La Dispute are evidently a very 'hit or miss' band. Going by comments and reviews there seems to be those who absolutely adore this post-hardcore outfit's debut album and those who despise nearly everything about it. I’m going to generalise here and say one of the root causes for this is due to La Dispute being “trendy”, however I know this will be thoroughly denied. Fans who aren't well seasoned in hardcore (i.e. "hipsters") are known to fawn over this release relentlessly, and perhaps the purists deem it unworthy because of this. That isn't to say the critics of this album are simply being contrarians as this album is definitely not flawless - it's far from it. There are certainly generic and boring qualities scattered throughout the album, which may better account for the album's polarising nature. But despite its flaws, there is no arguing against the fact that Somewhere At The Bottom Of The River Between Vega And Altair
displays some of the most emotional vocal performances in post-hardcore, which drives this album to great heights. The extent to which this emotion resonates depends on how much you allow it to.
When shouting, the vocalist, Jordan Dreyer, sounds not unlike Modern Life Is War's vocalist, except Dreyer seems to be on the verge of a teary breakdown throughout his performance. When singing, his vocals basically quiver like a contemptible weakling
. Dreyer effectively alternates between his spoken vocals, singing, half-barking and massive bellows, emphasising particular words and phrases to deliver extremely passionate vocals drenched in desperation and angst whilst remaining intelligible. Dreyer’s performance is definitely the highlight for me, although they tend to be awful during his spoken sections. The ones found practically through the entire duration of “Fall Down, Never Get Back Up Again” and those during the opening seconds of “Andria” are good examples of this and they are particularly nauseating.
The lyrics found on this album are quite sappy (understatement LOL) and undeniably melodramatic, taking issues of broken relationships and insecurities to often ridiculous proportions by flooding them with what could easily be perceived as cheesy metaphors. But when Dreyer is pouring his heart out while delivering this story, the silliness simply does not matter, as his anguish always seems genuine. Dreyer even admits that maybe he is being a bit
over dramatic during an honest and moving passage situated about half way through the album's twelve minute epic, “The Last Lost Continent”. Despite its cheesiness, you can tell there was quite a bit of thought put into these lyrics; they have a distinct narrative and poetic style that is executed well for the most part. As “Nobody, Not Even The Rain” comes to an end, it feels like everything unleashed in the opening track is being nicely tied up.
This sounds all good, but after the first three songs the album begins to stumble and falter. Why? I feel it’s due to the instrumentation. Not that it is bad, it’s generally very adequate. The music typically shifts through clean melodic sections, often reminiscent of Circle Takes The Square (such as the intro to “Last Blues For Bloody Knuckles”), to more dirty southern-tinged hardcore riffs. During the melodic sections, I found the drumming to be quite impressive, with the bass also taking this opportunity to make its presence known. Occasionally there are sections you would expect an artist labelled as “progressive” or “experimental” post-hardcore to implement; nothing particularly fancy but often entertaining.
The reason why I believe songs like “Damaged Goods” suffers is that it plays too conventionally. These types of songs are filled with generic hardcore riffs, which may have worked well on any other artist, but not here; they just disrupt the songs’ flow. This is coupled with more hardcore clichés such as gang vocals - which do nothing but dampen Dreyer’s emotional intensity. Luckily gang vocals are relatively infrequent. La Dispute clearly plays better during their melodic sections, “Such Small Hands” is a good example of this as well as a portion of “Bury Your Flame”, which provides one of the stronger verses in the album. But after the melodic section in “Bury Your Flame”, the remainder of the song swiftly succumbs to the qualities which made songs similar to “Damaged Goods” sub-par. The third last song, “Sad Prayers For Guilty Bodies” is where I believe the album picks up again and is consistent throughout its duration. The heavier sections work in this song, just like they do in earlier songs such as “Said The King To The River” because they just complement the vocals so well; matching their volatile, urgent and dramatic nature rather than playing against it.
There is a lot to dislike about La Dispute, if you aren’t into the vocals and aren’t awash with angst, or if you aren’t feeling like a whiny little bitch; I doubt there is any appeal here. After three strong tracks, the album seemingly begins to sink and the strong moments are only found sprinkled throughout the album in small doses, before rising back up towards the end. That isn’t to say the middle of the album is terrible, it’s just inconsistent. As an album, Somewhere At The Bottom Of The River Between Vega And Altair
suffers due to being soaked in these inconsistencies, and perhaps even its length, but even the more shallow tracks can be seen as potentially great out of this album’s context, especially if you are a post-hardcore fan. Maybe I won’t like this album in the future as much as I do currently, but as of this moment the strengths of the album outweigh the weaknesses enough to provide an enjoyable listen and the album simply caters to my needs.