Review Summary: This sixty-minute long sucker punch is unlike anything you've ever heard. And it's absolutely fantastic.
Time and time again, I find myself becoming consistently amazed at how blurry the lines between genres have become. When you think of traditional “hardcore” music you likely think of harsh shouting, aggressive guitar riffs and pulse-pounding drum work – showcased very clearly in synonymous acts such as Refused
or At-The-Drive In
. You'd be hard pressed to think that a Michigan-based quintet could dissect the individual components of this seemingly familiar genre and turn into so much, much
La Dispute's debut effort from 2008 “Somewhere at the Bottom of the River between Vega and Altair”
is a star-shining example of how to completely turn a genre on its head. As a matter of fact, labeling La Dispute with a clearly defined genre would seriously undermine the level of creativity, artistry and talent displayed here. Whether you want to call it post-hardcore, screamo, progressive rock, spoken word or avant-garde – it doesn't matter. What does matter is that this massive, sixty-minute long sucker punch is unlike anything you've ever heard. And it's absolutely fantastic.
We'll start with what puts La Dispute almost absurdly many cuts above its contemporaries; the vocals and lyrics. The band is fronted by Jordan Dreyer, whose vocal style doesn't resemble anything I've ever heard. At first listen, his voice sounds whiny, broken and shaky – unorthodox would be the politically correct term. And yet, each and every single emotion that's channeled through all of the 13 songs on the album has probably never been felt harder before. The vocals – which is combines singing with screaming and spoken word passages – are sometimes absolutely haunting.
The intro song “Such Small Hands”
sets the tone for the emotionally-charged hour that follows. Grief, loss, hatred, death and love are displayed with meticulous detail, not just through Jordan's wavering voice which sometimes snaps sporadically into a screaming frenzy, but also through the lyrics. Oh man, those lyrics.
If you have a knack for poetry, metaphors, analogies and complexity in song lyrics then this will be nothing short of a space odyssey. I don't want to write out any long excerpts to risk spoiling some of the highlights, but rest assure that are some absolutely goose bump-inducing moments here.
“Sad Prayers for Guilty Bodies”
is one of the few songs I can think off that genuinely touched me to an unpredictable degree. When Jordan screams at the top off his lungs “I wasn't happy!” I felt an emotional chord being struck with me on an unprecedented level.
Other songs explore other themes and feel like poetic stories being narrated by Jordan. The surprisingly calm and relaxed “Fall Down, Never Get Back up Again”
is the closest resemblance of a blues song with heavy layers of poetry. It's beautiful, unique and seriously impressive from a songwriting standpoint. The band uses Asian folktales and stories as a jumping off point, meant to segue into personal stories and struggles. If some of these lyrics are colorful metaphors of tragic events that have actually happened to the five bandmates in question, then their agony can definitely be felt.
The instrumentals are also wholly impressive. Drummer Brand Vander Lugt reinvents himself over the course of the song “Said the King to the River”
– which also employs the use of a tambourine to brilliant effect. The song “Andria”
also has one of the guitarists taking on a baritone guitar, giving the song a sort of western-feel to the instrumentation. The bass lines are groovy, the guitars full of harmony and calm picking patterns and frenetic hardcore riffs and the drums are one part jazz-esque and one part metal-and-punk-esque.
The band never relegates itself to one type of sound and are consistently intrepid with what they explore in terms of mood, sound and genre. It initially takes a while for everything to click, but once things set into a comfortable pace, you won't be able to stop pondering about what other surprises lure around the next corner.
In the end, not everyone is going to like La Dispute. Some people will find their lyrical content far too melodramatic or pretentious, Dreyer's vocal style perplexing and off-putting and the uncompromising fusion of genres distracting. But for the listener willing to admire the small touches and see the band's individual aspects as a singular whole will quickly discover music that hones in on masterful. While I hate to be the guy who outright calls something “art” out of sheer enthusiasm, I'd still be lying if I said that Somewhere…
isn't about as damn close as you can come to defying just about every possible musical norm imaginable. No expenses have been spared and the end result is quite simply, unforgettable.