“Goner,” the new single from Oakland band Half Stack, comes two years after their last release, 2018’s full-length Quitting Time. With an easy narrative and simplistic lyrics, it’s the first track from their upcoming EP, Aw Hell.

Half Stack have always played on the contrast of their youth with the twang of their old-school sound, the latter of which has caused them to stand out in the traditionally punk and rock-saturated Bay Area music scene. “Goner” leans into the band’s country inflections even more heavily than on Quitting Time (despite some distinctly more understated album art). Coupled with the EP title, it’s my guess that Aw Hell will be an exercise in storytelling as much as anything — a love letter to the idea of being a cowboy, as opposed to the reality.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s always exciting to find bands that are willing to challenge the norm musically while still having one foot firmly planted in the Bay Area — in fact, Quitting Time was mixed and recorded by LA-based musician Jay Som, who was raised in Brentwood.

The strength of “Goner” lies in its chorus, a rambling promise that sounds like a lie even as it falls from singer and guitarist Peter Kegler’s lips. The band sounds most confident here and the first verse, which holds my favorite line of the entire song: sometimes I wake up talking to the wall/thanks for leaving/the light on in the hall. Small moments like this are some of my favorites in any genre, lines that could apply to any flavor of relationship or friendship but still evoke a palpable sense of intimacy, and, in this case, claustrophobia. The whole thing is very Creedence Clearwater Revival-esque — another Bay Area band with Southern leanings — but with some Eagles sprinkled on top, especially in the twangy instrumental outro that made me feel like I had been dropped straight into a plastic inner tube on the Russian River by some unseen giant’s hand.

Later verses are not as effective, leaning too heavily on the goodwill of country’s straightforwardness, leaving us with a string of overly simplistic rhymes that don’t invoke much, especially compared to that strong first verse. Half Stack clearly understands the power of colloquialism and word choice — calling their EP Aw Hell indicates as much — so it remains to be seen where they’ll place the bulk of their attentions when the full EP drops on September 27th.

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