Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
Written by: TL on 29/05/2016 12:33:35
There are zero other bands in the music scene that succeed at anything like what Issues do. This realisation should dawn on anyone if they set out to write about the US quintet, whose unlikely success story began in 2012, after vocalists Tyler Carter and Michael Bohn had left one of the worst metalcore bands in memory, Woe, Is Me. They were met with critical skepticism when they debuted with the "Black Diamonds" EP, as their mixture of chugging metalcore riffage and sugary pop/r&b choruses, was at first perceived as somewhat crude. And yet, there was that chorus in "Princeton Ave" which you just couldn't ignore, and two years later the band returned with an eponymous debut that was ripe with so many similarly brazen hooks that the band suddenly had to be taken seriously.
Fast forward to now and it's time for the difficult follow-up, as Issues now have over 750.000 followers across Facebook and Twitter to satisfy. "Headspace" is the name of the new record meant to do so, and as mentioned it sounds like zero other bands in the music industry. For while mixing the catchiness of pop with various genres of -rock, -metal, and -core is something being tinkered with here and there, few have done it with quite as infectious results as Issues, and so far, no-one else have made it this big using djent-ish metalcore as the point of departure for the -rock side of their spectrum.
Yet that's exactly what makes Issues stand out: The metallic distortion is kept on AJ Rebollo's guitar, yet the melodies and the chugging patterns that he and bassist Skyler Acord engage in are now more of a hyper-modern melting pot of funk, jazz, and prog. So while drummer Josh Manuel counts steadily to four with his cymbals, Acord in particular counts to God knows what, weaving an unbroken stream of abrupt and unpredictable - yet unfailingly groovy - instrumental tapestry, with help from Rebollo and a variety of electronic flourishes injected in the studio by DJ Scout, aka. Acord's brother Tyler.
Then on top, there's the vocal exchange - clean versus harsh as per the -core genres' traditions - although it's the clean singing Carter who runs away with the show with ease, deploying a style that is unashamedly pop and r&b to a point beyond even what contemporaries like Tilian Pearson and Jonny Craig sing like in their respective bands. And that really is Issues' ace up the sleeve so far. Because even as novel and deliciously enjoyable as their instrumental backdrop is, the band's way of structuring things would inevitably get a bit repetitive down the stretch of an album, if it weren't ultimately held up by the top shelf quality of the choruses they build around, when these are at their best.
Eager to put its best foot forward thusly, the album prepares to send a salvo of honey-like stickiness the listeners way right after the initial funk-metal opening of "The Realest". Track two, "Home Soon", is perhaps the catchiest track in rock/metal so far this year, channelling a tiny bit of a similar gospel-vibe as did the prior album's closing track "Disappear". "Lost-n-found" ups the pace and capably carries the listener onwards to the next highlight, namely the cheekily titled "Yung & Dum", which shows more than any other tracks that Carter is no longer "Mad At Myself" like on the last record. The sunny, laid-back chorus of "Living the dream whoa-oh / living the lifestyle that we want.." is perfect for a summer playlist, sounding like something you'll be bluetoothing to your shitty portable speaker of choice every time you're near water this year.
As mentioned, though, "Headspace" as a whole has stretches, where you feel that Issues thrive mainly by their most fortunate hooks, and particularly the next triplet of songs sounds enjoyable, but also like a bit paler versions of what you just heard. And while "COMA" and "Rank Rider" pull things back up to a high, the impression lingers that Issues do have room to improve when it comes to imbuing a full album with more diversity and depth, instead of just compiling similarly styled single attempts. And it seems like the band knows this, yet have relegated such efforts to the record's rear end, beginning with the odd-track-out "Blue Wall", which omits a catchy component in order to rumble unsettlingly yet ultimately also a bit tamely against police brutality.
Things end a bit more promisingly with ambient track "I Always Knew" leading into closer "Slow Me Down", which has a more sombre, affected tone than anything Issues have been remembered for since "Princeton Ave", and here you get the impression of there being some blueprints for Issues to deal with some more serious, erhm.. Issues, to contrast the more lighthearted feel that "Headspace" is mainly characterised by. For the time being, though, Issues can rest easy while thinking of that as an advanced class they can consider graduating to in the future, content knowing that by nature of its best hooks alone, "Headspace" is a helping of r&b-metal that is both unique in the business and damn enjoyable to listen to at face value.
Download: Home Soon, COMA, Yung & Dum, Rank Rider
For The Fans Of: Dance Gavin Dance, Slaves, Normandie, Periphery
Release date 20.05.2016