Review Summary: As catchy and dark as pop-punk was ever willing to get
Pop-punk isn’t a genre known to have many concept albums, sure there’s American Idiot and The Black Parade, but back in 2005 when the album What To Do When You’re Dead was released the idea of a pop-punk concept album was never really explored, let alone one that dealt with death in this vein. But the great thing about this album isn’t the way it represents pop-punk. But the way Armor For Sleep managed to make such a dark and emotional concept catchy and fun.
Starting with the music, just on their sophomore release Armor For Sleep manage to combine some interesting styles of music and slightly complicated arrangements while still staying true to the atmosphere of the concept and the catchiness of regular pop punk. Many of the riffs seem more suitable for hardcore, but actually add to the slight uniqueness to the album. The drums are performed great, despite not being very complicated. The bass is audible most of the time and the vocals performed by Ben Jorgensen are incredible and unique compared to the usual run-of-the-mill pop punk vocals, with some well-placed screams being showcased in a few of the songs present on the album, presenting an urgent amount of emotion not seen in any of Armor For Sleep's other releases. With the aid of independent production the album has hardly dated in any area’s musically or lyrically with a concept which lacks explanation of anything that could have changed since the album's debut. What To Do When You Are Dead has arguably gotten better over time with the band’s sound being light years ahead of other efforts of the same caliber, offering a well-produced and intense effort.
This brings me to the album concept and the lyrics.
The albums concept is essentially about a middle aged man that commits suicide due to a troubled relationship and other life problems never fully explained, with a pre-gap track song that plays out like a suicide note.
‘I've let you down, Dragged you around, Wasted my money on messing my head up, I've watched you try, to figure me out, Take me back 'cause you're lonely, Save me, Even though we both know that you can't, Won't you save me, I'm gonna die tonight, I swear to god I'm gonna die’
This then becomes the beginning to what remains an emotional and well written trek of a man that looks back on his life as a ghost that can’t accept his death, going to many places he remembers, suffering from a lack rootedness and wishing he never had left everyone behind for his own problems. The great thing about this concept isn’t just its timeless idea, but the fact that it seems to have gotten better and the band actually managed to paint the concept out like a movie, with the character referring to things everyone can relate to, not only causing some thought provoking questions but reminding us of how fragile us, as humans can be. With people every day suffering from problems such as their sense of place and people’s perceptions of them, the album reminds me, as a listener, just how hard it is growing up and giving up, with topics such as these being tacked head on by the band.
‘You figured me out
I'm like a leaf in the wind
I try to find who I am
But wind up lost in the end
Sometimes it's hard to know what's real when your not
'Cause you know I change myself
To impress whoever happens to be next to me
But I'm sick of trying so hard’
Not only does the band manage to allow us to make a connection with the protagonist of the concept, but they also manage to add many sections of intense atmosphere, such as a storm being heard during the bridge of ‘The More You Talk The Less I Hear’ and using appropriate screams during the most intense lyrical lines such as ‘I’ll scream till I bleed, I’ll scream get away from me, you can’t keep me back’ making the desperation appear even more realistic. Not only does the band get away with some hardcore licks despite the pop punk tag, but they also combine a lot of heavier songs with lighter ones, with ‘The More You Talk The Less I Hear’ being followed by ‘Basement Ghost Singing’ which has slight electronic effects at the beginning combined with much softer vocals that could come across more spoken word, luckily the band benefits from this, since the album has more variety then what is usually expected, with songs like Walking At Night, Alone, having a harder emotional punch due to the soft versus mixed with heavy choruses, this is easily the albums strongest point. Despite having nearly everything that makes a classic record, it’s the combination of heavy and light textures that seem to be the icing on the cake.
So ‘What To Do When You’re Dead’ may have a pop-punk sound that has been done half to death by a lot of bands, but Armor For Sleep managed to combine everything that makes this sort of music great and wrote an amazing and dark concept album to build around it. making it the perfect album for different occasions. It can be dissected, It can simply be listened for its catchiness or can remind us of the sort of emotion that is missing in music these days, taking us back to a time where bands were willing to dare. Not only does it seem that this album has gotten better over time, but it seems like it’s one that will continue to be overlooked and underrated much like it was upon release, which is a shame, because the band may one day completely be forgotten. As the album ends, Ben sings ‘Don’t believe that the weather is perfect the day that you die’ which brings a repeated conclusion to what I believe to be a near 10 year classic, an album that reminds me how fragile we are and how as a person it’s better we do what we love before our time ends. Because while not proven, it seems like there may not ever be a second chance and looking back on all our mistakes, what we did and didn't do, there will always be regrets and never will we be able to change those moments.