Militarie Gun are used to moving at a relentless pace. The billing of Life Under the Gun as a debut LP might seem strange to anyone who’s been following the project’s evolution over the past three years and is aware of Ian Shelton’s prior investment in the hardcore scene, but even if you haven’t heard a thing until now, it doesn’t take long to figure out what they’re all about. “I don’t care what you do/ Just do it faster,” the frontman implores on the opening track, one of those times it’s clear he’s addressing the rest of the world rather than just himself. You can listen to All Roads Lead to the Gun, the collection of EP tracks and bonus songs the band released last year after signing with Loma Vista, and immediately recognize that same philosophy driving the music, which is at once furiously and insanely catchy. But Life Under the Gun immediately registers as a studio affair – Shelton co-produced it with in-demand producer Taylor Young – and the shift in their approach is palpable without undermining the qualities that captured people’s attention in the first place.
Even though they’re now also signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Management, and might be used as key evidence for the “Turnstile Effect” after their Dazy collaboration ‘Pressure Cooker’ landed on a Taco Bell ad, transcending the boundaries of hardcore seems far from Militarie Gun’s primary concern. Life Under the Gun is more captivating for the way it meets the demands of a full-length LP by expanding the band’s trademark sound instead of watering it down for a bigger audience. And while ‘Do It Faster’ makes for a great introduction, Militarie Gun are quick to prove they’re more than capable of working in different modes; Shelton certainly sounds like he wishes he could maintain the frantic energy, but life naturally tends to get in the way. “It seems I’m stuck,” he sings with varying intensity on ‘Seizure of Assets’, a song about “biting bastard leeches” you can easily put a face to depending on your own circumstances; “I’m still waiting for a sign,” goes the chorus of ‘Return Policy’, which is just as hooky as ‘Do It Faster’ but swerves into downright radio-friendly territory, shimmering and soaring at the same time.
This isn’t to say the album lacks aggression – that’s still one of the main emotions Militarie Gun serves as an outlet for, but there’s more nuance in it. If you’re looking for the songs most heavily seething in frustration, the ones that barely pass the 2-minute mark shouldn’t disappoint. But listen to the record as a whole and you’ll be rewarded with a better-rounded experience, proof that the band can seek balance across a fuller project with the same ease they show in a single tune. One of the more forceful tracks is ‘Big Disappointment’ – perhaps unsurprising given it’s a revamped version of an older song – in which Shelton admits to being “addicted to rage,” but it’s sandwiched between two songs that are more melodic and reflective, amplifying intimate, regretful thoughts through a vibrant sound that attests to the benefit of hindsight.
Life Under the Gun shines just as much in its more startlingly vulnerable moments, which are unpredictable but sit at the heart of the project, not skirting the edges of genre. ‘My Friends Are Having a Hard Time’ finds Shelton feeling defenseless against a pretty universal problem, but his voice still towers over the dreamy instrumental. Even on ‘See You Around’, the penultimate ballad that’s reminiscent of bedroom pop in its haunting simplicity, it’s loud and clear in the mix, as potent as ever. The ability to make relatable sentiments and familiar song structures sound dynamic is Militarie Gun’s biggest strength, and one way the album achieves this is by not letting its playful attitude undermine its cleverness. Shelton smartly offers his most vital and quotable line on the closing title track: “A life of pursuit ends up pursuing you.” It’s not a reason to stop, but a reminder just to keep up.