I See Stars

Digital Renegade

Written by: BL on 06/04/2012 12:50:09

A year on from their rather misfired sophomore release, "The End Of The World Party", frontline electronica/post-hardcore outfit I See Stars are back with their third full album "Digital Renegade". A big talking point about their last album at least personally was the inclusion of some questionable themes that bordered on embarrassingly teen high school material, and not to mention how soft a large portion of their music had become which isn't a bad thing on its own until you consider the first part of this sentence. Perhaps the band felt a bit of this themselves or something, but "Digital Renegade" in many ways, feels a more natural followup to their debut than the last. It's a lot heavier, its full of dance electronics, and plenty of big pop rock choruses. Most importantly, it's cohesive and keeps a very modern face.

It sounds almost like a routine nowadays more than a musical recipe, but I See Stars were one of the main reasons this subset of post-hardcore became quite popular for many and as such if anything, are staying true to their roots here. When "Gnars Attacks" begins with the hardcore group chants, the dramatic strings, and the screaming, you know the trails of "The End Of The World Party" have been long left behind, and I See Stars mean a bit more business this time round. That said, it doesn't take long for lead vocalist/frontman Devin Oliver to get his soft magic going, his voice may be a bit high pitched and effeminate for some, but his talent as a singer should never be in doubt as he still manages to belt out a slew of catchy vocal melodies to offset the heavy sections. A track like "NZT48" meanwhile continues to showcase the band's seamless combination of guitar lines with all sorts of electronics, ranging from subtle little synth notes to bassy dubstep beats - something that mishandled can easily wreck songs. One thing you might also notice from this track that actually has a presence on quite a few of the tracks, is a slightly sombre, almost cold feeling coming from the guitar leads and the electronic ambience. I See Stars' best songs traditionally had this warm, almost soft heart underneath all the thick sometimes tough exterior, that at its most genuine felt uplifting. I wouldn't go as far to call it gone, for a while the album titled song "Digital Renegade" brings back that feeling back in flashes, that is ofcourse until you get to the unexpected ending.

The middle part of the album perhaps wanes just a little. "Endless Sky" wanders into Asking Alexandria territory a bit too much for my liking - keyboardist Zach Johnson (sounding a bit like Danny from Asking Alexandria no less, who guests on this song) screaming over a breakdown with the backdrop of big melodic synth lines is so familiar. Devin has some nice brief moments sprinkled throughout the song though when he isn't around you are left kind of waiting, hoping for him to return, since it's the incredibly stark contrast his vocals provide that keep the monotonous breakdown segments even bearable since they are so incredibly generic at best. "Underneath Every Smile" stuffs a bit more sing-a-long back in to some success, but the guitarists manage to liven up the final third the most with simple but effective riffing. "Mystery Wall" on the otherhand, sees the return of those almost gloomy wandering guitar leads from earlier which I actually quite liked, but doesn't really hit the right spot until the final minute. Surprisingly, something like "Ibelieve", the token interlude piece (there's always one), usually pops up around now to completely disturb the album flow. But because the whole album already features electronica so heavily, the pace of the interlude never drops too far below the other actual songs, and is a nice breather.

"Summer Died In Connersville" following on can be a bit of a hit or miss, it's probably the one song that still has an aftertaste of the previous album, the very liberal use of electronic vocal effects and cornier melodies may get too much for some. It's fortunate that the penultimate, and final songs "Electric Forest" and "Filth Friends Unite" end the album on a more respectable high. The former features Cassadee Pope of Hey Monday and has some deliciously enjoyable vocal interplay between Cassadee and Devin, not to mention a clever build up in the second half letting the song come alive just a bit more. The latter and last song does open predictably with more synth/breakdowns, but seems to abandon all reservations, and just rolls through everything that makes I See Stars who they are today, only with the same dark spin that's been the biggest dominating change throughout the rest of the album.

By the end I have little to persuade me otherwise that even with its noticeable flaws (heavier doesn't need to mean more breakdowns you know), and setbacks along the way, "Digital Renegade" is the best overall release I See Stars have managed to come up with thus far. If you were never convinced by electronic post-hardcore then it's unlikely you're going to change your mind now, but fans of the genre and I See Stars should be pleased for the most part as the band make a welcome return to form. Hopefully, this is an upward only progression the band will keep going til their next offering comes around.

Download: NZT48, Digital Renegade, Electric Forest
For the fans of: Asking Alexandria, Jamie's Elsewhere, Attack Attack!, Broadway
Listen: Facebook

Release date 13.03.2012
Sumerian Records

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