Review Summary: A fresh, though contrived, wave of emotion and power washes over Saves the Day with this concept album.
Pop-punk bands aren't very subtle anymore. Justin Pierre fights for all the high notes he can get, splaying self-sabatoge-induced angst all over the floor. Max Bemis bluntly tosses around snide remarks that would make Oscar Wilde himself shirk in a battle of contrived teenage wit. Matt Thessien feels obligated to scream "GOD RULES" every ten seconds, just in case people forget. Realistically, subtlety is one of the hardest things to pull off in music, especially in such a genre that stereotypically seems to favor commerciality over ability. Leave too much of it up to interpretation or refuse to take risks, and you end up being vague and boring; underestimate the listener's intelligence, and you might scoot right past "ambition" and smash head-on into "idiotic." Even when a band is able to settle into the elusive happy medium of tactless depth, luck still has a hand in to what extent that goal is achieved. To that effect, Durijah Lang's drumsticks must be made of rabbits' feet, because the new and arguably improved Saves the Day are just shy of perfect execution on their newest release, Under the Boards.
Following its predecessor, Sound the Alarm, Under the Boards is the second in a trio of concept albums chronicling the discourse of self-discovery. As Sound the Alarm was a brash outcry of discontent, this album represents the remorseful soul-searching that follows, and it shows. Dark undertones are common in this record, a diversion from the norm for the band; however, this detour is expected as a reflection of the band's acquisition of Glassjaw's own rhythm section, Manuel Carrero and Durijah Lang. Still, these and other quirks are embraced completely, strengthening the feeling of lost inner tumult and meditation this middle chapter represents.
Even from the album's introductory title track, Saves the Day set up quite a powerful flow of emotion behind their musical tapestry. Chris Conley's voice seems to have matured even more since Sound the Alarm, and he himself continues to grow as a singer; despite relatively simplistic melodies, a trademark of pop-punk, his vocals never become tedious like genre staples Billie Joe Armstrong's or Tom Delonge's can. Chinks in Conley's wall of sound are tough to find, but do make an appearance, such as his whiny shouts in the midst of Woe
. It seems as though Conley tried to overstuff the song with empathetic turmoil, yet ended up instead detracting from its impact with his irritating "Whoa"s. Even more curious, Chris sounds as if he has a cold through Get ***ed Up
's entirety, unfortunately deprecating an otherwise enjoyable song. Then again, Get ***ed Up
seems to be bubblegum fodder through-and-through, at least coming from latter-day Saves the Day (the band has remarked that the song may be the poppiest one they've recorded to date,) and takes its strength from strong, catchy musicianship and its innocent nature. Surely not the most creative subject matter, but as Conley sings the chorus of, "And every time I think about you, I get ***ed up, I feel like all the stars are falling inside my heart,"
empathy wells up from within the listener. Definitely a welcome throwback to the ages of yore for Saves the Day's style, yet also nicely integrated with dark evocation that embroiders the album. However, pop doesn't always work for their formula. Bye Bye Baby
is another very poppy track, but feels so much more out of place than its brethren, probably because it was recorded for release on arguably the band's darkest hour, In Reverie. Not only is it much more "happy" than the rest of the tracks, it seems quite shallow when compared to songs like Stay
, both better crafted and more thought-out (in fact, this applies to every song when compared to Bye Bye Baby.)
The lineup shifts in the band, consisting of Glassjaw's own Durijah Lang on the kit and Manuel Carrero on bass, are immediately noticeable on the album. Both rhythm replacements conform to Saves the Day's style quite nicely, but bring some of their own post-hardcore flair to the table. Every track gets a taste, but said flair is exemplified particularly in Under the Boards
and Lonely Nights
; both are reminiscent less of the band's usual sound, but more along the lines of more archaic Gatsby's American Dream work, or if I should be so bold, Thrice's Vhiessu. "Epic," although a phrase thrown around so much it may replace "emo" as the most annoying misnomer in history, describes both tracks effectively and succinctly. Lonely
's piano line is rather simple, but serves its purpose, complementing the raw power around Lang's drumming. The song closes on the same ivories resounding in silence, particularly in absence of their leathery contrapositive. Carrero's silky bass lines weave snugly between the heady guitar and stalwart drumming, adding a mellow, almost lackadaisical layer to the otherwise sharp and dynamic sound. Some may be simple, others rather complex (yet never "gimmicky," like some punk bassists tend to become,) but they always tie the rest of the rhythmic twill together in an almost foreboding blend of frigid pathos and warm grace that seems to wrap up the entire album.
Up until now, my reviews have always been introduced with the flimsy pretense of a "story." Something happens, there's a feeble tie-in to the band or CD, and the tale makes a cameo appearance at the end for a good wrap-up. However, this time I feel no need to add story to what already is being told by the music. Ardent, graphic, and even heart-wrenching at times, Saves the Day manage to communicate through Under the Boards what we have all at one point or another felt at the end of our ropes: the turmoil of finding yourself. Experience after experience knit together in an exotic quilt of emotion, from bright rage and brilliant zeal, to inky distress, drab apathy, and silvery pensiveness. That's what music should be, that's its unattainable golden ring. Something that not only you listen to, but something that envelopes you in its own little world, prompting a delve into your own that cannot be matched by empty sounds alone. It's too bad Saves the Day try a bit too hard to reach for that golden ring here.
Under the Boards
Get Fucked Up
Turning Over in My Tomb