Aces High: A Look At Experimental Long Island Indie Rock Trio Gamblers & Their New Single ‘Tug Of War’

Lead singer Michael McManus of the Long Island band Gamblers is no stranger to the diversity of the music scene.

His experience with the industry began when he toured with DIY alternative bands in high school, and further developed when he found a knack for hip hop production in his college dorm room. His talents paid off too; some of his achievements included a collaboration with rapper Meek Mill and a musical contribution to the hit TV show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. In 2015, McManus released a solo hip hop album under the moniker Don Miguel, but he wanted to experiment more with his sound.

Gamblers was eventually created to combine McManus’s love for hip hop with indie rock production and instrumentation. The group released their debut album this fall, and much of their music has been compared to surf rock legends of yore like The Beach Boys. Their sunny melodies and catchy tunes conjure images of basking among the crashing waves and the ocean breeze.

Of course, the natural question is where does the rap influence come in? It might not be as obvious sonically, but McManus puts his former genre to use in his songwriting abilities. Throughout the album, songs explore his experiences growing up in the Catholic church, his complicated relationship with religion, and addiction. Even though he isn’t spitting verses, his melodies aren’t afraid to be vulnerable and honest, similar to the openness of Old School hip hop artists. 

The group recently released their single “Tug of War”, a single from their album, Small World. The song is a departure from the sunnier surf rock songs throughout the record. Instead, “Tug of War” is a garage rock revival, reminiscent of the stripped back sound of the early 2000’s from groups like The Strokes or Arctic Monkeys. The feedback of the distorted electric guitar gives the song a grittier layer throughout the earlier choruses, only to be replaced by the flowing acoustic run during the bridge. The lyrics are simple in progression, repeating the same stanza several times: “I can do the thing / I’m put here for / My dying name / A tug of war.”

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McManus commented on the songwriting style, saying the stanza comes from “the basic principle of following your true path in life despite all the obstacles and naysayers that may stand in your way”. The repetitive nature of the lyrics drives the point home: life is a constant tug of war of what its true purpose is.

Ultimately, Gamblers use McManus’s experiences with a variety of genres to their advantage, and “Tug of War” is evidence of that. From its garage rock instrumentation to its chanting lyrics, the song proves that Gamblers are multi-dimensional group with a whole lot to offer.

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