Routine Breathing

Written by: TL on 03/09/2015 14:07:24

To anyone who has followed Jonny Craig since his rise to fame as the once singer of Dance Gavin Dance and Emarosa, one thing should be apparent: The man cannot stay away from trouble. In the latest drama, his newest band Slaves was booted off this year's already controversial Warped Tour following a sexual harassment issue with their own merch girl. Yet as loyal fans flocked to the group's merch site to support them in their time of need...... -they were able to continue onwards towards the recent release of their sophomore album "Routine Breathing". It makes it almost seem by now, like the band is starting to revel in their turbulent existence somewhat, scrappily finding ways to move forward through controversies.

With the band consistently being found in unfortunate spotlights, it is not really possible to listen to them in good taste, yet they continue to find considerable measures of success regardless. The reason obviously being Craig's much touted singing voice, which does indeed sound as great as ever when his signature raspy belting stretches and wavers at the top of his lungs, which it does a lot on "Routine Breathing". Stylistically, the album once more demonstrates the band's range of expression as stretching from their r&b inspirations to their foundation in the melodic post-hardcore scene - a range that comes to seem narrower than one could think from the way the band handles it.

Because frankly, Slaves, more than any of Craig's previous bands, is all about him - and particularly all about putting him in focus in soaring choruses and making those really surge. The band ably contributes a rather lush and detailed instrumental background in collaboration with producer Cameron Mizell - part symphonic epicness and part chunky post-hardcore heaviness. Yet background is the keyword here, as there's barely room to notice any signature riffs or inventive movements of note, simply because all the songs rush to lift up Craig's parts - as well as those of the handful of guest vocalists that are featured, as per the custom that bands in post-hardcore and metalcore have increasingly been adopting from the r&b and hip-hop scenes. In line with this custom, the guest features seem to be there primarily for name-dropping value, as Underoath's Spencer Chamberlain is the only one to make an impact, with his masterful growling complimenting Craig well on "Who Saves The Savior". Rapper Kyle Lucas makes for a pointless, Linkin Park-ish distraction on "Share The Sunshine Young Blood Pt. 2", The Colour Morale vocalist Garret Rapp is barely distinct as more than a pale imitation of Craig himself on "The Hearts Of Our Broken" and Dance Gavin Dance's Tilian Pearson's parts on the otherwise catchy ballad "Winter Everywhere" are frankly on the annoying side of overly sugary.

The real reason to even listen to "Routine Breathing" then, if it was not already clear as day, is to hear Craig croon his lungs out in one chorus after another. And this absolutely gets one-dimensional after a while, especially considering that the fifteen track album is way too long at plus fifty minutes, with the quality deteriorating steeply enough on the last four tracks in particular, that these might as well have been left out. The thing is though - and here's why Craig is still around in spite of everything: If you can isolate each song, and isolate the listening experience from your knowledge of his persona, Craig continues to sound pretty awesome when he does his thing. And this is even clearer on this new Slaves album, as the band, apart from their numerous shortcomings, have actually improved at consistently writing engaging and somewhat memorable choruses for Craig to sing. "As The Light Cracks The Foundation" greets the listener back after only one or two listens, so does "Running Through The !6! With My Soul", and both "The Hearts Of Our Broken", "Who Saves The Savior" and "Winter Forever" are songs that, regardless of the quality of their guest features, all can have you waking up in the morning with a chorus in the brain and the urge to put the track on and sing along.

Enjoying in "Routine Breathing" then, is a mixed exercise in addition and subtraction. It is obviously not a great album in any wholesome sense. There's extremely little diversity on offer, and you get the lingering sense that the band's instrumental side is imprisoned in a role as simple fluff for Craig to sit and sing on. Yet a quality chorus melody, sung by a Craig on top of his game, is more the rule than the exception at least through the first eleven songs. And there is an argument to be made that this makes the album more enjoyable, in a very immediate way, than some of the more well-intentioned, yet less hook-supplying albums that tend to drag home the medium grades around here. In short then: Slaves are far - as in quite far - from perfect, and it is difficult to listen to their "rallying" choruses, when what you read about them makes them anything but guys you can get behind. But isolated, strictly musically speaking, their strengths still make them a fairly enjoyable listen in measured doses.

Download: As The Light Cracks The Foundation, Who Saves The Savior, Winter Everywhere, Running Through The !6! With My Soul
For The Fans Of: Emarosa, Hands Like Houses, Issues

Release date 21.08.2015
Artery Records

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