Since more or less abandoning post-hardcore and metalcore musings in favor of calm, intensely melodic and sweeping passages on their sophomore album Come Now Sleep
, Louisiana quartet As Cities Burn has been nothing short of an absolute wildcard. They haven’t exactly cemented themselves in one particular direction, resulting in a mixed bag of diverse, yet strangely connected, songs. This rings especially true for Hell or High Water
, an expansion of just about everything hinted at on the last album. In addition to elaborating on past staples like meandering guitar work and soaring vocals, new stuff has been thrown in to spice things up. There’s horns. There’s handclaps. There’s what sounds like very heavy chains being dragged across an old wooden floor. And there’s even a groovy, near danceable track. But don’t you fret, Come Now Sleep
fans. There are still droning songs with dreamy passages and almost (but not really) post-rock tendencies. There’s a lot to love here, but there’s not much you won’t forget the moment the album is over.
Hell or High Water
is all over the place. At times it’s happy and free-spirited (it’s hard not to get excited when the buzzing bass and upbeat tempos of opener “’84 Sheepdog” parade along), and at others it’s melancholy and subdued (see: the depressive nature of “Daughter”). And there’s feel-good rock numbers like “Petty” and “Pirate Blues”. The overall sound of the album has a slight indie feel to it, and perhaps that’s part of why it feels like an album despite being so varied. Another constant is Cody Bonnette’s passionate style of singing; his soaring vocals are a definite highlight throughout the entire record. His vocals are the only thing to save some of the tracks like “Into the Sea” that are completely boring otherwise. The aforementioned lack of any real direction for As Cities Burn both helps and hurts this album. Things like the variety of styles and occasional surprise like the sudden change of pace at the end of “Lady Blue” help to keep it interesting, but there is a feeling of uninspiration that seeps through the music more often than I’d like. There are times when the only interesting part of the music is Bonnette’s vocals, while the rest of the band seem to either play with extreme fatigue or apathy. Now, I understand that when the mood is droning and subdued that this kind of playmanship is intentional, but these moments still don’t hang around in my head after I listen, whereas other parts of the record do. Sometimes I just want the song to end, even if it’s only a minute or two in.
There’s no question that this record is brimming with creativity and charisma; it’s certainly helped As Cities Burn obtain their own sound, an enigma that has evolved from harsh post-hardcore tones to intricate guitar lines and dreamy passages to a product that includes all of the above (but very little of the former) and then some. One of my favorite things about this record is you can put it on in just about any mood. The problem is it only satisfies whatever mood that may be while it’s playing; boring moments render it difficult to retain anything after it’s over. However, there is still plenty to love here, and while Hell or High Water
isn’t their most consistent album, it’s certainly their funnest. It’s a shame the band is largely expected to break up now that the album has been released, because they are definitely on to something.
“Made Too Pretty”