspect of this EP is the blues-inspired instrumentation, particularly on the guitar. These instrumentals expertly manage to mirror each track’s mood while retaining the liveliness of a backyard jam band. On the opening track “Slowly,” for example, the slow guitar riff carries a relaxed atmosphere that feels like a musical Sunday morning. Paired with lead vocals that encourage us to stay calm amidst the hectic haze of life, it feels more like a complement than a backdrop.
A few tracks later, the smooth percussion and lingering guitar riffs on “Ghost Town” match equally well with the singer’s lyrical uncertainty about a lost lover. On “Not Coming Home,” the EP’s closing track, the intense progressions and loose riffs of the guitar, coupled with the aggression of the drums, carry the iconoclastic spirit of its title. The soft, fast and mellow guitar that fades into the background as the song closes makes me feel the freedom and uncertainty that comes with leaving home and not looking back. Across the board, the instrumentals on “Down the Line” balance the free spirit of a great live show with the rigorous discipline of a great project.
Another aspect of the EP that I admire is the relatable lyrics and vulnerable vocals of lead singer Beck and guitarist Reilly, who sings on the final two songs “Etta (Vinyl Blues)” and “Not Coming Home.” Like I mentioned before, the vocals and instrumentals on “Down the Line” complement each other perfectly. Beck and Reilly’s voices, however, do not just mirror the atmosphere the instrumentals create: they expand on them in a way that makes each song easy to empathize with.
A perfect example of this is “Restless,” the third track on the EP. The jumpy guitar riffs and danceable melody cultivate an atmosphere as restless as the title implies. But Beck’s effusive vocals, just as tireless as the title would suggest, give listeners something to which they can relate, as he longs for a lover to help ground him amidst the anxieties of daily life. Anyone who has felt calm in the presence of a loved one after a trying day can resonate with exactly the feeling Beck describes and the deep longing for that feeling that permeates his voice.
Reilly’s vocals shine on “Etta (Vinyl Blues),” which tells the common story of helplessness after a lover has left. The track’s frantic rhythms and fast tempo do a great job at clueing us in on the idea that something is amiss. Again, though, Reilly’s lyrics and vocals — sung in a tone that resembles a cry for help — make us feel his distress as deeply as he does.
On “Not Coming Home,” the lyrics and vocals have the very opposite effect. The passionate storytelling and chanted chorus expand on the sweet and free feeling the instrumental creates. At every turn on “Down the Line,” the strong, soulful vocals animate the atmosphere that the instrumentals create.
This is not to say that the project is perfect, however. For all the areas in which “Down the Line” shines, there are a few in which I think the band could improve. Most of all, while I admire the way that the project coheres, I think it may stick too closely to a common theme. Nearly every song on the EP centers around the idea of love and longing — of enjoying a lover’s company, or missing a lover who leaves.
On a six-song EP, especially one that is so inspired by blues, strictly sticking with these themes works; it gives us a common thread to think about and follow. By the tail end of the project, however, the messages of the songs begin to blend together. The varied performances on “Down the Line” kept me hooked all the way through, but on a longer project, the similarity of themes could pose a bigger issue.
Even more than that, given how enjoyable the songwriting is on each song, I would love to see the band use their talent to explore a wider variety of ideas. Recently, a string of country and blues-inspired albums — Zach Bryan’s self-titled album, for example — have used traditional songwriting for their genre to explore diverse and atypical themes. As The Stripers evolve and continue recording, delving into different themes could be an interesting next step.
All in all, though, “Down the Line” marks an impressive and inspired debut for The Stripers. The vivacious instrumentals have the punchy feel of a live show, while still managing to give the project a consistent structural backbone. The vocals — vulnerable, soulful and raw — tell well-crafted and resonant stories that give the music life. While these stories center around similar themes, they largely do so in a way that gives the project a sense of concision and focus.
With all of these feats, The Stripers have shown some serious musical talent, and they have demonstrated that they are more than just a fraternity or campus band. Give “Down the Line” a listen. I bet you will be as excited as I am for what they have in store next.