Review Summary: Arizona post-hardcore outfit Stereotyperider return from the wilderness with lively and distinctive new record.
It seems every time that a band take a few years' break, their next album is labelled "The Chinese Democracy of [insert genre here]." In a parallel universe, Songs in the Keys of F and U
might have been similarly anticipated, arriving as it does five years after their previous effort Prolonging the Inevitable
, but in reality, it's been released with little fanfare. Being one of the few bands on Suburban Home Records who don't deal in alt-country-influenced punk rock (specializing instead in a catchy brand of loose-limbed, widdly post-hardcore), they're immediately set apart from their peers, and with this absolute corker of an album, it'd be no surprise if they finally gained the recognition and success of some of their label-mates.
Stereotyperider are a band with a great many influences on their collective sleeve; while much of their music is based on a solid grounding of the kind of technically-minded post-hardcore with which many post-2000 Dischord Records bands have gained notoriety, they never stick to a rigid formula. "Not Sayin' It" and "Luck" are shot through with the kind of sun-drenched vocal melodies/harmonies, driving riffs and propulsive beats that would suggest the band have been listening to more than a little desert-rock, and both "Useless Point" and "Don't Want to Know" have a pop-punk streak a mile wide. On top of that, almost every song has some instance of strange timings, rhythms or fills being used, betraying a love of 90s emo math-magicians Braid
Vocalist Mike comes off like a cross between Quicksand
's Walter Schriefels and a more slightly gruffer version of He Is Legend
's Schuylar Croom (minus the screaming), and his ability to hold a tune has come on in leaps and bounds since the last album (possibly helped by the throat surgery he underwent in the time since). The rhythm section hold things down nicely, with the drummer displaying some considerable flair, whilst never distracting from the overall sound. Make no mistake though, this is primarily a guitar-driven album; every song is liberally sprinkled with angular riffs that, once unleashed, seem to fly onwards and upwards at a considerable rate of knots, before being anchored down with a chunky power chord here and there. However, the guitarists never cave in to unnecessary fret-wanking, with every riff both serving the song and keeping the listener on their toes. In fact, the chaotic lead parts that drive opener "We are Dinosaurs" and regularly punctuate "Did You Hear What I Meant"" are a huge part of what make the songs so distinctive and enjoyable.
The very live-sounding production (and it should be - after all, the album was recording in a living room!) keeps things gritty and grounded, with guitar effects and layering used liberally and yet subtly. Take, for instance, the epic multi-layered space-rock guitar wig-out towards the end of album highlight "Annoy Me;" it's a part that wouldn't sound out of place on Cave In
opus, and yet the earthy production gives the listener the impression that, rather than duelling with guitars miles above the stratosphere, the band are gazing skyward from a porch and jamming out some sort of musical star-map. This down-to-earth approach to recording and lack of overproduction gloss has given the album a warm and personal feel that really adds character.
It's hard to pick faults with Songs in the Keys of F and U
. Admittedly, the two instrumental interludes "Long Time Caller..." and "...First Time Listener" add little to the album, but they each provide a pleasantly atmospheric breather, and hardly interrupt the flow. Mike's vocal melodies occasionally feel a little monotonous, but his penchant for using interesting rhythms and patterns in his delivery more than make up for it. The more I listen to the album, the more often I find myself coming back to it - it really does have just about everything I look for in a great post-hardcore album, with the added bonus of having all the energy of a punk rock record. Stereotyperider have really come out of nowhere and knocked me for six, and if you enjoy any of the styles, genres and bands I've referenced in this review, or just fancy something a little different or new, I heartily suggest you check out Songs in the Keys of F and U