Review Summary: "To fully appreciate this masterpiece, one must take the time to listen to it through with lyric sheets in hand."
As a disclaimer I realise this review is hardly current and perhaps a little long but this is my first ever album review and one I feel I had to write. Any comments, criticisms, suggestions etc would be much appreciated..
Unfortunately for me, when I was first given Travels (the first I'd heard from Defeater) I was unaware that it is a concept album and thus listened to it as a neat collection of consistent post-hardcore songs. As a result my interest in the album was limited and while I enjoyed the listen, it did not grab me as I was told it would.
However, upon discovering that it is in fact a story, my interest was revived. I have a curious obsession with story telling albums (a huge fan of The Wall, Somewhere at the Bottom of the River.. and albums alike) and quickly set about deciphering this one. And was I in for a treat.
Travels tells the heartbreaking story of a man who grew up post World War Two in the Jersey Shore slums with each song acting like a chapter from a novel. As an adolescent the boy struggles with sibling rivalry and battles his drunken father in a bid to protect his mother. Eventually he runs from his fears and leaves for the city where he lives homeless on the streets and is tormented by his past. His travels take him to the country side where, inspired by farmers who cared for him, he decides to return home and confront his haunting past.
Lyrically the album is flawless. The story is easy enough to follow and much of the content reads like a book. To be fully understood however it must actually be read like a book in order to visualise the distinction between characters' dialogue and the narrator as changes in vocalist Derek Archambault's voice are often not distinct. Upon reading the story one will realise it has a lasting and powerful effect. The dramatic and fictitious nature of the story is of particular interest as it does not deal with issues that many listeners will be familiar with. In this way the album plays out much like a movie that requires listeners to accept characters without fully understanding or even relating to them.
Perhaps the greatest feat of the album is how this story is conveyed through the music. Musically the album is heavy. There are few quiet parts and driving bass, double kick and distorted guitars are consistent throughout. This is no criticism however. Heavy riffs, epic chord progressions and tasteful tempo shifts make what could have been just another hardcore album a very varied and enjoyable listen. As expected, the music compliments the intense emotions of the lyrics and gives them a very visual context. Repeated lines and half time/ double time sections emphasise key points in the story, a credit to the band's planning and song writing abilities.
[As a side note: for those who, like me, were at first confused by the seemingly random acoustic inclusion, this ditty is sung by 'The Prophet in Plain Clothes', a character the protagonist meets on the streets. This 'Prophet' is also interestingly the focus of Defeater's subsequent release Lost Ground]
To fully appreciate this masterpiece, one must take the time to listen to it through with lyric sheets in hand. Following the story through once will almost certainly fast track the repeated listens that is usually required to engage with a post-hardcore album. And repeated listens will be far more rewarding. Hopefully in doing so you can realise the musical and lyrical brilliance Defeater accomplish with this outstanding release.