Anyone who heard Finch's debut EP, Falling Into Place, couldn't help but feel a short rush of excitement, followed by a bit of a teased feeling. Here's a band who can combine pop, punk, and hardcore well, and we only get FOUR SONGS""" The good news is that the band's first full-length, What It Is To Burn, not only met but exceeded every expectation that could have been held for such a sound.
Take the Deftones, GlassJAw, a generic pop-punk band of your choice, and Jimmy Eat World, add just a pinch of electronica, then stir and bake to a golden-brown perfection, and you'd have Finch. But what's noteworthy about this album is not just that it mixes so many disparate genres brilliantly, but that the band actually creates a sound all their own from the result. One spin of this album gives the listener a distinct sense that there is a new, distinct sound that is uniquely Finch, that the band is not merely a composite but has forged a fresh identity in a world of so much generica.
The album opens with "New Beginning," an outstanding taste of what's to come. Vocalist Nate Barcalow holds the lead here for the first two verses, before screamer/guitarist Alex Linares blasts in after the second verse and reveals the second dimension of Finch's sound -- a brutal, high-register scream for added intensity on this pop-punk platform. The instrumental work on this track also bears noting. The dynamics are great, especially as the guitars fade into quiet background noise for the brooding bridge, before coming back to intense life for the final chorus. The entire track, as with the rest of the album, is supported brilliantly by rapid-fire double-bass drum work, courtesy of Alex Pappas.
The album is aided strongly by the fact that the majority of its tracks do not get lost amongst one another. While the sound here is consistent, especially with the strong production values present throughout, different tracks emphasize different parts of Finch's sound without straying from the mark at all. The band's pop sensibilities are played out effortlessly on the uplifting "Stay With Me" and the lead single, "Letters To You," while the album is also interspersed with several tracks that tilt towards punk stylings or hardcore assaults, and yet each track is moderated by the warring influences to maintain a sonic integrity throughout.
The band shows their hardcore stripes a little more often than most others, possibly lending to my exceptional personal preference for the band. The tracks "Grey Matter" and "Project Mayhem" each feature involved guest vocal performances from GlassJAw singer Daryl Palumbo. The former is one of the most shredding tracks on the album, interspersing Palumbo's vocal flavor perfectly. The latter, unfortunately, gives the album quite possibly its only weak moment with its extended repetitive ending. The track's beginning is solid enough, with an obvious lyrical tribute to the brilliant film Fight Club and interspersed electronic-drum bridges, but the track quickly extinguishes most of its own fire. The album's other furious moments are also noteworthy. The standout "Three Simple Words," the third track from the album's end, is an absolutely uncompromising piece that lends more credence to the theory that violence has a place in music. "With my hands around your neck," rages Barclow, "Who will stop me now"" The album continues after this track, but has truly crescendoed by its finish.
The punk-edged tracks here are also invigorated by the wide variety of influences that come into play. "Perfection Through Silence" is an album highlight that blazes through a speedy lead-guitar riff and amazing percussion work into a brutal bridge that carries the tune into brilliance. "Untitled" is a scalding, powerful piece with head-banging riffs that never let up. "Awake" is one of the most melodic moments on the album, especially on the quiet bridge, where Barclow pleads to "Keep breathing until you feel something, or take my breath away."
If What It Is To Burn has a weakness, it is that its few more standard performances are outshined by the brilliance around them. "Post Script" still mixes its mostly punk sound with Linares' screams uniquely, but doesn't impact as crisply as the rest of the album. The closer, "Ender," is the album's quietest moment, and while it does build slowly and well, it is slightly wounded by its own length. Neither of these tracks, it should be noted, are bad in any distracting way, but they are simply good performances on an incredibly inventive album.
What It Is To Burn is one of 2002's standout albums. In a field of wannabes, Finch has taken several sounds that are becoming increasingly disparate and combined them into a cohesive, emotional and energetic whole. Fans of punk, hardcore, and many varieties of softer alternative should all find something to love on this CD. Some may be turned away by its brutality, and a few may be turned off by the sharp edge of Lineas's screams, but those who aren't will find a new gem of a band to love.