Review Summary: A super impressive full-length debut with absolutely no filler, this is catchy pop-rock near its best. The Academy Is…’s time is NOT “Almost Here”… It IS here!
“Attention Attention” begins lead singer William Beckett’s Master of Ceremonies like vocals on this album’s opener, before he calls for “everyone’s eyes and ears to hear what he has to say… If only for one second”. And one second may be all it takes to get you hooked into The Academy Is…’s (T.A.I) debut full-length release ‘Almost Here’.
Following on from their rather disappointingly derivative and wordy self-titled EP, it is now clear why Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz quickly signed the band up to his Fueled By Ramen label. With pop sensibilities beyond his years, the former Remember Maine vocalist delivers a fantastic vocal hook on the opening ‘Attention’, while the guitars and drums do what they have to do in the background to allow listeners to be drawn into the most important moments of the track. Amazingly, things only get better as the album progresses!
Second single and track 3 ‘Slow Down’ is a real highlight as it begins with super smooth vocals that are initially methodically paced, but it is only to spotlight the catchiness of both the pre-chorus and chorus proper. This excellent cut also kicks it up a gear towards the end to finish off this top-notch song exceptionally. Not far behind it and not too dissimilar a track is the following 3rd single ‘The Phrase That Pays’. Another supremely catchy release, this will be sure to have you singing along, tapping your toes and “making plans to break plans”.
Where the self-titled EP had occasional impressive lyrics that were lost in amongst the sheer verbose quantity of them all, T.A.I have perfectly streamlined their songwriting here to better showcase their wares. Track 5 ‘Black Mamba’ is a perfect example of this as it interestingly sees the band take a shot at critics. Beyond that and more importantly though, they do not fall into the trap of concentrating so much on the vocals of a song such as this at the expense of the music. The trademark catchiness still exists here and the track has an impressive almost reggae-like shuffle to it as well.
The following ‘Skeptics and True Believers’ also plays to the band’s strengths while adding more dimensions musically and some simple variety through a more upbeat pace. All this and we have yet to hear the 1st single ‘Checkmarks’, which is arguably the rockiest track of the album and includes some real grunt without sacrificing the band’s pop sensibilities. It is also a perfect foil for what is to come next…
The penultimate track is the most fascinating on the album, especially from a structural viewpoint. ‘Down and Out’ initially seems as if the band have returned to their old ways of talk, talk, talk for almost 2 minutes, before surprisingly letting loose with what may be the catchiest (if most simplistic) chorus of the lot (and that’s saying something)! Pleasingly, this track also proves that T.A.I can more than ably fill out a 4+ minute piece, which is one criticism of the band.
And make no mistake about it, any unmentioned tracks thus far (the Fall Out Boy like ‘Season’, the lyrically clever ‘Classifieds’ and the infectious up-tempo rocker ‘Almost Here’) are in no way poor, it’s just that they are arguably not quite as noteworthy. They more than make for acceptable album tracks and that is probably understating their quality as it would not at all surprise if some listeners had one of them included in their highlights.
Finding imperfections on this fantastic debut album is tough going. Having only 10 tracks and being only 33 minutes in length may be the closest, but it is not a huge concern. I suppose variety could have been added by another ‘Down and Out’ like track added to the mix though. Musicianship isn’t outstanding, but it more than does its job and if this is considered to be predominantly pop music, then it is almost a bonus as it is like listening to pop with guitars and drums in the background instead of synths galore. No matter which way you look at it, this is one hell of a catchy, hooky & impressive release without a bad track to be heard. If there is justice in the music world, The Academy Is…’s time is NOT “Almost here”… It IS here!
Recommended Tracks: Slow Down, The Phrase That Pays, Down and Out, Attention & Checkmarks.