Review Summary: Alphabet. Alphabets. features a Trophy Scars that is unable to scrap together enough solid material to produce a proper LP, and a Trophy Scars that has fallen woefully under the category of scene.
Trophy Scars - Alphabet. Alphabets.
As a preface to this review, I'd like to say that I'm a big Trophy Scars fan. I've been following them since all they had out was Darts to the Sea
. I was one of 12 people who attended their first ever Bay Area show in Campbell and I've written reviews for sputnik every time a new release of their comes out. I even bothered to critique demo tracks of theirs that I was sent. Concisely, Trophy Scars are definitely my bag. So, it was funny to read in an interview with Jerry, the TS singer, this reference to my [url=]Goodnight, Alchemy
Originally Posted by Jerry
I read a recent review that said my lyrics read like Myspace headlines. I proceeded to find the critic's phone number and ask if he has anymore of the drugs he's been smoking because they must be amazing. He was too fucked up and busy updating his Myspace page to give me a clear answer.
I'll admit I'm a pretty critical listener but I definitely wasn't smoking drugs while listening to this CD. My comment...
Originally Posted by Me
The lyrics are inane at points. "These demons aren't stopping this brilliant bloodbath behind my eyes" reads like a myspace headline or picture caption. It stinks of scene.
...was admittedly pretty harsh. However, I maintain and support my stance as a cruel critic because I really do care about the band and that's why my reviews are more scathing. Also, as proven by the above comment and a visit from [url=http://www.sputnikmusic.com/user/The+Real+Jerry+Jones]The Real Jerry Jones[/url], my comments obviously can get the attention of the band for better or worse. With that said I'm going to say what I want, full well knowing that it's critical and/or mean.
Jerry's myspace-lyric response also clued me in to how I would respond to their newest album, Alphabet. Alphabets.
Before I even listened to the tracks they put up on myspace or got the album, I wanted to figure out what features are present in every single Trophy Scars song, and why those unifying features would be attractive to a listener. After hours in my crime lab doing research and testing, I came to the conclusion that Trophy Scars, with their unorthodox song structures, are really just stringing together a lot of different moments, phrases, interludes, etc. that sound great out of context from the rest of the song, but when contextualized, don't necessarily resonate with the whole collection of moments. In their older material, Darts to the Sea
and Hospital Music
, these moments do resonate with one another, which leads me to love whole entire songs, and even albums, and not just the sweet little speeding up of the drums on "Sleep Little Nemo (the kidnapping!!)" or the gang vox on "Assistant. Assistants" by themselves. I feel that the most recent releases, Goodnight, Alchemy
and most painfully and egregiously, Alphabet. Alphabets.
Suffer from an inability to realize synergies between all of their little fragments. Furthermore, Alphabet. Alphabets.
, isn't even jam-packed with only cool fragments and there are some real dumpers lumped in with the gold nuggets on this album. Imagine how disappointed I was to hear the rapped ending to "Assassin, Assassins." after the song had so thoroughly pounded out its awesome crescendo. Probably the worst crime of Alphabet. Alphabets.
is not that songs don't work as a whole because different moments garble the cohesion of individual songs, but that some songs entirely are composed of terrible moments, like the unfortunately saccharine, trite, and kitschy Alligator. Alligators.
So, not only is there a breakdown of the coolness of the songs as a whole, but many of the moments are being sacrificed as well.
I think one reason this breakdown occurs is because Trophy Scars hasn't released an LP (or an EP elapsing more than 30 minutes) since Darts to the Sea
. This album is actually their sophomore release as odd as that feels to most Trophy Scars fans who drooled over Hospital Music
on repeat as if it were the length of a Mars Volta or Tool album. So, the tracks like "A Song Begins with "A". Almost All These Songs Begin With "A"." or "Alibi. Alibis." can be justified, or at least explained, by Trophy Scars' inexperience with the long player format. Also, I feel that in an effort to shove as much content into this LP as possible, Trophy Scars ended up resorting to more gimmicky departures from their normal style (like the rap that spans "Assassin. Assassins." and "Accent. Accents.") than they should have. I would expect a band to maybe dabble in different genres or introduce new techniques into their repertoire in a less incongruous and more tasteful fashion, but hey, this is what the good ol' TS decided to do. Because of the weird inclusion of really bad moments into certain songs, I really only consider certain songs to be legitimate or successful as songs. As pieces of music, they can be enjoyable for different reasons, whether novelty (see "Alligator. Alligators.") or aesthetic (see "Accent. Accents."), but as songs in the rather competitive Trophy Scars catalogue, I only consider a few on this album to be of that superior cut that has made Trophy Scars one of my favorite bands of the past five years. From these songs I've made an EP of sorts.
Originally Posted by My Version of Alphabet. Alphabets.
