Review Summary: La Dispute are still screaming your name - in unison this time.
Since I've grown up, I have never once yearned for my childhood. No matter what problems adult life has placed in my path, they only serve to affirm that I no longer have to deal with learning lessons and being punished and blundering into awkward situations just because I don't know any better. Paying bills may suck but it also means that I'm my own person, that I have responsibilities that keep me grounded. When I think back to my childhood, I'm just glad that I'm not there anymore. And I'm especially glad that for the most part, those times exist in nobody's memory but my own. Those pages of my story have long since been left behind, never to be revisited. But sometimes I wonder: Who out there remembers a few of those humiliating moments from my childhood?
And however irrational it may be, I am always deeply embarrassed at the thought.
I'd imagine it's much the same for bands who got their start during their late teens and early twenties, only much worse. Adolescent yearnings, awkward poetry, painful memories: all these and more have been documented and distributed to thousands of people. But unlike my own memories of adolescence that fade more every day, there will always be someone out there still listening to the oldest items in a band's catalog, there will always be people who come to concerts and shout requests for songs that were written years ago during a completely different time in the writer's life. So if a young band wants to record an album, they'd better be damn sure that it won't embarrass them a few years down the line.
Still though, I suppose there's something to be said for a band refusing to tone down their honesty, no matter how off-putting it may be, and in general, I don't think that La Dispute have much to be embarrassed about. However, for every La Dispute fan who found solace in Jordan Dreyer's overbearing vocals and big-heart-on-a-very-small-sleeve lyrics, there were others who simply couldn't take them seriously. And there were yet others, like myself, who fell somewhere in the middle – not enamored but not disgusted either. There was potential in Somewhere At The Bottom...
, even if that potential was squandered at every turn by a vocalist who had a hard time shutting the fu
ck up and letting the band do what they do best. For all the praise La Dispute fans heap on Dreyer, the musicians are really the ones holding this band together, and they were what kept me listening in the times where I'd almost had enough of lyrics containing the word “darling.”
though, Dreyer and the band have learned how to work together and complement each other, a progression that started with the latest in the Here, Hear
series, and their skill is now readily apparent after being hampered for so long. The only song that showed this kind of maturity on Somewhere...
was “The Last Lost Continent,” the penultimate twelve-minute long track. Ill-advised as it may have seemed, the song was the crowning achievement of the album. Dreyer's contributions were made stronger for their relative scarcity; his words and voice held more power after the musicians were allowed to lock into a groove without him wailing over them. It's probably the one song they look back at fondly, considering that they brought those same ideas to the studio to record this album. The music is as groove-oriented as ever, and Dreyer no longer steals the spotlight every chance he gets. Don't be fooled by the wind chimes in opener “A Departure”; along with “Harder Harmonies,” it shows just how literal its title is, aided in part by the production, which blends all the elements together and makes the album seem much more cohesive than Somewhere...
did, where individual components were highlighted to the point that the album seemed like a collection of shouts and cool guitar parts rather than songs. “A Departure” brings more attitude to the table than all of their former releases combined, and if you listen closely to the track's end, you can hear the wind chimes fall to the ground as if the string holding them up was cut.
, more than anything, should be a wake-up call for post-hardcore bands. There are big ideas here, as there have always been in La Dispute's music, but the difference is that this time, most of them stick. Instead of the ridiculous lyrical wheelhouse of songs like “Said The King To The River,” Wildlife
is much more akin to “Eleven” from Here, Hear III
– lyrics that speak not of the heartbreak of teen years but of the heartbreak that comes from seeing your home state fall apart. Dreyer's lyrics are still always rooted firmly in the personal, but it's not just his paltry experiences that he's describing. He's branched out admirably, attempting to expand the social commentary of “Eleven.” It makes it less ridiculous when he does venture into old territory, like on “The Most Beautiful Bitter Fruit,” a song that has lyrics that are somewhat awkward but are off-set by the other songs on the album. Instead of being just another song about lost love on a record full of such songs, it is heartbreaking and honest, a thoughtful look back instead of a real-time journal entry. Or maybe it's just that as a band, La Dispute are so amazingly in sync on this record. The chord progressions in “A Poem,” “Edward Benz, 27 Times,” “St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church Blues,” and “King Park” are all amazing and wonderfully unique for this type of music. The music is so much more expressive than it was before, managing to say almost as much as Dreyer does with his words.
I see now that by the time Somewhere...
was released, La Dispute were most likely already moving on from that record and those songs. I think they realized how green they sounded, how easily their youth and energy and desire to touch people could be misconstrued when delivered in a manner so raw and open. There was no subtlety, no tact; put simply, they were a band who didn't know any better, blundering forward the only way they knew how and not realizing that it might be the wrong one. Wildlife
is a torch held to a sepia-toned picture of chimes hanging from a deck on a breezy day, a fresh start from a band whose wide eyes are no longer a sign of immaturity but of growing up, of seeing the world for what it really is – not an immutable collection of young love and heartbreak, but a landscape that can be torn wide open and changed through music.