Review Summary: The emotions run high and fists rise even higher as Love, Robot indulges in their risk taking while keeping the best of what they had done before to come out with something tremendous.1 of 1 thought this review was well written
The suburban jungle of Long Island, New York, has inspired many-a-heart to rot and just as many to rise. In a place where the borders marking the hundreds of communities can appear to be succumbing to a steady blight of becoming blurrier with each occupant getting blander, securing a sense of one’s identity can fetch a high price. Hometown heroes Love, Robot are no strangers to such a crisis, but without a long tunnel, there can be no bright light at the end.
Love, Robot started out as the high school hardcore trio of Brandon Homm, Matthew Clunie, and Jon Biegen, and from there, they steadily fed themselves into the Island scene’s diet and gained enough momentum to secure a toe hold on their own piece of sweaty ground. With the release of the 2009 EP, the band had grown into a fully fledged sextet with a solidified objective and direction – a girl/boy fronted Pop-Punk outfit with enough spice thrown in the mix to keep their catchiness from becoming as nonspecific as the strip malls that lined their highways.
However, 2011’s Looking Down at the Stars EP saw the group spinning their wheels a bit and revealing their most significant weaknesses. The hooks were present without a doubt and the catchiness factor was just as high as ever, but their edge took an unnecessary backseat and “everything nice” threw the balance off. Unfortunately for Love, Robot, the components that they had been laying their foundation with were in and of themselves becoming a wall too high to surmount. Amongst inner turbulence intensifying, the band lost of each of its three founding members one by one, and as the year turned, the surviving quartet of Alexa San Román, Taylor Schwab, Sean Murphy, and latest addition Anthony Rega had a decision to make: walk away and let the fire die; or steal the last hot coals, kick away the ashes, and start over. They chose the latter.
Rebuild | Rebirth explodes from the pressure cooker within the first five seconds, and Love, Robot waste no time gnashing their teeth into a vengeful smile at the past. Thankfully, their vocal duality is still intact with Murphy stepping up to join San Román’s side in order to fill the male void left by Biegen. With the aforementioned co-lead vocalist’s departure, Alexa takes on, not quite a dominant, but just a more prominent role. With the chains of implosion off and far in the distance, the emotion is tangible, nearly physical. Gone are the almost overly squeaky clean leads of old and in is a more earnest and desperate style where she just lets the microphone have it, taking her heart off of her sleeve and launching in it out of a cannon. The howling bridge of “Dismantle, Destroy,” is a prime example as is the ending of, “Cucha,” where San Román belts out, “I saw your soul go far away!” over and over with all she has in one of the album’s pinnacle moments. She is also just as capable of using a more restrained, but more wryly proclaimed delivery, such as on the Devil and God…esque, “Commonwealth Avenue,” or the infectious, “Criminal,” where you can just about hear her searing grin as she sings: “So you can take your sob story elsewhere, ‘cause my God I just don’t care. From the start my dice were loaded; the stars in your eyes made it hard to notice my intentions were selfish at best ‘cause if you get hurt I could not care less.” Playing the bad guy (or girl) never felt so fun.
Next up is Sean Murphy, whose microphone debut makes a terrific yang to San Román’s yin, and he takes no small part in the evolution of Love, Robot’s sound. His vocals are not in the traditional pop-punk vein, rather they are a needle in it. They will polarize no doubt, but the man is a more raw and hardcore-rooted animal; what he lacks in pristine delivery, he makes up for in passionate vocal force. Sometimes, he focuses that into a serrated blade alongside Alexa such as on, “What Lies Between Your Skin and Your Bones,” and “Takotsubo,” where listeners are treated to Where You Want to Be era dueling vocal delight. He serves this side of his role well, and his tone is much more true to group’s overall change of course. Conversely, he can really turn up the heat when allowed to step outside the lines and bring his screams and “unclean” vocals to bear. He impacts like a grenade – anyone in the way is getting hit with something, end of story. “S.O.S.,” gives him the spotlight completely, and if the washed out and bleak atmospheres of both it and “Avium” were all you heard, there would be little to no way to tell that this was such a previously pop-focused band. He continues to shine in “Takotsubo,” in which he takes the bridge down into wonderfully psychotic laughter; and in “Cucha,” he leads a moving yelled passage as the story of the previous song continues, and San Román reaches her final climactic goodbyes.
Both Taylor Schwab and Anthony Rega, man their positions, of bass and drums respectively, in a thoughtful manner, leading each song exactly where it needs to go. Schwab steps in to take a lead line a few times such as in “Takotsubo” or “Avium,” but mainly he is a harmonic rock to lean on and build around. He even contributes some vocals of his own, most notably contributing to Murphy’s assault in the bridge of “Criminal.” Rega completes the foundation the group rests upon. He works to keep the train squarely on the rails, and in the moments where the structure and tempo turn on a dime, such as in “What Lies Between Your Skin and Your Bones,” he makes the maneuver justifiable by being air tight. Aside from the intriguing, “There Is So Much Beauty In A Storm,” his beats don’t tread too far outside from the punk idiom, but he can be found throwing in a choice fill in between his solid stick work as heard in “Cucha” and “Takotsubo.” Ultimately though, their individual highlight reels are not long, and as they keep opportunities for self-indulgence in check. The two allow the space they leave to do just as effective of a job for them. Continuity is always favorable over technicality, and Love, Robot’s rhythm section take this to heart.
Observing their comrade's example, San Román and Murphy’s one two guitar punch keeps things interesting without any unnecessary wankery. However, this by no means implies that they are prey to the pit falls of a power chord addiction or make the album a chug-fest. The axe man and woman pleasingly play off of each other often, and if they do play the same part, it is without tiresome repetition. They and Schwab establish the group’s own harmonic identity, which for their musical territory, is somewhat of a feat alone. They do it wearing more than a few tonal hats: The atmospheric landscapes they paint are choice in “There Is So Much Beauty In A Storm,” letting Ray Hodge beautifully soar over the top of the whole band, and “Avium” is as grey and bare as the sound of a fog cloud. In addition, they revel in their roots of fresh faced punk fun in the dancing leads of “Takotsubo,” or just as smoothly indulge in the heavy or dissonant urges of past hardcore flashes with “Dismantle, Destroy” or the end of “Rebuild.” The guitars of Love, Robot flourish in their new environment.
All said and done, with the foray into adulthood, the risks we must take in our search for direction and self-actualization become more impactful and more uncomfortable to approach. The blows that life deals us hit ever harder, especially in the wake of death. It is a unique mechanism and is always by our side, but the books it closes permit us to be released so that we may take up a new page in a new book and, guided by our callused hands, start again. This is what Rebuild | Rebirth is about. The emotions run high and fists rise even higher as Love, Robot indulges in their risk taking while keeping the best of what they had done before to come out with something tremendous. This is an effort that their Long Island predecessors would be truly proud of.