Slaves
Routine Breathing


2.5
average

Review

by Alex Dansereau CONTRIBUTOR (34 Reviews)
August 23rd, 2015 | 13 replies


Release Date: 08/21/2015 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Captive to complacency.

Since their inception, Slaves have been a band that’s as much about the narrative its members painted for themselves as that of the actual music. And my lord, how that narrative has shifted over the course of a mere year and a half! First it was a story of redemption - of frontman Jonny Craig finally overcoming his demons and making a fresh start in the music scene. However, lineup changes and a steady dose of controversy, culminating in the band’s expulsion from Warped Tour mid-way through their run, have quickly proved that story a manufactured myth, as it became clear that the old Jonny Craig is still among us. So the band quickly replaced the comeback narrative with a fresh one… this time, it’s about being there for the fans no matter what, and focusing on the music. Considering this is a band fronted by a man who not long ago was scamming his own fanbase for drug money, and reportedly stumbling into studios blackout drunk to ad-lib vocal takes, it’s safe to say that both of those claims could be met with a healthy deal of skepticism. But Craig has in the past had a way of defying both odds and expectations to produce great records in a variety of projects, as his raw talent - coupled with talented collaborators who bring out his best - have shone through most of the obstacles he put in his own path.

Perhaps under different circumstances, this sort of minor miracle may have taken place yet again. However, on the album we did get, Routine Breathing, the weak links that have threatened to sink virtually every Jonny Craig project ever made prove insurmountable, leading to a record that feels largely phoned-in, overlong and devoid of genuine moments of inspiration. The primary force that has always prevented Craig from reaching his full potential is his inability or unwillingness to push himself as a songwriter, unless dragged along by someone else. He has never been a particularly inspired lyricist, typically relying on his golden voice to help hide the fact that his songs tackle almost exclusively relationship issues, often from the rather narrow perspective of someone who seems unable or unwilling to accept any blame for what goes wrong in his life, and is happy to shift blame onto other parties. Upon re-examination of the lyrics of Craig’s solo song “Children of Divorce”, one finds little to no introspection, and some shady moral justification to boot. And yet these messages were nearly always packaged in a relatable, aesthetically pleasing manner, leading most listeners to happily let them slide.

The problem with this formula is it requires Craig to lean on the compositions he is handed by his collaborators to do most of the heavy lifting… and Slaves have consistently shown themselves to be tepid songwriters, content to recycle tired post hardcore formulas and cliches a sleep-inducing number of times. If you’ve heard Through Art We Are All Equals, you’ve largely heard it all before… which is to say, this is Emarosa-lite. Where Craig’s former bandmates would push for greater technicality or experimental song structures, Slaves is content on songs like “The Hearts of Our Broken” and “Drowning in My Addiction” to stick to traditional verse-chorus-verse structure and an over-reliance on vaguely ambient production, courtesy of Cameron Mizell, complete with the addition of choir backing vocals. The lack of much excitement in the instrumental department puts the spotlight squarely on Craig’s shoulders, and the listener quickly finds that he has little to say. When he’s not covering the usual relationship bases, he’s dropping cliched braggadocio lines about “making a mark” and overcoming adversity. The chorus of “Burning Our Morals Away” is an apt summation of what the listener can expect:

“Cause we are, we are the real ones
Who will refuse to run and hide
Watch us pour our hearts into every note
While they fall to the side

Cause we are
Fight fire with fire
Only lessons learned
Rise above the ashes
From the bridges burned”

However, not all on Routine Breathing is steeped in mediocrity. More than halfway into the album’s overlong 15-track runtime, a breath of fresh air is released in dramatic fashion in the form of “Winter Everywhere”, a stunning power ballad featuring Tilian Pearson of Craig’s former band Dance Gavin Dance, and quite possibly one of the best songs either singer has ever appeared on. Over mellow acoustic plucking, Jonny and Tilian sing tenderly and sincerely of a love gone astray, as each section of the song slowly builds to an explosive, emotive payoff that is completely earned:

“I want to go back to the days in our car
Where we sang the loudest by far”

The track closes with the same choir vocals that feature in various sections of the album, but here instead of feeling like a forced bid to sound “epic”, they add to gospel-inspired flavor of the composition and push it into greatness. On a better album, “Winter Everywhere” would be the emotional centerpiece. As it stands, the song is both the clear highlight of the album, and a startling contrast to the mediocrity that surrounds it. After listening, one can only wonder what the band could have achieved if they had applied the same passion and effort into the album’s entire runtime instead of adhering so closely to formula. It certainly would have resulted in a more interesting and consequential listen than what we are offered on Routine Breathing, an album that largely fails to differentiate itself from its predecessor in any consequential way. If this is the result of Slaves “giving it all for the fans” and “focusing on the music”, maybe they should go back to courting controversy and getting kicked off tours. At least that shit is entertaining.



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user ratings (97)
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other reviews of this album
Zachery S. Cotto (2)
An album so generic, with so many forgettable moments and copy/pastes from it's predecessor, that ev...


Comments:Add a Comment 
Archelirion
Contributing Reviewer
August 23rd 2015


5284 Comments


Hmm, definitely not gonna listen to this one then. Review was great; detailed, but not ridiculously clinical and a fairly entertaining read. Can't believe you got a neg from this.

TheSupernatural
August 24th 2015


1648 Comments


Leftover neg's from the Fall Out Boy review lol

MattGandee
August 24th 2015


39 Comments


"Can't believe you got a neg from this." - Me neither, I think you hit the nail on the head perfectly here. Great review!

ZachNyeScienceGuy
August 24th 2015


146 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Great review! Better than mine, lol. Have a pos.



Also, in negative-to-average Jonny Craig album reviews most negs come from fanboys who don't agree with another person's opinion. Nothing about this review is bad objectively, so I assume that's what those are.

ATTA
August 24th 2015


128 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

Some fan-boy teared my review of this album on YouTube. Saying it was crummy, because I mention what happened in Warp Tour, and the going in debt situation.



Great review by the way!

beachdude
Contributing Reviewer
August 25th 2015


841 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Thanks everyone! I wanted to put the album in context so mentioning that stuff was inevitable.

Spec
July 7th 2016


34740 Comments


heard a few tracks off this

holy fuck those vocals are great but everything else is kind of meh

beachdude
Contributing Reviewer
October 22nd 2016


841 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Lol what do you know, this band is basically nearly dead now and everyone left except the bassist.

Mort.
Contributing Reviewer
October 22nd 2016


13099 Comments


probs didnt help they squeezed this out so soon after their debut with such little build up

Digging: Enter Shikari - The Spark

beachdude
Contributing Reviewer
October 22nd 2016


841 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

That too... I think they figured at the time that the best way to take the focus away from controversy would be crapping out an album really quickly, but even that couldn't save them.

Tyler.
November 17th 2016


13219 Comments


how much longer until we get a good album from JC

Feather
January 25th 2017


3799 Comments


new slave song is lowkey awesome

Spec
March 15th 2017


34740 Comments


All the talent is there for JC. I don't know what the missing piece is.



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