Review Summary: Let Counterparts' sweet current carry you away.
Counterparts has always been a particularly interesting band to me. I originally gave them a listen on a whim because I thought their name was what I’d imagine a good hardcore band to name themselves, and was pleasantly surprised when they turned out to be an enjoyable listen. For a young band in the current ‘core scene, Counterparts always carried themselves like a much more mature and refined group than their age would imply. More than technical enough to be interesting, but concise and focused enough to still deliver the emotional punch that standouts in the genre deliver so well.
That being said, Prophets
definitely felt like a band’s first full-length. Don’t get me wrong, the album was phenomenal and remains one of my most listened-to even now, but it sounded just like I’d imagine a “good ‘core album” to sound like. Sure, there were plenty of moments that really stood out, but there was also a short intro, a well-executed but kind of cheesy “this one’s for home” song(which I unashamedly fall for every time), and the ubiquitous melodic interlude with a movie quote dubbed over it. Mind you, even these parts were very tastefully done, but the fact remains that I could have guessed they would be on the album before I heard it. Heck, there was even the ex-girlfriend song that the band famously refuses to play. And while I couldn’t help but get caught up in every moment of the album, I couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t quite as prophetic as it could have been. This ultimately led me to eagerly anticipate further releases like a kid staying up late on Christmas Eve.
Nearly two years later, Counterparts have released their second LP, The Current Will Carry Us
. After having spent the better part of that time scouring the internet for every new note since their split EP with Exalt, I must say I was a bit worried. They curiously signed to Victory Records, and when Jumping Ship streamed online, I was genuinely under the impression that their sophomore release would match their release at best. Sure, I had an extra tab on my browser for a youtuberepeat of the video running at all times, but I wasn’t about to put it in the running for Album of the Year.
I’ve probably been more wrong about more important things in my life, but I’d like to pretend I haven’t. And that’s because their new release has the infectious appeal of more gimmicky acts, but the replay value of a less-accessible masterpiece. This time Counterparts isn’t taking you on a tour of what ‘core would sound like if it was always done properly, but rather of what the genre has potential for. Albums like these are why I still dig through prospective bands in this increasingly formulaic genre.
Gone are the tributes to home, mandatory movie references, and forced positivity. In ridding themselves of the last overarching traditions of hardcore, metalcore, or whatever you’d like to call their musical neighborhood, Counterparts have realized their potential. It was a transformation they hinted at on their split, but one that culminates now. The band has always been prodigiously talented, but this album shows them truly pushing the genre forward. It’s something often said, but rarely so easily defensible. Simply put, Counterparts have managed to incorporate every technique that great hardcore bands use into a much better package. Raging frenetic beats drive Brendan’s vastly improved vocals forward. There are serene melodies that give way to further aggression or fleeting modulations. It’s not that they’re trying to show off; they’re really just more talented and creative than the vast majority of their peers.
The Current Will Carry Us
signifies a critical step in Counterparts’ progression as a band. No longer are they young upstarts desperately trying to prove their worth while making sure not to be entirely inaccessible. There is a definite and tangible change in the band’s approach this time around: they remain decidedly rooted in their melodic hardcore sound, but are not at all afraid to reinvent the elements that define their genre. Whereas Prophets had clearly defined breakdowns, melodic bridges, and aggressive buildups, The Current Will Carry Us
is not afraid to forego a concrete structure in favor of experimentation. The breakdowns are usually much shorter, subtler, often only employed in pieces to highlight certain sections of Brendan’s lyrics. This leads to much more interesting and dynamic songs without making their music entirely unfamiliar.
Brendan’s songwriting has also made an impressive leap forward. As I mentioned before, Prophets
played very much like a debut album, and featured passionate lyrics, but was limited by its insistence on positivity and self-affirmation to an unrealistic degree. While the message in their sophomore album remains ultimately positive, the vocals have matured in both content and delivery, as Brendan’s vocal cadence often shifts without warning. More honest and disillusioned than ever, an unrelenting storm of anger that understands and addresses the contradictions and grayness of morality in modern life makes their songs much more relevant. Counterparts are no longer prophets screaming indiscriminately at the world, but rather acknowledge the common struggles we all face within our own minds, and are much better for it. Choruses and clean vocals are few and far between, but very welcome when they do appear.
However, amidst all the progression, few songs manage to truly distinguish themselves as standalone classics. This is a small gripe to be sure, but is definitely something that can be further improved upon. Counterparts have what it takes to further refine their music. In the end, The Current Will Carry Us
still functions much better as a whole than as eleven separate entities, and so demands more attention than some listeners may be willing to give it. It’s a gem to be sure, but there is still progress to be made. One can only hope their future career lives up to the hype they’re bringing upon themselves.