1. Artist. Artists.
2. Assistant. Assistants.
3. Assassin. Assassins.
4. Apparition. Apparitions.
5. Absolute. Absolutes.
6. Alchemist. Alchemists.
7. Addict. Addicts.
8. Apple. Apples.
9. Anxiety. Anxieties
Even with this truncated version, I still have huge gripes with "Assassin. Assassins." "Addict. Addicts." and "Anxiety. Anxieties" that I'm temporarily overlooking because of how much I like certain moments of the songs that are saving them...for the time being. Overall, the nine songs I've picked, and more specifically, the six I truly love, are shining examples of awesome Trophy Scars songs. There are a few blemishes like the unfortunate guitar octave melody and vocal melody syncing up in the intro/verses of "Assistant. Assistants." and the incredibly lame, pop-punky breakdown before the crescendo on "Assassin. Assassins." for example, but overall, I'm pumped with these tracks. They are still marginally worse than the songs from Hospital Music
and even Goodnight, Alchemy
, but I'm glad to have them in my life because of their unique flavor and wonderfully idiosyncratic style (which if you want to read on and on about I, check out my blabbering in my [url=http://www.sputnikmusic.com/album.php?reviewid=561]Hospital Music
review[/url]). New to the mix though, are a few really cool twists and turns that I didn't not expect out of Trophy Scars. Firstly, I'm digging a lot of the soloing. Previously, TS had their lead guitar be very slow and smooth, and in a repeating pattern. That gave a good contrast to the typically very chaotic, scattered, and speedy vocal presentation. Now, especially because the backup vocals have been dropped out of the equation, it's nice to hear the guitar step up. The style is still really smooth, which was the best part, but now it's just not so droning. Good move. Secondly, I like the variety to the crescendos. Part of that is the variety added to the guitar, but also, I was so overwhelmed by the gang vox on "Assistant. Assistants." when I listened to the whole song altogether. For some reason it captured the youthfulness and joy of hardcore music, that had always been muddled in Trophy Scars' way more serious and depressing aesthetic. Their crescendos were always more heartbreaking and crushing than earnest and wistful, so I'm really glad to have at least that one portion of the song in my life. It reminds me of Set Your Goals or Someday Somehow, which is awesome. Thirdly, Trophy Scars' production is really cool at moments. My favorite example is the introduction to "Absolute. Absolutes." There's a lot more guitar wankery in that intro, which on it's own is a step up, but the production sounds really smooth and mellifluous there, which I think is conducive to the way Trophy Scars has always played their instruments. There's always been a weird smooth, slidyness to the instrumentals that were sort of mimiced in the vocals (Jerry sneers and draws his enunciation out a lot). So, to pick up on that in the effects and the production is ace. I'm glad that there were a few improvements to be made in a few of the songs here.
However, for the omitted tracks, fuc
k that weak shi
t. Though I am typically against calling instrumental interludes or anything nice like that a filler track, there is no excuse for the waste of space of "Alibi. Alibis" or "A Song Begins with 'A.' Almost All These Songs Begin With 'A'." They are really self-indulgent and painful. Truly skippable. In fact, imperatively so. Another pair of songs on my hate list are "Yes." and "No." This is just Trophy Scars superimposing their style into the genre of straight or old school hardcore. Those bII and bVI power chords played aggressively sound meatheaded and unfortunate next to Jerry's sweet vocals, and that giant breakdown has the most boring rhythmic structure of all time, and the melodic doesn't really help it out. Surprisingly, I was completely fine with the rapped track Accent. Accents.
up until the synthesized piano came in. Not only is it really generic post-hardcore-esque harmonic minor stuff, but they dumb down their production to make the song sound more synthesized and rap-like, which ruins the whole song. It'd be unique and interesting to pin the rap against a real instrumental backdrop of Trophy Scars' design like at the end of "Assassin. Assassins." but instead they sound like they downloaded their background from some website and just dropped the rap on top of it. Moving further down on my hate list, "Addict. Addicts" also had a miserable set up. This song is painfully two-faced in jumping from the energetic intro intro the weird midtempo angular guitar of the next part, and then moving into the cheesy, harmonically-descending harmonic minor guitar progression. It's all a lame mix of weird pop-punk and a chord progression Avenged Sevenfold might even cringe at. The last main grudge on my hit list is a big one, and it's against the 7-minute "Alligator. Alligators." I'll admit I love cheesy love songs (you should hear me sing "All My Life" by K-Ci and Jojo and "I Swear" by All-4-One), but what we have on our hands here is just worthless. It's a mix of this goofy waltz, an out-of-place major key, balladry that's really wankery, and a terrible, terrible, disgustingly miserable, prosaicly narrated, love-story poem that wished it were an epic, touching tale. All of these tracks together, on one CD, lead me to believe Trophy Scars have been gradually gatewaying from weed to nasty nasty rock over the past few years.
And while there is a lot of good to the CD musically, there is nothing positive I can say about the lyrics. The style is an attempt to mix the abstract oddness of their previous lyrics with a really conversational, prosaic style. My theory is that they're trying to blend two important elements of, to stay with my comments on the last album's lyrics, myspace. Firstly, myspace is a social networking website, and thus everything is really casual and is about friends and fun. This yields the very casual conversation style that Jerry adapts in lyric-writing that includes a lot of slangy dialogue, cute yet trite witticisms, and a narrative that follows the drama of a cast of young kids and their "scene." Secondly, myspace is stereotypically dominated by kids who listen to bands like My Chemical Romance or From Autumn to Ashes that have lyrics that are comically melodramatic and abstract to the point of nonsensicality and amateur hackery. Jerry also uses those overly dark and convoluted images like "New Orleans and vampires, I'll miss you like this." These two unfortunates collide very acutely throughout the whole album making some moments even laughable. Overall, the lyrics rarely break from the miserable combination of the two, so if your enjoyment of an album depends on the lyrics, which mine definitely doesn't, then get the hell away from this CD.
And ya, I've ripped on this album a lot - A LOT - but I still really like Trophy Scars. There's something charming about the absurdities of this album. This album really has no staying power against their previous albums and there are better albums (and bands) in the post-hardcore genre. However, as with all of their other albums, I always end up returning to Trophy Scars for a booty call when I'm feeling lonely or nostalgic. This album is truly flawed but still has tons of enjoyable moments that I can definitely see myself coming back to enjoy down the road.