Some of my favorite bands are already this fucked.

It took a while before I figured out exactly why I wasn’t all that excited about the new album by A Static Lullaby. I’d actually been looking forward to it for a while; I’d been incredibly impressed by "...And Don’t Forget To Breathe", their 2003 debut. They’d somehow managed to come out of nowhere with a fully formed sound that was a perfect combination of emo and metalcore. This was exemplified by the tremendous "Love To Hate, Hate To Me", on which the intense metal riffs of the verses led into a chorus featuring some of the best pure pop hooks ever crafted. Multiple band members contributed to the vocals, creating a layered mixture of melodic singing and bloodcurdling screams, all of which built up to a midsong crescendo that shocked the listener with its stop-start intensity. The entire album cut to the heart of the teenage emotional experience–it was music to listen to on dark nights after hours spent fighting to save a rapidly disintegrating relationship, and it delivered the sort of catharsis such situations require more consistently than anything else on the musical landscape at the time.

Because of all this, the personal anticipation factor was high for "Faso Latido", A Static Lullaby’s second album and first on major label Columbia Records. And maybe it’s true that a followup to a well-loved album is always somewhat of a letdown, especially at first. It's not a terrible album; I enjoy it whenever I put it on, and particularly dig closing track "The Jesus Haircut". However, it’s not quite what I wanted from these guys, and it took me a while to figure out why. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the problem. The songwriting style is still very much the same, with both the chugging metal riffs and the powerful pop hooks making plentiful return appearances.

Tonight, though, playing the album for maybe the half-dozenth time, it suddenly hit me. The problem is the production. The mix of screamed and sung vocals survives, but no longer do the two share equal levels in the mix. Screaming, when it occurs, is fed through distortion, slathered with echo, and dramatically lowered in the mix, while the singing vocals continue to be loud and clear. While previously it was tough to tell which style of vocals were the "lead", given the fact that they seemed to alternate positions on nearly every line, the production on "Faso Latido" has decisively consigned the screams to the role of background vocals. The guitars fare little better in this new sonic arrangement, often taking a back seat to both the vocals and the drums. When the powerful riffs that are a vital part of A Static Lullaby’s sound get their turn in the spotlight, they falter and lose steam due to immersion in a wall of keyboards and choral effects, all working together to remove the teeth from a sound that used to be ferocious.

It’s a shameful thing, and it’s only made worse by the fact that "Faso Latido" features the same solid songwriting that made "...And Don’t Forget to Breathe" so exciting. By sacrificing the excitement and originality of their first record in exchange for a modicum of increased commercial potential, A Static Lullaby have become just another of the millions of mediocre bands attempting to cash in on emo’s flavor of the month status. The underground hardcore scene has always been wary of major labels, referring to deals with these huge conglomerates as "pacts with the devil." With their disappointing major label debut, A Static Lullaby has become merely the latest in a long line of supporting arguments for that position. They deserved better. We all did.


Anonymous Jesse said...

This is better than any of your potential Spin submissions. Jus sayin.

6:25 PM  
Blogger Andrew TSKS said...

Thanks. The thing that kills me on those things is word count. Who knows, maybe I'll just stop thinking about such a thing and send them a buncha long shit. Heh, oh well.

9:06 PM  

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