Review Summary: Well, I heard their live show rules.
It’s fairly easy to want to like Aficionado. If they can be praised for anything, it’s their spunk; they’ve got a drive that resounds through their music. They grew up with classic rock, paid attention to the post-hardcore of the ‘90s, grounded themselves somewhere in the ‘00s, and sought out each other (there’s ten of them, if you were wondering) to create a band that could write an album like Circus Music
. This means that Aficionado’s drive also resounds through their influences, which prove to be the biggest problem on Circus Music
, an album that can’t seem to find a formula that it wants to fully flesh out. As musicians, the members of Aficionado know how to work their way around a hook, and Circus Music
, for all its theatrical, wham-bang freak-outs, is full of them. But they don’t necessarily know how to make them their own, and instead Circus Music
ends up sounding more or less like a mash-up of any band that Aficionado stack as influences.
Aficionado are recommended for listeners of The Polyphonic Spree, which is apparent in the marching band drum roll of “March of Welcome,” though it pays more tribute to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
than The Fragile Army
. They’re recommended for listeners of Led Zeppelin and The Mars Volta, which are evident in Aficionado’s reliance on electric guitars that gives the album its perfunctory spark, such as tracks like the muddled-guitar thrashes of “Magnified” or the deep-throated sprawl in “The Cellar.” “Search for Shelter” plays up a power metal core, which stands at odds with the descent into more of the band’s sprawling, horns-accentuated prog-rock hooks, so much so that Circus Music
is more The Dear Hunter than a rock outfit described as “if Led Zeppelin were members of the happiest cult on Earth.”
For having ten members, Circus Music
is made up of a pretty tight unit, complemented head on by vocalist Nick Warchol, who recalls (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on which demographic is most likely to find their way into Aficionado’s fanbase) a more robust Brendan Urie. Which isn’t surprising considering that Circus Music
plays off like a better version of Panic at the Disco’s own Pretty. Odd.
, though that isn’t saying much considering that it plays like a better Act II: The Meaning Of…
, too. Of course, there are moments when too many members at once, coupled with the flat production, break a song apart. “Deaf Ears” awkwardly traipses in on a flute and segues into more finger-licking hooks, while “Breathing Free” somehow finds itself a ska track dismantled by a bass line that won’t sit still.
There are moments when the album feels ready to become an homage to the band’s roots more than simply a rehash. “More Like a Machine” is inconsistent in being both, but its post-hardcore, Fall of Troy-esque opening riff is pretty cool, as is the atmospheric middle act that sounds like how Aficionado imagine Radiohead as a post-hardcore band would be. “Desolate Times” and “All the Wrong Places” are purely fun, the former for Warchol’s entrancing performance over some graceful songwriting (the horns here are excellent and understated). “Triumphant” though is either the band’s downfall or the guiltiest pleasure thus far, taking a stab at psychedlica amidst its crescendos and group chants. It reminds me to give credit where credit is due: Aficionado made Circus Music
all on their own, which explains the unflattering production, and with ten people, that couldn’t have been easy. But it doesn’t make Circus Music
any less so-so, an album that doesn’t just point to the “Recommend for…” list but slaps it in your face. If Aficionado can take this sound and make it something their own, they could create something great. For now, they might have to accept being the tween crowds’ idea of “something original.”