One of the biggest criticisms that anyone can volley over at the current crop of post-hardcore/emo outfits finding their way onto greater pastures is their seemingly unrelenting self-importance either bestowed upon them by their own mouths, or by those who blindly follow in every song leaked, every MySpace bulletin released, and just about anytime a band member celebrates their birthday. Sure enough, much talk has surrounded Saosin ever since they burst on to the collective psyche of every swoopy-haired kid, propelled more than anything, by former lead vocalist Anthony Green’s incredible vocal prowess. And of course, all the talk turned to them again when he surreptitiously departed the group to do Circa Survive, leaving a rather large hole to fill and lingering questions about whether the group was really anything but a rather ordinary band with a great singer. Sure enough, they did what any intelligent ordinary band would do and recruited someone whose voice bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Green’s.
Several releases on, Saosin embark on the perilous journey of the major label game and living up to the expectations held close to every scene kid’s heart. And upon initial consumption, Saosin is at least a far more interesting listen to anything they’ve previously done. The music itself, rooted deeply in the heavily melodic side of post-hardcore, still trots out to a more mid-tempo tone; building upon some solid instrumental groundwork seen previously in acts like Armor for Sleep and Glassjaw. While the rest of the band seem content in being the backdrop in which (current vocalist Cove) Reber’s vocals flail from one side of the range spectrum to the other, they do enough to maintain some level of energy through the songs- so that the slower paced ones (like “Finding Home” and “Come Close”) can keep up with those exhibiting a bit more exuberance (“It’s So Simple” and “Follow and Feel”).
The first single, the aptly titled “Voices,” is the benchmark for the album’s heart-carved sentiments; an anthemic tune in which the best of the band’s cathartic outpouring and musical abilities mesh together in almost perfect synthesis. It is however, not the album’s apex- that is reserved for “You’re Not Alone,” undoubtedly the current standard for youthful naiveté and poetically sound music coming together for a skin-tingling, “walking off into the sunset” homage to hope and positivity wrapped up in theatrical emo monster-balladry. It’s the “Jack & Diane” for the Laguna Beach generation.
These highlights aside, the rest of the album is done convincingly enough- even if it never really excels. A lot of the material seems to blend together and after a few listens, the choruses and verses, along with Reber’s singing, mesh together so much that few moments stand out as remarkable. Saosin is a consistent, well-produced, but certainly contrived effort; it stretches the emo/pop genre on occasions but is seemingly content with using by-the-numbers formulas and vaudevillian romance as a substitute for breaking genre norms. They are certainly on top of the pile, and the kids are going to love this one- but it would be hard pressed to believe that they will somehow break free from the chains of unlikely possibilities. Even though Saosin are one of the best at what they do, they seem destined to forever chase the ghosts of lofty expectations.
Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die
Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter
At the height of Vagrant Records’ early success in the late 90s, the label was buoyed by the incredible draw of their two biggest names- The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. And while those two bands took a chunk of the notoriety, there were plenty of great bands that called the label home. One of those bands was The Anniversary. The Lawrence, Kansas band shared musical similarities with both TGUK and Saves the Day, but were unafraid to branch off into slightly more synthesised terrain that gave their songs an added element. Coupled with their super easy to digest harmonies and fantastic male/female vocals, songs like “The D in Detroit” still has a place in countless “favorite playlists” all these years later.
Since their initial break-up, guitarist and vocalist Josh Berwanger has been busy writing and recording a bevy of music under the moniker Berwanger. His recent discography is a talented kaleidoscope of songs that traverse genres from folk and indie, to more rock and straight forward singer/songwriter fare. There was plenty to like on his 2016 album Exorcism Rock, an album that delved into a little bit of psychedelia and fuzzed out indie rock. His 2017 album And the Star Invaders saw a gradual move away from the more electrified to the imaginative kind of singer/songwriter we’ve seen from the likes of Devendra Banhart. True to form, Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter, and his latest, Watching A Garden Die, is the next chapter in his thriving songwriter cabinet.
The gloomily titled record is mostly upbeat and diverse. While he may have shown a kinship to indie/folk songwriting of the Banharts and Obersts of the world previously, Watching a Garden Die features the kind of seasoned and more classic toned work you’d find on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, or even a Paul Simon record. Songs like the softly, almost whispered “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know”, and quietly moody, introspective “Paper Blues” (until that electric guitar solo hits) harks back to a time long ago of unfettered hair and soulful folk music. The album’s best moment is probably a combination of the wistful, pedal-steel toned Americana of “When I Was Young” and the equally effective, spacey indie rock of “The Business of Living”. The latter giving Grandaddy a run for their money in that music department. These two songs in particular showcase an artist fully aware and capable of his abilities to craft music that’s personal but exhibits the kind of draw you want from a record this close to the heart.
The album doesn’t have the more ruckus moments Berwanger exhibited in his earlier work (outside of perhaps, the more upbeat power-pop, new wavy “Bad Vibrations”). At times the album takes just a few listens to grab you. But when you listen to songs like the spritely “Friday Night” and the somber reflection of the twangy “I Keep Telling Myself” a few times more, you find the depth of the record. There are elements that reveal themselves on the second, third, fourth listen, and that’s rewarding.
Berwanger’s songwriting ability was never in doubt, and his new material continues to expand his songwriting reach. Watching a Garden Die, while not a frantic effort, is quiet composure.
Fences – Failure Sculptures
Failure Sculptures is a steady outing
Christopher Mansfield, under his alter-ego, Fences, has made himself well known through the collaborations with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara. It’s set him up with well-deserved excitement for his new album Failure Sculptures. The genre of pop scores a good reputation with artists like Fences. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this album as pop, but Failure Sculptures has catchy songs that will appeal to a large scale, however it keeps the integrity of accomplished music. Each song provides a story that allows you to drift into your own thoughts. He also uses idioms like there is no tomorrow.
“A Mission” is a lower-toned song that launches the album with an echoing sound of voice and guitar, and it sets an example of the whimsical type of music that is shown throughout the album. Mansfield has a way with words and was definitely listening in English class. A+ for storytelling. OK, you twisted my arm, I’ll point out some idioms: “body sways like trees in a storm” sung in “Paper Route” and “lately I just pass by like a cloud” heard in “Brass Band”. It’s a great way to paint a picture in your listeners head.
“Same Blues” exposes a folk side to Fences. It has a lovely addition of cello in the background. It is enchanting and flows so well, which makes a terrific inclusion to the album. The plucking and acoustic sound of “Wooden Dove” has a powerful effect, and suits the song well. It follows the theme of echoes and storytelling. Although “War Kid” is a song about divorce, it is a pleasant way to end the album, and it features more idioms; “tears falling like bombs“.
This type of music allows you to drift and flow in and out of your own thoughts. It’s a friendly haunting and emotionally driven set of songs (and don’t forget about the idioms), and while it is quite predictable in a pleasant way, Failure Sculptures is a steady outing.