Review Summary: Maybe music isn't dead, maybe we all just forgot what it sounded like.
Chances are, if you're heard any Alexisonfire album, you've heard their platinum-certified Crisis,
an album that became explosive in Canada, mostly riding on the success of the lead single 'This Could Be Anywhere in the World.' While it's impossible to discredit the positive aspects of Crisis
, it's important to know that before there was Crisis
, there was Watch Out!
: a complexly structured, atmospheric whirlwind of a post-hardcore record that easily eclipses any of Alexisonfire's future and past work. Built on the dynamic of Alexisonfire's three vocalists (George Petit, Dallas Green and Wade MacNeil), Watch Out! succeeds on many levels; most notably in the way that each musician feeds off each other, marrying thick and heavy atmospheres with soaring crescendos and up-tempo progressions. The unusual and unconventional structure of Watch Out! makes the record perhaps less accessible album than Crisis
, but if the listener is willing to buckle down and discover the clever little nuances that make Watch Out! a success, they will simply fall in love.
I realize that opening up a review with such amorous praise would mean that I would have to consequently back up my acclaim with factual evidence, but frankly, that won't be too difficult. Lead single and opening track 'Accidents, while having great lyrics (which is something to be touched up on later) and being a curious choice for a single, is simply a great track. Opening up with a simple, but undeniably catchy guitar riff, it explodes into a fast-pased fracas led by the dueling vocals of George Petit and Dallas Green before lulling itself into a strangely ethereal interlude led by a damp-sounding kinetic bassline (courtesy of the ever-talented Chris Steele). The interlude dominates about a third of the song and, with the exception of a catchy chant line, is completely instrumental. Throughout the album, Alexisonfire proves their ability to pair catchy, expansive climaxes with soothing, evocative recesses, and 'Accidents' is a keen example of this. The out-of-the-box songwriting ultimately makes Watch Out! an unpredictably enjoyable ride -- it skims off a lot of the fat that a verse-chorus presentation produces and it is wholly rewarding.
Other songs that masterfully utilizes the aforementioned dynamic include 'Control' and 'It Was Fear of Myself That Made Me Odd', with the latter being the crown jewel of anything Alexisonfire has ever done. With rollicking clean guitar tones, Green casually starts the song with a mesmerizing passage ("And I exhale, causing the oceans' endless waves") that alluringly ropes the listener in before a playful guitar lick comes in and catapults the song into an explosive display of emotion and climactic melodies. 'Side Walk When She Walks', while not nearly as impressive, works in the opposite way: the song, entirely sung by Green, starts with a monumental chorus ("Dressed to kill, you look right, I am drunk with lust tonight") and plays with loads of strange dynamics before ending in an almost paranormal fashion, with Green's unplugged vocals and guitar slowly carrying the song peacefully into the ground.
Each member contributes to the best of their ability and no musician in Alexisonfire can be credited to "slacking off" or being "lost in production." Lead vocalist George Petit offers thick, decipherable screams throughout the entire record, and while he may not have a terrific range, his voice is perfectly suited for the band and he knows exactly when to shut up. Dallas Green and Wade MacNeil trade off between lead and rhythm parts, concocting a formidable palette of ambience (see 'Happiness by the Kilowatt') or toe-tapping riffs (see 'Hey, It's Your Funeral Mama'), depending on the situation. It's also worth mentioning while MacNeil's vocals are gruff and complimentary, Green's vocals just may be one of the strongest vocalists in music today, with his every melody and harmony constructing gargantuan hooks, brimming with conviction. Bassist Chris Steele is ever present throughout Watch Out! and on particular songs (Accidents, Sharks and Danger) his noodling basslines take the spotlight and ultimately succeed in impressing. Lastly, drummer Jesse Ingelevics (who is unfortunately no longer part of the band), while not being an incredibly proficient master of rhythm, is likely the most creative member of the band -- his use of unusual cymbal combinations, unconventional fills and often strange composition makes him easily a highlight of Watch Out!
Of course, Alexisonfire are by no means a weird
band, they just have a lot of nuances that make them stand out from their contemporaries; for instance, their lyrics. I can't image who writes them (I imagine that it's a group effort) but they are nothing short of great, if not unusual. 'Accidents' documents hospital anxiety ("Do they even cure us, or is it just to humor us before we die?"), while 'That Girl Possessed' is written of The Exorcist's Linda Blair ("You painted a picture so graphic that no one could see past it"). However, the best cut would be from the penultimate song 'Get Fighted,' which documents the band's stance on music and the 'scene' that's been created out of the very genre they're part of. In the musical epitome of the album, Petit yells over the chaotic musicianship that "maybe music isn't dead, maybe we all just forgot what it f--king sounded like". The song truly is an anthem for the oversaturation of the genre, and the abundance of false claims. After all, as George puts it:
"Because this *** is not about pants
And this *** is not about shirts
And this *** is definately not about hair
This *** is about having a good f--king time"
, Alexisonfire, for putting out a record that knows how to have fun ("Hey, It's Your Funeral Mama" is actually a song about go-karting) and how to be an emotionally engaging experience ("Happiness by the Kilowatt") -- but mostly, for putting out a record that knows how to balance out the two. Watch Out! is moody without becoming overwrought, nonchalant without being arrogant and tastefully restrained without becoming boring. While it's unfortunate that Alexisonfire has taken a more digestible route with Crisis
(a path they will most likely continue on), it's still a pleasure to hear a dangerously addictive album, no matter what decay Alexisonfire may experience further down the road. Watch Out! is a marvel of musical craftsmanship, and so shall it always be.