“Intelligent hardcore” is not a phrase you hear often. In fact, the words seem to comprise a serious oxymoron, just like the term “happy hardcore”. But, humor aside, The Letdown excels at the aforementioned genre of intelligent hardcore. In fact, I hope they start a movement with this EP.
The odd moniker of the genre is explained when you look at the song titles. One is in French, and another contains a word you’ve never heard before: semaphore. Take a glance at the lyrics, and you’ll understand even better. These guys are very intelligent and can write extremely well. Their lyrics are truly poetic, as most actually rhyme. They give their take on three topics mostly: love, death, and society. They bitterly cry for their love life, even though they never say the word love. When talking of death and society, they are violent, using graphic, vivid terms to portray their emotions. Yet they never curse, showing that you can be hard without being coarse. They are so good that that I read all the lyrics in succession, which I don’t ever do.
Musically, it’s hardcore with some tipping of their proverbial hat to its roots. It’s basically your average melodic hardcore: a mix of screaming and singing over thrashing riffs and subdued melodicism. It throws in some tender moments, and some other non-hardcore moments, but it doesn’t break much new ground for the genre. Then again, it sounds good, and it’s basically a vehicle for the vocals and lyrics anyway. The vocals which deliver the passionate writings that I talked of earlier are varied throughout. They manifest themselves in various states of frenzy and calmness, but they are always excellent. Their backup vocals are very well done as well, solidifying the feel the lead vocals give off. The powerful breakdown of “This Form of Murder” and the all-out frenzy of “A Contour in Lipstick” feature the best The Letdown has to offer.
Contrary to their name, The Letdown is highly exciting. To the person who listens to hardcore often, this will be nothing new, but good nonetheless. But to the occasional hardcore listener, there will be a plethora of stuff to investigate here. Great lyrics, thrashing riffs, singing, screaming, and all the power to pull it off with gusto. Hardcore has been given a bad rap, as a genre for people who hate everything, have no lyrical talent, and only enough musical talent to thrash angrily. But there is hope. The road that leads to hardcore getting the respect it deserves begins in the recovery room.
Ah, the independent band. When I received this demo, it was at a show, where I had it semi-forcefully shoved at me. I took it, and by the time I noticed it was a cd, the band (all two of them) were off attacking, er, giving out their demo to every other breathing, pulse-bearing tenant of the venue. Hopefully, this rough introduction was not a measure of the eloquence this band possesses.
Oris is a powerhouse. Born on a grunge base, it can kick your face in. But that’s not what makes it so amazing. It’s the other stuff they add in that kicks it up a notch. There’s so many of them that this is like Emeril Live, musical style.
Some wild guitar kicks this into overdrive from the start. A second guitar and a bass line turn “Guns” into a grunge barnburner with an artistic of overlay of pleasingly dissonant melody. It’s a whirling, twisting, chaotic endeavor that sucks you in instantly. The vocals are reminiscent of Thom Yorke, a droning, moaning, melodic wail plastered over the soundscapes; A voice which that causes people to shiver and shake in awe. “Guns” is so haunting and angst-ridden that if a suicide could be put to music, this would be it. The rest of this album is just like that: haunting, powerful, and delivered with a steady hand. The bass pulses out a perfect rhythm for the guitars feed off, and the vocals just lie down on top of it all and instantly mesh perfectly. As if that wasn’t enough, they fill their songs not only with conventional instruments, but with heavy distortion, the sound of rain, and other electronic noises to make the sond as thick as possible. These songs range from the grunge stylings of the aforementioned “Guns” to the soft, pretty, Coldplay meets Train feel of the closer “Here Today”. In fact, the CD is a logical progression from hard to soft. That seemingly small touch just compliments the musical genius that Oris possesses. Yes, you heard that. Oris has a musical genius not seen since the likes of early Radiohead and Nirvana. And if that sounds like it’s a bit pretentious for an indie rock band, that’s cause it is. They’re just that good.
Radiohead (OK Computer era) + Smashing Pumpkins + Coldplay = Oris. Need I say more?
“Fast Pop Emo” is what The Awkward Romance plays. I can agree with that label. It’s poppy, it’s emo-ish, it turns punk at times, and it’s mostly fast. But so is lots of other stuff. So why does this stand out? Well, it doesn’t, really.
“Blue Sunday” sets off the fantastically named “We’ve Never Heard of You Either”, and it has a hooky, accessible intro which unfolds into a hooky, accessible pop-punk song. The vocals are high, a bit forced, and whiny, but they are used well here and don’t detract too much from the song. This is one of the best tracks, if not the best track, on the album. The rest of the album plays out like a nightmare, a dream that has a good premise but is convoluted into horrific twists at every turn. They feature three vocalists, and that in theory is pretty cool. The sad part is, the two they use the most are very sub-par to the one they use for “Blue Sunday”, and they ruin almost every single song on the album. They sing out of their ranges, out of key, and out of their minds, apparently. This is saved from an automatic F by the fact that the bassist and drummer have talent to spare. The bassist has a technical prowess that is enviable by most bands today. He can write a hook (dare I say) better than their guitarist. His walking lines don’t just walk. They run. He also plays with a musicality that is highly uncommon in today’s musical scene. The drummer backs him up perfectly, infusing these pop/punk (note the slash, which means the two are separate) songs with a creativity and intensity that only a drummer can create. Their guitarist is proficient, but as a hook writer, he’s not the greatest. He can write a great intro (nearly all of these songs have ear-catching intros), and he can solo (he displays a powerful one on the end of “My Epiphany”), but the hooks are just average. This quirk in their playing leads to songs that catch your ear, then don’t go anywhere, or if they do go anywhere, it’s down. Along with three vocalists, they have multiple lyricists, and while each has his own personal style, none of them are particularly spectacular. The topics run the gamut from some small angst to girls to religion and back, which is nothing we haven’t heard before. Besides “Blue Sunday”, the one song that works together perfectly (and features a coherent vocal track) is the short song “I’ll Name It Later”, which features the punch all the other songs were missing directly after the intro.
I started this review with an open mind. It’s not like I said: “Ha, I haven’t written a killer review in a long time…let’s screw THEM over!” The Awkward Romance has some great things going on instrumentally, but the vocals just hurt them so much. Maybe it was the performance. Maybe it was just the recording. I don’t know what it is, but something’s gotta change.