Review Summary: The next best thing for Ampere fans craving a full LP, with a few surprises of its own.
Loma Prieta - Last City
When starting this review, I wanted to write about how recombinatory techniques in songwriting can get boring and how Loma Prieta hopefully breaks out of that in terms of emo recombination, but I quickly realized that "recombinatory" as a term is already not going to explain much to the average reader. In short, "recombination" is a term that comes from genetic biology and refers to the process of breaking and then rejoining DNA. A classic experiment done in AP Biology has the student extract DNA that codes for fluorescence in jellyfish (GFP) and recombine that sequence into for E. Coli DNA. The desired result is for the E. Coli colony to glow in the dark. So, for one to call an emo band recombinatorial could be either a compliment or an insult. Either a band can carefully lift a useful strand from pre-existing bands and use it to make their songs more lively, or they can just recombine a bunch of tried and true elements to create the musical equivalent of an AP biology lab - a glow in the dark petri dish. Of course the goal is to be a Circle Takes the Square, tastefully using post-rock, emo, early 90s Gravity Records screamo, grind, and thrash, as opposed to a band like I Would Set Myself on Fire for You, a lesser recombination of those genre fragments.
Coming out of the primordial ooze in 2008 is Loma Prieta, a band whose previous releases were no more than Ampere ripoffs with a dash of Toru Okada's theatrics and melodrama - not an admirable mix. However, with the release of Last City
, Loma Prieta feel like a band who have spent quite a bit of time in the lab perfecting their brand of recombination (or whatever metaphor will work with my now worn-thing analogy). The first and best part of the new mixture is that the dramatics are gone. The voice-cracking screaming has been replaced by post-pubescent distorted screaming and the propensity for slapstick variety has been reeled in. In its place is a sound that is certainly diverse and is a pastiche of many different influences, but always has a level-headed forward propulsion. Loma Prieta are not going to leap from a thrashy section to a melodic, poppy section but are going to travel across a gradient of those two sounds over an entire song, or maybe overlap the two in an interesting and original way. All of the diverse influences that give Loma Prieta their distinctive, Frankenstinian flavor are present, but they are all properly sewn together instead of tossed haphazardly into a minute-long blip coming through my speakers.
Other parts of their formula have been tinkered with as well. The guitars are more creative and unexpected, resembling These Arms Are Snakes at their best moments. The sense of rhythm on Last City
is also vastly improved. Instead of a bunch of repetitively accented 6/8 passages, Loma Prieta work in a ton of rhythmic variety, which further helps the aforementioned "forward propulsion" to the songwriting and also is a nod to the best parts of Ampere's sound (how sick is that 5/4 guitar riff on "Woodlawn" at around 1:10?). Every passage feels like it's pushing towards a different crescendo or decrescendo, instead of feeling like a puree of different sounds, energies, tones, and ideas. I'm also a huge fan of the production. Considering all of the recombination on this album, it's be easy to just record each passage "in-genre," (giving the melodic passages a sheen, the arpeggiated passages a shimmering quality, the thrashy passages a shredding tone, etc.), but instead, the album has continuity and seamlessness, when the songwriting is anything but. The gloss of compression on the vocals, the savory mix of clean tones and trebly distortion in the guitars, and the thundering beef of the bass and drums all have a strong unity, which does a lot of work to bring the album together.
While Last City
is not a genre redefining album (there are still obvious traces of Ampere and You and I here - but what better bands to rip off?), it certainly is an excellent album. Its 22-minute runtime makes good on Loma Prieta's claim that "our LP is your EP," and feels like a complete, if bite-sized unit of music. Ultimately, in a genre where recombination is being done with increasingly disappointing results, it's nice to hear a band that "gets it." Loma Prieta have produced a vital and compelling emotional hardcore album in 2008 that unabashedly invokes its predecessors while still fighting the genetic dilution that has plagued emo in recent memory.