Review Summary: The last three quarters of this record will certainly show that moderately generic pop punk acts should think twice before they attempt to change their sound; and yes I realize how bad that sounds.
When Cartel released Chroma
, their sugar coated and radio friendly blend of upbeat pop punk did not go unnoticed for very long. Their hit single “Honestly” and it somewhat witty video took the group from no names all the way up into a league of established mainstream pop punk acts. While never exploding as fast as say My Chemical Romance or Fall Out Boy; it seemed the second most of the world was hearing the name Cartel for the first time, their headline tours were being sold out. But it was only a matter of time due to Chroma’s sound, as it is a record difficult to ignore on a nice sunny day. Solid progressions along with vocal and guitar hooks by the bulk load and even some fun lyrical twists made for a smooth digestion. When it came time for a follow up, I certainly did not expect Cartel to branch out and take a whole lot of chances. Unfortunately, they felt the need to slow things down and create a record they are miles away from doing successfully. With some more indie pop sounds and undertones, the record does sound a bit more mature at first. But by the end of the day, Cartel’s attempt at a new sound turns disastrous as boredom plagues the latter half of the record.
When I first popped their self titled in, I was expecting to get hit with a burst of octaves and energy. Coincidently “The Best”
is a very slow and somewhat brief introduction track. Clean guitar, a slow pace, and a bit mind boggling at first considering the surprise. Their incorporation of the trendy introductory track works out decently before the expected faster, catchier and poppier “Tonight”
graces the speakers. The slightly more moderate pace than a typical Cartel song and the quiet, reasonably high riff during the chorus give it a bit more of an indie pop feel. Things sound very clean and a tad more mature as the band has blended a bit of a new touch into their trademark sound. First single “Lose It”
keeps the slightly indie pop vibe going along with the band’s classic pop punk sound. The vocal, drum, and bass mellow verse certainly sets up for a traditional ‘pick it up chorus’. Things definitely step up and with a more upbeat chorus and it is no surprise this was a choice for a single. While fairly generic and predictable is structure, it is still solidly performed well with its enjoyable rhythm focused grooves and strikingly catchy chorus leading the way.
That last sentence unfortunately does not sum up the rest of the record as Cartel continues to show their seemingly new sound. By new sound, I mean a tediously boring, lifeless, and ridiculously slow and uninteresting one. “I Will Hide Myself Away”
which clocks in at over six minutes tries to break the band away from their norm. Now this is definitely a decent idea for taking a stab at something new, but the band just is not at all ready to pull it off. Pretty much the same moderately spacey clean riff places through the first half and drums rarely switch their pattern up. Not even an enjoyable chorus attempts to take the song to new heights, as it drags on and seemingly ends around 3:50. Instead of going to the next track, another passage enters; a passage which sounds like a whole different song itself. This time the song writing is not generic, but more so poor. The slow vocal line exercises falsettos just about every three words for the first handful of measures. Without exaggeration this is one of the most annoying vocal melodies I have ever come across. But hey, it’s just a small cavity right? Unfortunately not, as this is really just the beginning of the end. Following it up is another mellow track in “Wasted”
. Lyrics really take the focus here as they bring up some intriguing points and even churn out some emotion. At the blink of an eye the lyrics go to cringe worthy with some lines going down to a trench as low as an average Simple Plan song. While the sampled drums during the track are pleasant, the inconsistency of the lyrics really drags the song down. Despite it all this is probably the strongest example of Cartel exercising the new sound. Cartel certainly tried to mix things up a bit. Unfortunately, neither of their ideas turned out to plan, as the tracks ended up boring or inconsistent.
In response, they go to their ‘fail safe’ new formula for the end of the record. Guess what, it still is not complete convincing and is even awful in some cases. The downbeat and slower sound continues with “Georgia”
. Opening with a fairly boring progression, the track quickly revealed a very full sounding prechorus with snyth leading the way. An enjoyable chorus with some powerful vocals marks a much needed change. The heavy effect layered guitar lead in the bridge is quite pleasant as well. While predictable in structure, the track is a much needed change for an album on its last limbs.
brings back their dull and poorly done slow sound and now the ending of the record has now completely fallen apart. I really do wonder why the band bothered extending out an already dull song to a length of five minutes. That’s an excessive length for their previous style. With this new slower and indie/alternative influenced sound, a song that length certainly makes me want to tear my hair out. They repeat the same spacey sounding guitar riff over and over as the track goes absolutely nowhere. Even the guitar solo in the middle seems pointless because of what lackluster material surrounds it. Repetitive vocal lines which don’t always work with this style, uninspired song writing, and a just plain tedious sound makes the ending half of this record one of the worst I’ve heard in recent times.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Chroma was far from an original album, but it was entertaining and enjoyable. Instead Cartel goes for a much slower sound on their follow up, sacrificing everything that previously made them interesting. Okay so that was the first impression after finishing this. After more listens, I realized that Cartel
not being Chroma part II wasn’t the reason why I despised it. I disliked it so strongly because it was a flat out boring record. Even with some twists and the sparing surprise, one cannot help but to feel that Cartel’s self titled album at its peak is Chroma slowed down 20-40 bpm with some alternative and indie undertones. Sadly, what starts off as a moderately promising album fusing a slightly different touch into things becomes an extremely boring and lifeless record. At its worst, Cartel
attempts to break from the standard pop punk formula and instead mindless wanders down a slower alternative and indie route serving up a never ending plate of boredom. Hopefully the next time they go for something new, the pick something they are capable of successfully creating. Music experimentation can have some trials and errors before success comes; Cartel
is an error alright.
No Subject (Come With Me)
Final Rating: 2/5