Review Summary: The band overcomes past growing pains and delivers a fully developed album detailing the effects of depression, loneliness, and lost love.
A little late to the Midwest screamo revival movement pioneered by Merchant Ships
and Midwest Pen Pals
, Old Gray
have accomplished something those bands never did: releasing an LP. To be fair, the band’s sound has progressed beyond the aping of those bands contained on their first demo and EP. That isn’t to say there weren’t some growing pains along the way. 2012’s Everything I Let Go & The Things I Refuse To was billed as a change in sound and was, but they hadn’t ironed the kinks out. The songwriting was mediocre, the production was flat, and the artwork looked like it was ripped from an Aeropostale shirt. Thankfully the band kept with it and has released a fine album that demonstrates the potential found but not fully realized on their past releases. While not a perfect album, An Autobiography manages to weave screamo, post-rock and spoken word bits into a cohesive, passionate statement about depression, loneliness and lost love.
Clocking in at a lean 26 minutes, An Autobiography still manages to come across as a complete representation of their sound. The artwork is stark and affecting, if not wholly unanticipated. Maybe it’s just me, but they seem to be getting bleaker over time. You know exactly what you are in for when you catch a disheartening glance at the row of wilting flowers.
The first half of the album is loaded with their swifter, harsher tunes. “Wolves” kicks off with an ominous set of chords and then builds off chants of, “I’ve been digging a grave with the parts of my brain that still work. They’re burying me with my dead dreams, my dead dreams”. Violins underpin the song until it explodes and comes down, fading into the next song.
Next come two songs that remind the listener that the band hasn’t quite shaken their Merchant Ships influence. “Coventry” features an intro that nags and nags until the listener remembers M-Ships’ “Dying”; “The Artist” is probably the best song off the album, featuring a quick, focused attack before skidding to a stop. There’s no extra meat or fat on this one and it shines through. The first half closes with a good, albeit unremarkable, spoken word session, an art that the band has perfected by this point.
The band bills “The Graduate” as an, “incredibly heavy, fast, and pissed-off song”. It couldn’t be put any more perfectly than that. There is no respite from the doom and gloom on “Emily’s First Communion”. The song builds until startling the listener with a devastatingly intense jump into the chorus. The song also contains cringe worthy female vocals that call to mind, unfortunately, a cartoon chipmunk’s voice. What was likely an attempt to showcase the female (a likely lover) perspective in this song ends up just as a grating misstep.
“I Still Think About Who I Was Last Summer” starts off slow before building to an emotional climax where the band sings, “So here’s to life and here’s to love. I’ve said it before, that I fade with the setting sun”. Any person familiar with their song “Dying Leaves” will find this moment especially poignant. Finally, “My Life With You, My Life Without You” is composed of build after build, but each peak ends with no release. This goes on for almost the length of the song until the four-minute mark, where it pays off beautifully. The song then peacefully drifts to an end, the only calm moments out of the album’s entire 26-minute length.
What’s particularly inspiring about Old Gray is their persistence and growth. Unlike their peers, they seem to be committed to being a band, evidenced by their record of releases and the arrival of their long-awaited LP. It will be interesting to watch them develop even more, a pleasure denied to fans of Merchant Ships and Midwest Pen Pals. It’s a high compliment to say that while An Autobiography is a fine album, the band is certainly capable of far better and renowned work.