Review Summary: The river's not flooded this time.
Somewhere At The Bottom Of The River Between Vega And Altair is the first full-length release from Michigan post-hardcore band La Dispute. Within the first listen to this, most people might think one thing, "Damn, these guys sound similar to mewithoutYou."
And admittedly, these guys do draw a few comparisons to mwY. The biggest comparison is between Aaron Wiess and La Dispute vocalist Jordan Dreyer. Both of them use the clean emotional singing to the extremely hurt emotional shouts of anger and rage. There's some a slight differences between them though. Jordan Dreyer uses more traditional vocal melodies than Wiess, and his clean vocals tone is just not that good at all. Another comparison that could be drawn between mewithoutYou and La Dispute is that La Dispute sort of sounds like mewithoutYou circa A to B: Life, except a little bit cleaner, and more advanced instrumentation. That's what makes this album a little bit better than A to B: Life. Where most of A to B: Life's performance comes from the heartbroken performance from vocalist Aaron Wiess while the instrumentation is a little bit subpar, the vocals and players of this album play their respective parts extremely well.
It all starts from first song "Such Small Hands." This lets you know what you're in for. Completely clean guitars over Dreyer's emotional out pour of him losing a loved one. It builds over its 1 minute length, and at the climax which would pour perfectly into the next song, it abruptly stops, with your heart clenched at the seat, this is where a ride begins. A strum of a chord, tambourine, a bass line. The next song explodes within a minute, except this time it not ending early. Dreyer's emotional out pour continues, pouring out some tortured, heartfelt lyrics that mostly deal with relationships. While it may seem more cheesy and amateurish, these aren't your average lyrics of a troubled, ruined relationship. They're built in through a deep forest of metaphors and even at times fantastic story telling.
"Rise!" Said the King to the River,
"Never let up! No, bring us a flood and bring it hard!"
"Freeze!" Said the Wind to the Water,
"Never give in! No, build us a bridge!
And build it strong and angry.
Let it stills the King's decree.
Oh, you must contemplate the current,
Boy, and command that coward cease.
The boy breathes for his love says, 'I wait.'
His love says, 'I wait.'
She's shouting out, "I will come back. Yes, I will come back!
I will come—I have lived my life so uncomfortably. Darling, come for me.
Come for me."
This album would be much less if it weren’t for this album’s creative playing. The chords shift through some fantastic riffing throughout the whole album. Seamlessly dividing between clean and distorted parts, sometimes combining them at the same time, the guitar players are the main focus of the group. They aren’t incredibly technical in a sense, but they are extremely tight. But where there is no insane technicality, there is experimentation. Some of the best parts of this album come from the experimenting of different instruments and arrangements in songs. Such an example is in the song “Andria,” where the lead is played by a lap steel guitar throughout the whole song, and it really adds to the overall beauty of the song. They also don’t over experiment on the album, knowing their boundaries, which shows a sense of maturity in such a young band. There is also almost no chugging at all used in the album, it’s almost safe to say that there isn’t any chugging at all used in the entire span of this album, and that definitely is a major plus. The guitar players rather use a lot of intertwining melodies and call-and-response playing. A perfect example of them playing off of each other while intertwining is the song “Damaged Goods.” After the intro, they play off of each other before exploding into a fury a ruined relationship filled palm muting and gang shouting.
The rhythm section is none less tight; in the same song between the pauses of guitar, the bass player and drummer thump and trump around, leaving the floor for the gang shouts. The bass player is incredible throughout the album, but you usually don’t hear it. When the guitars are light and the bass can clearly be heard, it’s usually during a mellow part to the song, so the bass player isn’t playing anything to complicated. But when the songs are in full fury, if you listen hard enough you’ll hear some wacky lines being thrown about. And last, but not least, the drums. They are not the most complicated thing in the world, but get the job done fairly well. There are enough fills and crashes that it should keep the general crowd pleased. This man also has a love for the tambourine, as you can hear it for pretty much throughout the whole album.
The albums biggest strengths and weaknesses lie in the vocals though. As I mentioned earlier, Dreyer does not have that good of a clean tone, with his spoken vocals sometimes getting a little monotonous. It sometimes shakes and creaks as his voice can’t seem to hold through some parts, and it doesn’t come off sounding pathetic, more so it comes off sounding like a man who is done, who is giving up. The true strength of the vocals though lies in the screams. Filled with passion to the tip, his screams are dripping in depression and almost cynicism for the blood and lust lost in and because of relationships. They’re shrill, and all you can hear the pain leaving his throat in a scratchy rasp. It keeps the album above the rest of the contenders in the post-hardcore genre, because honestly, almost no one sounds like it, and almost no one can pull off this vocal style this well. Along with his vocals some gang shouts and hand clapping accompany him throughout the album, usually employed during the singing parts. It helps by taking some of the focus off of his voice, which helps disguise the monotony. But I they can’t do this forever, because people will soon notice Dreyer’s tone, or lack thereof.
La Dispute definitely fills the gap for those who are looking for some post-hardcore. Not only does it fill that gap, it keeps that gap full for a while. Not only do they have some interesting (and sometimes original) experimentation on this side of post-hardcore, but they play the genre at top of its game; and topping almost any other band around today playing in this genre. Beyond all the mediocrity and signing of acts that don’t deserve it, I just a hope a band like La Dispute will pick up steam at least in the underground community and people will realize that this band is meant for much bigger, better things.
"I wasn't happy. I wasn't happy where I was..
What is life without a purpose? What is purpose without love?
I pray my children will forgive me, though I bade the river flood.
I have washed my hands a thousand times but still can see the blood."