Review Summary: Conversation Piece serves as a definitive time capsule of the best that post-hardcore has had to offer throughout the years.
The idea of change is initially an exciting prospect, but after the dust settles it’s rather disquieting. When orienting yourself with a particular idea over time, having it snatched away in an instant is an experience that can leave you feeling numb. It truly takes guts to step away from the calming comfort of staying true to what comes most instinctually, especially when the ground under your feet has shifted vastly. A Lot Like Birds
know this phenomenon quite well; the process of shuffling through vocalists doesn’t quite leave as many constants as, say, the departure of a bassist. After all, the vocals of a band serve as more than a mere piece to the conceptual puzzle they work towards as a unit. It’s the pinnacle of ideas spewing directly from their minds, a “cutting of the middleman”, so to speak, which allows music to be more relatable to us, to mean much more emotionally.
Noting this, the former Dance Gavin Dance
vocalist, Kurt Travis, had a lot to live up to within this landmark release. Conveniently, Travis’ bands share a niche in the post-hardcore realm, so the biggest concern was actually balancing upon the delicate tightrope between preserving the original style found in A Lot Like Birds
’ earlier work and contributing to a broader musical palette, expanding the band’s potential. Their choice to let Kurt in was indeed a wise one, and in the long run contributes to the most exhilarating and entertaining release of 2011, and should most assuredly sate the hunger of those that have been itching for a good post-hardcore outing.
“Il était un fois” (translated to “once upon a time” in French), Conversation Piece's opening line, portrays astutely the dynamic nature of the album’s lyrics, and sets a fitting precedent for the rest of the album. The lyrics really do tell intriguing stories, for instance, by stringing off-kilter analogies that usually should be nowhere near each other “When learning how to crawl became a substitute for walking; biting my tongue a fair exchange for talking to myself”; telling a story through the most imaginative means possible. Kurt Travis' collaboration with band mate Cory Lockwood over microphone duties complements the pandemonium of the music itself rather excellently, and when their voices soar above the music during the stirring choruses, the former problem the band had of finding competent vocals seems to all but have faded away. Inevitably, the gravelly vocals will be found irksome by some, but it honestly adds to the integrity of the album. And not only are the vocals incredible, but the music itself is incredibly heartfelt, honestly the most genuine display of post-hardcore in quite some time. And with blots of progressive sprinkled throughout the release, Conversation Piece has quite the apt title; this release is an enormously fascinating one, in that so many genres are melded together successfully. Not only are they magnificently pulled off; frankly, the band one-ups the specializations of many of its predecessors. The annoying-more-often-than-not vocals of Dance Gavin Dance
find a more fitting home on Conversation Piece, letting the music do the talking when necessary, because as enjoyable as the grittier vocals are, they are most potent in moderation and this is realized by the band. Also, the progressive styling of the album reminds one of Circa Survive
’s more experimental side, except actually used towards a goal and not just abused without cause. And my goodness, the swells of “Abbr.” convey emotion as effectively as any of the greatest post-rock artists. What terrain can’t Conversation Piece cover?
These gentlemen are just immeasurably endowed, being able to accomplish within one album (and not even a particularly long one) what so many others have been striving for, from one album to the next. It would not be, by any stretch of the imagination, too much to claim that Conversation Piece serves as a definitive time capsule of the best that post-hardcore has had to offer throughout the years. With what is only their sophomore release, we can truly expect greatness from this group, as A Lot Like Birds
are becoming more and more fundamental to the scene they belong to with every ounce of new material, and will indeed serve as a conversation piece for many years to come.