Saturday, April 12, 2014

If You're Down, I'm Down EP - Dear Misguided

Dear Misguided are back at it again. A little more than a year after their first full length release Hold This Against Me, they're releasing their latest EP, If You're Down, I'm Down. This new release shows that the band is determined to explore ideas and fine-tune the sound they've been working on since they began. They were able to record the EP last November at an industry standard studio located at Chico State University, and that reflects on the improved quality of the recording as compared to their previous home-recorded work.

The EP starts out with "Sleeping Sound", which, like its title suggests, begins the album off with a low-key mood of soft drums, clean guitars, and smooth vocals. It has a melancholy tone to it, but is not depressing; the subtle bass line and drums keep things from falling into despair. When the bridge kicks in however, the band picks up the intensity and the song really begins to shine as lead singer David Hollenbeck jumps an octave and begins a passionate plea to the song's subject. The rest of the song feeds off this intensity, and it results in a solid opener for the EP. It then slips into "It's My Fault, But You're Wrong and I Hate You" a more upbeat and bright sounding song. It opens with a ethereal sounding synth, but quickly kicks into the drum-driven rest of the song. Right before the chorus is some evidence of the recording environment they had access to, because of the professional and awesome sounding fade from the verse into the instrumental version of the chorus. The chorus, with vocals, is the highlight of the song, with the slick gang vocals and tight instrumental that gives off a more mature and grown up sound than the "fun" songs of their debut album. "Keep It To Yourself", the next track on the album, brings the energy level back down to the more mellow levels of the opener. It serves as middle ground in terms of the mood of the previous two tracks, taking a more upbeat approach while sticking to a quieter overall sound. The vocals are a focus point of this song, with them coming in loud and clear over the crashing drums and guitar lines. David has dual vocals, which add a sense of depth to the song and gives more emphasis to them.  The bridge is especially memorable, with a sweet guitar line that sounds a bit like something Walk The Moon would do building the energy until the rest of the band comes crashing in. Finally, the EP finishes off with "*You're", a strictly acoustic tune who's title plays on the common error made with your/you're. The song has a lullaby sort of tone to it, with the picked and strummed guitars providing a gentle sway as the vocals come in softly over them. That doesn't mean it will lull you to sleep, however, with a slow building of the guitars gives the song a little edge to keep the listener intrigued. It's a fitting end to the EP, bringing things down to a soft, yet angsty end as Hollenback wishes he could go home and get away from the person he sings about for the rest of the song.

Overall, this EP showed a lot of improvement from their debut, which is good and expected. Having a professional quality studio helped, but the tracks definitely had a more mature and adult sound than was present before. The lyrical content helped this as well, taking on a darker nature and touching on some sad and raw sounding lyrical ideas. The indie nature of the band shines through, and the tracks flow well together, all drawing from a more consistent vibe then the debut album managed at points. This is another sign of why this is a band to continue to watch, with their continued growth and tightened sound showing through more and more clearly.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended: Sleeping Sound & It's My Fault, But You're Wrong and I Hate You

Related: Death Cab For Cutie, Walk The Moon, From Indian Lakes

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Issues - Issues

I'll be honest, I haven't really given Issues much of my attention. I enjoyed their version of Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend", but hadn't entirely enjoyed the rest of their material. However, I saw that their debut self-titled album had released, and after hearing some news about it, decided to give it a listen. I also listened to their Black Diamonds EP to familiarize myself with their kind of sound.

Upon first listen, I was actually somewhat impressed with the first full-length record from Issues. It seemed that they settled on a sound and took it from there, for the songs from Black Diamonds seemed to be a bit too disconnected in terms of musical elements. Issues takes the hybrid elements that the band experimented with and integrates them further into their core metal sound. Songs like "Mad At Myself",  "Tears On The Runway Pt. 2" and"Late" incorporate a large amount of electronic elements, from glossy synths to drum machines. "Late" is the closest thing to a "mellow" song you can get on the album, thanks to the heavy presence of dance-synths, electronic drums, and even occasional acoustic guitar. However, that doesn't mean that you can't rock out to it, for it has its fair share of roaring guitars and blistering drums. "Tears On The Runway Pt. 2" is in the same vein as Late, although it almost takes on a hip-hop vibe during the first verse. The guest vocals by Nylo add a deeper emotional dimension to the song, as well as Tyler Carter's emotion-driven vocals, which trade the yelling and intensity he channels in most of his songs for a sense of vulnerability. "Mad At Myself" has a similar sound to the majority of the album, blending pop-sensible vocals with blistering instrumentals and floating synth lines. Especially on this track, Carter's vocals sound a lot like something you'd hear on the radio, almost like something Justin Bieber would do. That's not a negative comment; the vocals are just very catchy and melodic.

The band isn't afraid to hit things hard though. Songs like "Stingray Affliction" and "Never Lose Your Flames" still utilize clean vocals, but get down and gritty for the duration of the songs. They also stray away from tenderness, and come off aggressive, at least in terms of the instrumentals. "Never Lose Your Flames" has an anthemic feel, with the title becoming a cry for the kids who struggle in life. There is a nice back and forth nature within the vocals, alternating between Carter's pop-sensible voice and Michael Born's deep guttural roaring. "Stingray Affliction" is one of the heaviest tracks if not the most gritty. The roaring guitars, the growling screams, and the occasionall scratching come together to give you something to headband along to. The chorus has that polished factor thanks to Carter's vocals and the high synth line, but it is mainly geared towards a more intense and darker sound.

As much as I like some of the songs and their mixing of elements from various genres, sometimes it doesn't quite work out so well on this album. Songs like "Life Of A Nine" and "The Langdon House" don't flow so well, both within the songs and in terms of the album as a whole. "Life Of A Nine" opens with incredibly low guitars and throat ripping screams, but on the verses switches into rapping, which is very tricky to incorporate into metal music. It's not bad and it only last for a few moments, but I feel it takes away from the song, which overall is quite good. The only song I didn't like flat out was "Personallity Cult", which according to Carter is a calling out to Memphis May Fire. It's just trashing what Matty Mullins tries to talk about, and comes off as fairly immature. 

Overall, this was a solid record for a debut album. I didn't have much interest before, but I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for more from these guys.

Rating: 6.5/10

Recommended: Never Lose Your Flames, Late, Stingray Affliction

Related: Dangerkids, Memphis May Fire, Bring Me The Horizon