Imagine a scenario here. You're in a local band, aged 18-20, from a dingy little city of Poughkeepsie NY, to be exact. You have a respectable local following, a string of uninspired/ridiculous band names (Fizzlewink, The Getaway), and your band plays local clubs like The Loft, The Chance, etc., showcasing some decently-written, catchy pop-punk/screamo hybrid tunes. A dime a dozen these days, but in 1998-99, a bit more special than some bands.
Then, almost instantaneously, your band is shot from relative obscurity onto arguably the biggest independent punk label in the world, personally signed by the label owner solely off of a single crap-quality demo song off your unprofessional band page, amidst a gigantic amount of hype. You release a quickie EP to sate the hype machine, although it was a bit whiny and unfocused, but nevertheless had some pretty riffs here and there, and a definite RAWK side intermingled with the pop-punk, almost emo-ish melodies, as well as a seriously catchy single ("The Greatest Fall Of All Time"). Then you drop your very first real full-length record. A lot of the songs are almost five years old, and as a result the record is extremely uneven, especially lyrically. Amidst all of the mostly-derivative pop-punk and cringe-worthy emo numbers stuck in the album like sugar-sweetened turds, a few promising songs showing some REAL potential for musical maturity and growth stay the executioner's hand of Generic Pop-Punk Band Tag annihilation. (Well, at least for me).
You take a 3 1/2-year break between albums, getting a lot better at your intruments and listening to a LOT of Muse (Absolution
, actually), a LOT of Gatsby's American Dream (well, Volcano
, anyways), a heaping of Thrice (old stuff and a little Vheissu
), Radiohead, probably a little Siamese Dream
Smashing Pumpkins too. There's also some Dashboard, definitely a helping of Blue Album
Weezer, and other various emotive types in there too. And little modern pop-punk. And you like these bands and albums a lot. In fact, these bands are awesome. I mean friggin' AWESOME
. You like these bands SO much, your music takes key ideas and elements from all of these bands, almost to the point of biting their fecal matter but instead only licking up about 1/3 of the pile. But strangely, it actually congeals together with your seemingly-natural ability to craft A+ hooks to produce a seriously catchy, diverse record that craps all over your past catalogue, especially the first half or so, even if it drags a bit for the last two-three songs. Matchbook Romance is your band, and Voices
is the record.
Right off the bat, arpeggiated clean chording and backing piano of You Can Run, But We'll Find You
suggests a different outing for MR, only to be cut off abruptly by Ryan Kienle's sinister bass note as the band joins in on a slow 6/8 beat, following with a minor-key, clean but distinctly creepy verse with guitarist/vocalist Andrew Jordan's chugging, palm-muted single-note lines building an air of tension. And when he cuts in with the seething, hissed refrain of "You should've known", you begin to see how Andrew's previously-average vocals are going to be a big factor in this new sound. The guy has DEFINITELY improved tremendously. The chorus, especially the leering, sneering vocals, is a page torn right out of Matt Bellamy's (Muse) book, although referenced quite well. Featuring a minor-key lead riff, haunting low/high vocal harmonies and the undeniable feel of something slowly giving way, the rage is finally unleashed when the band turns it up to 12 and promptly ROCKS
your face off with a heavy-as-Fat-Albert breakdown of crashing power chords and single-note triplet patterns, culminating in the last chorus, where Aaron cuts loose his double-bass beast alongside driving, almost sepulchural shouts of "RUN! YOU CAN RUN... BUT WE'LL FIND YOU!". This song should erase any doubts of MR's balls having finally dropped. Again, Andrew's vox make the song with his creepy, psychotic screams in the end. Perfect opener, definite album highlight, and it simply fu
The urgent feel doesn't let up, flowing smoothly into Surrender
, a fast-paced rocker best described as Thrice riffs meeting blink-182 if they had balls. One of my personal favorites, the guitars are riffing all over place in the chorus (this one in particular is catchy as hell), great vocals, and an obvious choice for a single after "Monsters". Breakdown is long, never dull, and very
Gatsby, which is also a good thing. My Mannequin Can Dance
also shows MR's deep punk rock influences while mixing in some offbeats, a clanky piano line in the verses, and clearly biting Muse's "Hysteria" with its guitar/bass heavy riff and stomp-y parts. But the chorus is killer once again, the bridge goes through about three different genres in 30 seconds, and you'll bop your head to it.
