Review Summary: The most genuinely anguished description of modern America of the last few years.
For all the angst and darkness in popular post-hardcore of the last decade The Troubled Stateside is the most genuinely anguished description of modern America I’ve heard for a long time. Crime in Stereo didn’t content themselves with attacking ex-girlfriends or Bush when writing this album. The Troubled Stateside is a picture of personal and national failure, pettiness and hypocrisy and four years on it still retains the power to disturb where shallower albums have already lost their veneer of true anger. A genuinely political post-hardcore album has become something of a rarity and for that reason alone The Troubled Stateside is worth a listen but musically and lyrically this album is beautifully crafted to drive home its message.
Crime in Stereo comfortably embrace pure hardcore and more melodic and progressive strains of post-hardcore, occasionally sounding like a more politically minded Brand New or a less direct Strike Anywhere. Frequently the pace is set by breakneck drumming and hollered lyrics but The Troubled Stateside is an album defined by its atmosphere and fractured stop/start riffs are often joined with muted vocals to draw attention to vocalist Kristian Hallbert’s savage critiques of America. While the riffs are savage and complex and the insistent bass uses the moments of quiet to form an ominous backbone the instrumentation is always clearly background to the true heart of The Troubled Stateside, its lyrics.
Parts of The Troubled Stateside read more like a manifesto or a protest poem than songs, such as the ending lines of ‘I,Stateside’:
‘We'll fix the fat and ugly with incisions
We'll stash the gay and liberal up in New England
We'll keep the black and poor either in or under constant threat of prison
And we'll all feel blessed just for being part of the vision’
Luckily Crime in Stereo don’t fall into the trap of making grand meaningless statements.. The angry indictments are mixed perfectly with intensely detailed pictures of everyday desperation. For Exes takes the form of a message left on a phone, full of nostalgia and longing but the undertone of forced casualness in its final lines ‘All I want to do is waste some time with you/And drive the night away/ So if you get this message, call me back whenever/I'll be around all day’ is devastating. The tone is unremittingly despondent but couched in a mix of dark imagery and brutally concise scenes.
While the lyrics are intricately crafted and varied their grim view does become suffocating and this begins to affect the album and its not helped by the production. Kristian Hallbert’s style of strained yells and whispers requires close attention and this with the background texture of the guitars means songs can begin to bleed into one another. This is particularly apparent in the second half of the album, after the triumphant Gravity/Grace where the rallying cry of ‘Just say there is no fear in this heart’ acts as a heart to the entire album, the only real glimmer of resistance in the picture of drudgery and desperation.
The Troubled Stateside is a fantastic album, a wonderfully crafted and savage piece attack on modern America. It is one of the finest pieces of political post hardcore of the last decade but it can’t quite rise to true greatness. The air of disillusionment ultimately becomes overwhelming. The power of post hardcore is in catharsis and the key to catharsis is the sense of redemption at the end. The Troubled Stateside doesn’t come out with an affirming sense of hope – just a vision of a ruined country and a wasted generation, killed by lies and apathy. It’s a powerful vision but troublingly empty.