(feat. track – “I’ve Got You” [spotify])

What’s Eating Gilbert, the solo side project of New Found Glory guitar-slinger / occasional Shai Hulud shouter / Paramore paramour Chad Gilbert, issued their first tracks back in 2010, but in 2012 the project really came into its own, settling on a sound inspired by doo-wop, rockabilly and early rock ‘n roll, all tied together with a wit, sincerity and goofy charm that seem intrinsic to Gilbert’s personality. Gilbert might rep punk, but he’s got a pop songwriter’s heart, and the intentionally-retro vibe that What’s Eating Gilbert has taken on might come off as novelty – if the songs weren’t so damn good.

The combined seven tracks on these two releases run a grand total of 17 minutes; each one is streamlined and efficient, full of compressed hooks that pack a wallop, with maybe a brief solo for flair – precision songwriting at its economical best. Lyrically, Gilbert possesses a great instinct for when to break apart his own rhyme schemes, sometimes packing extra words into tight spaces, abandoning end rhyme, or simply letting a syllable breathe for an extra beat, all to consummate effect. Musically, he keeps things simple and clean; the lack of frills means the songs shine through.

That said, mastery of technique can make music interesting, but it’s certainly not a surefire recipe for greatness (see: something like 90% of prog). Ultimately, these two releases made my year end list not for the skill that went into them, but for the pure joy I get out of them every time I listen – for the big goofy grin I break into every time I hear “Run For Your Life” or “Complaining”, the way “Babe” makes me dance in my chair at work, the way I get jazzed when Gilbert shouts “1 – 2 – 3 – GO!” as the drums stutter just before the scorching guitar solo kicks in on “Sit And Stare”.

With New Found Glory now on the quieter end of their RadiosurgerySticks And Stones 10-year-anniversary touring cycle, Gilbert has promised to turn What’s Eating Gilbert into a fully fleshed-out live act; he’s even dangled hints of a horn section, background singers and a dappered-up dress code. If the show proves to be even half as much fun as the music he released in 2012, it’s going to be the can’t-miss party of the year.

review of The Nashville Sessions (published 6/19/12)

review of Cheap Shots (published 9/03/12)