Although a LOT of the album is different, Goody, Like Two Shoes
is a definite departure from the norm for MR. Clocking in at a staggering 7:09 (insane for a pop-punk band, at least), featuring shifting dynamics, atmospheric guitar as well as some loving time-sig mindf*cking throughout, it's a builder of a song that slowly cooks until about the 2 minute mark, when the infectious, octave chord-laden chorus comes in. From then on, the band is in full rock mode, especially in the bridge, which travels between meters, moods, and dynamics effortlessley. Lyrics are also quite well-written, too.
However, the definite highlight of the album is the current single, "Monsters". Possibly the most infectious song that Matchbook has crafted yet (Handclaps! F*cking handclaps!), its driving pace, excellent vocal harmonies, walking-bass, slithery guitar riffs, and a hella-melodic, modestly-shreddy solo caps off a song with equal parts balls and pop perfection. Simply a GREAT song that perfectly sums up Matchbook's new sound perfectly.
After "Monsters", the album gets a little more subdued. Say It Like You Mean It
is a better Weezer song than anything on Make Believe
, in my humble opinion. The chorus immediately made me think "Oh God, say it ain't so", if you catch my drift. Portrait
has a cool beat and some catchy riffs, but the progression of chords for the chorus is a little tired considering they used it five songs ago, and the bridge shows us, again that MR REALLY
like them some Gatsby's American Dream. Come on dudes, change the CD once in a while. "Fiction" brings back the faster, harder aspects of the first half, throwing in a good ol' disco shuffle beat in the pre-chorus even, along with some very nice double-bass work in the verses. Catchy song, and it'll probably be a single. After that... well, it drags some more. The last two songs really kinda let the album go out with a mouse fart instead of the bang it started with, and the secret track is the main reason Andrew Jordan should rethink his infatuation with trying to impersonate Thom Yorke. But truthfully, the songs that are good are GREAT, and worth getting it or at least listening to it.
lives up to about 60-70% of the hype it's gotten in the last few months. It ain't quite The New Noise, but it's a newer noise for sure, considering what MR used
to be. If you were turned off by Stories And Alibis
or even West For Wishing
, forget what you know about Matchbook Romance - they are a changed band that is making a musical statement with this record. They're some extremely talented lads - especially the drums and guitar interplay - and the songwriting in general is way more consistent. The album is a lot heavier and darker than anything they've done before, and that's definitely a plus, and they've definitely taken some big risks with their sound.
They wear their influences all over themselves at times, but their take on it is overall quite fresh and a definite step up from their past work in every way. Although they're experimenting a lot here, MR would do well to do what they're best at - turn up and just throw down with the angry Gatsby/Thrice-inspired bad-ass riffs and metrics with some M.Bellamy-approved vocal hysterics, not go into drawn-out noodling, sappy acoustic ballads, and throwing in Obligatory Cheesy String Sections. It's also in those moments where the vox get to their most egregiously whiney state, although in general Andrew's singing is great. "Monsters", "Goody, Like Two Shoes", "You Can Run...", "My Mannequin Can Dance", and "Surrender" are worth buying the album for alone, and although they've still got some growing pains and identity issues to get over, they're definitely a band to expect great things from in the future, and Voices
puts them on top of many of their contemporaries alone.
KEY TRACKS: "You Can Run...", "Monsters", "Goody, Like Two Shoes", "Surrender", "Fiction", "My Mannequin Can Dance"
Band: MATCHBOOK ROMANCE
Album: VOICES (2006)
Album Rating: 3.5 (Excellent)