A Loss For Words

Before It Caves

Written by: TL on 08/11/2013 14:52:58

With their first two albums - 09's "The Kids Can't Lose" and 11's "No Sanctuary" - A Loss For Words made a name for themselves as a band that was rooted within the pop-punk scene yet at the same time had a flash of personality that, if you squinted at it, could look like potential for bigger things. Combining singer Matty Arsenault's R'n'B inspired vocal hooks with beefed up melodic pop-punk, the Boston quaret's tracks have often proved deceptively catchy down the stretch, making expectations high for this year's follow-up, the ominously titled "Before It Caves".

Initial listens will soon reveal though, that "Before It Caves" has the feel of an album on which AL4W try to uproot from their home scene and make a - some would say logical and perhaps even necessary - takeoff to bigger spheres, narrowing the gap between the extremes of Arsenaults vocals and the energetic instrumentals, reigning in the ballsy guitar riffs somewhat and leaving the backing roars of the debut and the romp of "No Sanctuary"'s title track entirely out of sight. Effectively, the band now sounds less like an evolution from pop-punk and more like an attempt at establishing a personality in melodic modern rock at large. The development feels akin to what we saw Four Year Strong do on "In Some Way, Shape Or Form" and has the band now situated somewhere in between the Deaf Havana's and The Audition's of recent years, and the noticeable mellowing of the band's power and energy frankly means that more focus lands on Arsenault, who is relied upon to breathe life into the songs. A task he unfortunately does not handle with all too consistent results, often resorting to meekly drawn out tones and banal lyricism that fail to make striking impressions.

Content-wise, "Before It Caves" is ripe with band-life motifs, dealing with various frustrating aspects of spending long periods on tour for instance. Opener "Distance" is a highlight that employs a semi-catchy melody and female guest vocals from Lynn Gunn, in framing a dialogue between lovers trying to affirm each others' hope at the opposite end of phone lines. It parallels "Siesta Key", which reconciles a love for Christmas eves in Cleveland and 25th birthdays in Cardiff. These are both sympathetic, but feel a little forced, almost as if Arsenault is dealing with the band's own doubts about their career (Does the album title hint this as well maybe?).

Other songs are more judgemental, like "No Merit To Envy", which self-righteously condemns conventional normal-lifers and places Matty the musician on a pedestal. To its credit, Matty does some of the record's most powerful singing here, but otherwise the song feels relatively trivial. "No Pioneer" fares better then, calling out people who jump at trends, but mostly because Polar Bear Club's Jimmy Stadt comes in on a deliciously roughed up singalong part towards the end. His guest appearance is easily the best, overshadowing Dan Campbell's (of The Wonder Years) contribution to "Conquest Of Mistakes", on which he helps AL4W mimic his own band's bouncy sound slightly, backing Arsenault's proclaimed weariness with the random pick-up routine of the nightlife.

As touched upon previously, "Before It Caves"' chief drawback is that Arsenault's treatment of these topics - both lyrically and melodically - is more decent than particularly elegant, with most cuts stretching to be the kind you sing along to while they're on at least, yet never really sticking to the mind post-listen. "Distance", "No Pioneer" and "Siesta Key" are exceptions in my view, but these are unfortunately contrasted by the plainness of for instance the anonymous infatuation story of "Falling" and the supposedly angry "All This Time", which feels oddly lazy for a song directed towards someone who lead the narrator on.

Taking a view from the top, "Before It Caves" is a mixed experience then, but the overall impression really is that it never really peaks either very high or very low beneath the plain old "solid". The highlights I've mentioned redeem their faults by retaining some of the melodic knack that the band displayed in more abundance on previous albums, while the ones that aren't so well-endowed suffer noticeably from the kind of banal lyricism that inspires attention to seek elsewhere and hands to reach toward the skip button. The conclusion is rather flat then: "Before It Caves" is simply a bit of a letdown coming from the band that brought us the surprisingly replayable "No Sanctuary" only two short years ago.

Download: No Pioneers, Distance, Siesta Key
For The Fans Of: The Audition, Deaf Havana, Four Year Strong on "In Some Way, Shape Or Form", Transit
Listen: facebook.com/aloss4words

Release Date 10.08.2013
Velocity / Rise

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