Review Summary: Sentimentality.
Between the bongos and synthesized sine waves, amidst the pummeling percussion and atmospheric torrent that rains down on No Place
, it becomes clear-- this is the most composed A Lot Like Birds has ever been. On first impression, it appears the post-hardcore troupe is exhausting each and every bell and whistle to make its third album appear as dynamic as it can. It's also true that No Place
will drastically change the group's fanbase because of the record's sheer ambition. While Plan B
was adventurous to a T, it lacked the instrumental congruity required to really send its message home. And A Lot Like Birds got things done on Conversation Piece
, but the urgency of the band’s music had been all but snuffed out. In this sense, No Place
is a cherry-picking of the most vibrant traits of one talented band's discography.
Opposite to A Lot Like Birds’ most recent direction, No Place
doesn’t showcase the group’s instrumental talent-- it’s all about the album’s theme this time around. First off, yes, there’s a theme here-- screamer Cory Lockwood sums it up best in single “Kuroi Ledge”, where he shouts “Is there some place I belong" Is there any place to call a home"” All of No Place
was written exclusively to set forth these ideas of home, and about how in just a fragment of a second, the safest house can transform into a wrecking ground. Each song is meant to represent a different room in a house, something the bathroom-led video for “Next to Ungodliness” wears on its sleeve. It’s music built around a premise, art devised for a message that's sometimes alarming. The music here is even more grim, though-- it’s dissonant, chaotic and downright concerning. For starters, guitarist Michael Franzino chooses the most curious chord changes through the record. The album’s melodies are about indecipherable at times as a result, which contributes to this feeling of being lost in a place that feels so familiar. We know A Lot Like Birds by now, and this music is certainly theirs, but it’s so unlike them that it’s jarring. Thankfully, when No Place
feels too constricting, the album cuts back and takes a breather. If it weren’t for its interludes, it’d be a hell of a lot easier to lose one’s place in the panoptic journey at hand.
Instead of looking to playful modern post-hardcore for its influences like Conversation Piece
did, this album goes a bit further back. The most obvious comparison to make, and the one that (surprisingly!) hasn’t been made yet, is that No Place
sounds a hell of a lot like the early Mars Volta. These songs are long, riddled with absurd time signatures, and carry Latin influence on their collective sleeve, especially in the diverse rhythm section at hand. The core of “No Nature” practically screams this fact, via the spell-binding grooves crafted by drummer Joe Arrington and bassist Michael Littlefield. Singer Kurt Travis also takes cues from Cedric Bixler-Zavala throughout the record, wailing in the chaos and crooning in the subdued moments. Never is it more evident than in No Place
’s centerpiece, “Connector”-- listen to the song at 3:41, and tell me that isn’t an EXACT vocal melody The Mars Volta frontman has utilized at some point in his career. Now, every band has to look to others for its stylistic changes-- in this way, it doesn’t bother me that The Mars Volta influence is so clear on the record. More bands could use The Mars Volta's spirit, and besides, there’s an adage somewhere that suggests the most effective way to become the best is to ape those who’ve earned that title already.
There’s more to No Place
’s new stylings than the recently-defunct, most celebrated progressive rock group, though. Other, more recent bands also seem to have shaped this record-- I hear Jordan Dreyer’s contributions to La Dispute in Cory Lockwood’s newfound affinity for spoken-word, and surprisingly enough, atmospheric tracks like “Hand Over Mouth, Over and Over” recall the more personable days of post-rock group Maybeshewill. This wide scope of imprints on No Place
makes the record function more as an aggregator of different musical genres, but that all have one thing in common-- sentimentality. This record is emotional beyond repair, whether building up walls through shape-shifters of tunes like “Recluse”, or retracting them gracefully like the warm and marvelous “Hand Over Mouth, Over and Over”. And that’s the pivotal thing about No Place
, that it’s necessary for A Lot Like Birds to release this because it’s a message they’ve been wanting to share for the longest time. And yes, critics will have the easiest time slamming the record because its fears are on its sleeve, and those fears sometimes come off as a little callow. But I’ll take that any day over music that exists to exist, to tunes that are as needless to their creator as they are to the listener. No Place
is bleak, incongruent, and more importantly, human.