Review Summary: You could say it, but it won't mean a thing / cos you know I'll fall for, each and every pretty word you sing.
The question I keep coming back to, listen after listen, is "how am I supposed to not
judge this harshly in light of their past work?" Is that being unfair? Hell, any band who decide on such a drastic musical change – if you want to call it a deciding process, as opposed to following a muse or just goin' with the flow, bro
– kind of invite endless feverish comparisons to beloved classics. On the other hand, the game was extra rigged against DIVISI
from the get-go; in post-hardcore especially there's a well established all-caps dialogue about bands who soften up and sell out, and those of us who subscribe to this lovely little genre largely agree that No Place
was a really, really ***ing good album. Actually, that album is intertwined with that one year of my life so tightly I may as well title a chapter of my future autobiography after it, so what, did you expect me to just not hate this or something, Cory?
What he expected was all of us to give DIVISI
an honest listen, which is a privilege that any album deserves at least once. So I did. The anchor I kept grasping for throughout was The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi
, maybe the only sophomore album in this entire genre that's managed a drastic sound change and stayed just as good as the album that preceded it. Let's be clear: DIVISI
is fine, but it's no Mi Fa Mi
. A Lot Like Birds have the atmospheric-into-loud-with-two-singers dynamic going for them, and Matt Coate does step up in a major way vocally, but they lack the corkscrew melodies that Alex and Brendan used to wind around their stunningly gorgeous music, not to mention Brian Southall's malfunctioning laptop electronics. The issue isn't that Cory is a bad singer – he's pretty damn good, on the whole - nor that he doesn't scream as much anymore, he just lacks the instant barbed hook choruses that Kurt seemed to carry around in a magic bag. Listen to how "Atoms in Evening" and "Infinite Chances" build up their verses expertly, only for a stinker of a hook to crash in like a heavy stone on a satin sheet. Franzino and Coate fill the Kurt-shaped hole well with their respective six and four string wizardry, but "Further Below" is the only point where either is let off the chain. In fact, DIVISI
doesn't actually resolve what it wants to be until about halfway through, when the band's freedom to experiment finally starts sounding like, well, a freedom instead of a blueprint for the same song four times. You can hear the exact point they hit the turning point on "The Smoother The Stone", which sounds like a sentient song building itself piece by piece, a sort of stringed electro-freakout while Cory revisits his greatest ever verse from "Hand Over Mouth, Over and Over". Unsurprisingly, the best cuts here largely cast off choruses in favour of a mid-tune left turn, like the unexpected brassy breakdown in "No Attention for Solved Puzzles", or "Further Below"'s Thursday-worshipping cyclical ending.
Change is dumb and annoying and stupid. Or so the fervent No Place
stan who still inhabits me screams from the inside. Maybe that's why I was predisposed to give this album a lashing from the start, but screw expectations. Cory can still navigate his way through a metaphor more elegantly than calligraphers can write their names, and honestly, the continuing story of this man I've never met's life is the real reason I keep tuning in, record after record. This isn't the album I wanted, but even that doesn't matter just for a minute in the title track, as the screams finally break through some spooky piano and cooing backing vocals. I was never all that bothered about Cory moving over to cleans – he sang a fair bit on "Connector" and "Recluse", still their best songs from a compositional standpoint – but when those pitchy, scratchy yelps burst through, it still feels like nothing less than an old friend visiting home again. Then DIVISI
quietly ends, looping back on itself lyrically The Wall
-style, with the first line as the last. There's no strong narrative reason for this, apart from a general interest in the cycles of life and death, but Cory has never been obsessively linear anyway (does the protagonist commit suicide at the end of "Kuroi Ledge"? Does he escape the house in the last track? Does it matter?). Those closing lines philosophise that we all end at the same place we began. If that's true, A Lot Like Birds have a long way to go before they arrive back at their original selves' doorstep, and that's just fine.