Review Summary: Like a well-oiled machine
What does potential sound like? It's easy to see in some things. You know the signs of budding intelligence, athletic talent, business savvy and charisma. But what tells you that a band has potential? It's much trickier to describe, but From Indian Lakes had it in spades on their breakthrough Able Bodies
-- you heard it in every near-voice crack from Joey Vannuchi, in every massive chorus and chilling lyric. Unfortunately, Absent Sounds
is not the culmination of that potential -- but it's not the squandering of it, either. It's neither better nor worse than their last -- but it makes me all the more excited for the band's future.
It's immediately apparent that this is much more subdued than Able Bodies
. The dashes of post-hardcore influence are basically gone, replaced with piano and very subtle electronic effects garnishing the core of Brand New
meets Manchester Orchestra
. It's all very organic and lush this time around, thanks largely to a different mixing approach. It's no longer just about Vannuchi's vocals -- Absent Sounds
is much more of a group effort, with drums taking a surprisingly large share of the spotlight. The drum grooves are subtly complex but infectious, and the splashy cymbals refine the already beautiful atmosphere.
So what's the downside? The lack of the urgency and sincerity of Able Bodies.
When that album was firing on all cylinders, there was a desperation, a sense that Vannuchi's heart was about to burst and he meant every word. Granted, it didn't fire on all cylinders all the time, while Absent Sounds
is impressively consistent. But I'd be willing to swallow some valleys if it meant peaks like "'Til I Can Walk" and "Your Son" came back.
But for the time being, we songs have the beautiful opener, "Come in This Light." This slow-burning prelude's swirling pads highlight Vannuchi's gorgeous falsetto nicely, drawing the listener in before the crunchy "Label This Love" hits. "Breathe, Desperately" hearkens back to the previous album more than any other track with its driving chorus and soaring melody, but adds a welcome touch of piano in its brief instrumental stanzas. Lead single "Ghost" is another highlight, with masterful dynamics and another big chorus complementing Vannuchi's bitter contemplations ("How could I let you see? It's so hard to love anything/ Now I'm a ghost of what I once was").
A renewed focus on diversity in songwriting works wonders here -- "Am I Alive," driven by hand claps and earthy percussion, loses no energy when its guitars are unplugged. However, putting the slow-starting "Awful Things" and the sparse, sleepy "Runner" next to each other in the tracklist may have been a mistake -- they're two of the album's weakest tracks and they kill a good deal of momentum. Fortunately, closer "Fog," while certainly no "'Till I Can Walk," is a master class in dynamics and pacing, teasing the listener for what feels like ages before finally erupting in a triumphant race to the finish.
There's no denying that From Indian Lakes's third album is a more mature, cohesive effort. The musical growth is massive, and the songwriting has improved by leaps and bounds -- and the lyrics no longer consist entirely of rhetorical questions! But now all the band needs is for Vannuchi to recapture the poignancy of his previous work and bring back his flair for the dramatic. If he does that, we may have a classic on our hands -- and I don't say that lightly. Potential, once again, sounds like the latest From Indian Lakes album.