Review Summary: The Story So Far add a few more pages, and the illustrations are to die for
Two years ago The Story So Far appeared straight out of left field with a roaring juggernaut of a debut full-length. Anticipation had been engulfing them ever so slightly prior to its release following notoriously energetic live performances but when 'Under Soil & Dirt' hit the shelves legions of pop-punk fans were blown away, smitten by the crashing guitars, furious drumming patterns and the astonishingly powerful vocals of lead singer Parker Cannon. The album was hugely successful and catapulted the Californian 5-piece to the frontline of a scene experiencing a spirited revival. Once the fervour had subsided and the dust settled however, questions began to arise regarding what was next for Parker and co.
'What You Don't See' answers all those questions emphatically. Forget the usual nonsense that's spouted everytime a band with a successful debut album releases a follow-up about how the sound has 'matured', it's a boring cliché reviewers use to essentially communicate their general approval, without going into any detail why it sounds better. The most instantly noticeable augmentation of TSSF's sound during the stirring album opener 'Things I Can't Change' is the tighter musicianship, two years have improved the band enormously in that regard, the production is outstanding and their trademark style has been carefully refined. The album is so lacking in flaws that it's tempting to run through each track individually but I'll hold back on that front, perhaps the only criticism you could level at the album is a gently evident absence of variety, for example, there is no space reserved here for a slower, acoustic track like 'Placeholder' from their debut effort. The breathtaking pace of the album simply doesn't stutter, hell, it barely even deviates.
For all the great musicanship in the world though, nothing defines a band like it's lead vocalist and TSSF are undoubtedly blessed in that department. Parker has an unfamiliar tendency to write lyrics that resonate profoundly within his listeners, in album standout contender 'Small Talk' he yells 'Tell me how you think it's gonna be, I'll bite back with broken teeth, so helpless', his lyrics are as angsty as they come and are often brazenly introspective, you are given no choice but to believe every word he shouts at you. It's not just his lyrics though, I'm becoming ever more subject to the theory that his voice can make anything sound good, even on the weaker tracks here like 'Playing The Victim' and album closer 'Framework' you still find yourself vociferously singing along, and yes, this can unwittingly happen in public (if it does, there's no going back, embrace it).
The album peaks in the middle with four stunning tracks in succession, starting with 'Right Here', then 'Empty Space' is followed by lead single 'The Glass', which is particularly impassioned lyrically 'You were the spade I used to dig this hole, blistered my skin to the bone' before the chorus-driven belter 'All Wrong' rounds off this outstanding run of tracks. They're not finished yet though, penultimate track 'Face Value' is unmistakably a grower, it's verses are the best on the album and the chorus is classic TSSF, catchy, energetic and emotionally endearing. Now, to finish, rather than launch into some clunky conclusion I'll simply leave you with this, 'What You Don't See' is the kind of album that will never grate on you, it only improves with further listens, it's at least on a par with 'Under Soil & Dirt' and will rightfully add a few more layers of cement to TSSF's place atop the hotly contested pedestal of modern pop-punk.