The Lawrence Arms


Written by: PP on 20/01/2014 23:15:24

The Lawrence Arms are a staple within underground punk rock. Although they've never reached mainstream recognition to the extent of bands like NOFX and Bad Religion, mostly everyone who's been keeping an eye on Epitaph and Fat Wreck over the years will have run into this Chicago group before and have fallen in love with their gritty, surprisingly varied sound in the context of the genre. "Apathy And Exhaustion" from 2002 is arguably one of the best punk albums in the last decade; "The Greatest Story Ever Told" from 2003 is also widely respected; and "Oh! Calcutta" from 2006 is another fan-favorite. So needless to say anticipation and hype has been high considering sixth album "Metropole" is their first studio album in eight years....which immediately leaves two questions in the air. One, is it any good, and two, how does it fare compared to the rest of their back catalogue?

It's different. Remember the progression Rancid made from 2003's "Indestructible" to "Let The Dominoes Fall" after a six-year pause from recording? The change on "Metropole" shares many of the same characteristics. On one hand, it is still undeniably a Lawrence Arms record as you remember them: sublime vocal harmonies led by the alternating and contrasting vocal styles of Brendan Kelly and Chris McCaughan, thick and thumping bass lines providing rhythm to the Midwestern guitar melody, and songs that are decidedly basement punk in their nature, despite being played at much bigger stages these days. Yet you can tell the band are getting older. Brendan Kelly's voice is that much more smokey and scratchy than it has been in the past, and I don't think this is a production issue. Chris still sounds mostly the same - but that's because his vocal style provides the cleaner melodies.

The second aspect that has changed, at least with regards to "Oh Calcutta!" from eight years ago, is that stylistically the band are now playing a smoother and less aggressive style of punk rock. Where "Oh Calcutta!" had plenty of moments where it felt like the band were coming right at you sound wise, with halfway screamed vocals, and breakneck speed tempos despite their upbeat nature, many songs on "Metropole" are slower and more subtle in comparison. They feel more like tracks that could've been on "Apathy And Exhaustion", although the first three tracks "chilean District", "You Are Here", and "Hickey Avenue" together start the album in a high-octane manner. But once you progress further ont he album, it feels darker and less upbeat than its predecessor, which creates a mirage of increased depth on the album stylistically. "Seventeener (17th and 37th)" is perhaps the first song where you'll notice this change, but later on you'll have more examples of a more discreet punk rock sound than in the past.

The melodies are generally less obvious and require plenty of repeat-listening sessions to get into properly. Here's where it can quickly go wrong, however the reward comes when the songs start clicking with you as you listen along and leave a few days for the album to breathe before returning to the songs again. Which means you can breathe a sigh of relief - "Metropole" continues the string of awesome punk rock that this band has been known for throughout their career. It might not be on par with "Apathy And Exhaustion" or even "Oh Calcutta!", because it's less of a bright and instant sing along album, but it's also a sign of subtle evolution in the band's songwriting preferences. Lawrence Arms fans should come in expecting more or less the same band as they grew up with, but not an identical sound.


Download: You Are Here, Seventeener (17th and 37th), Drunk Tweets, The YMCA Down The Street From The Clinic, Paradise Shitty
For the fans of: Dillinger Four, Rumspringer, The Holy Mess, The Flatliners, Banner Pilot
Listen: Facebook

Release date 23.01.2014

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