Review Summary: A chaotic mess
Sometimes it is difficult to express why you enjoy an album, and that is the predicament I find myself in today. I enjoy Nothing Above, Nothing Below but I struggle to find a reason as to why. Musically, it is disjointed, incoherent and inconsistent. Lyrically, it doesn't fare much better, and for the majority of this album, Franks screaming is very difficult to make out. Production-wise, I can't tell if it's superb or awful. Everything sounds crisp, but it's still a mess. However, despite it being a disjointed mess of electronic noise, I thoroughly enjoy this album.
It starts off with a 2 minute “intro”, titled “Diluted”. Ambient electronics are overlayed with Frank reading a poem. I call it a poem because it's delivery is closer to a poetry reading than to singing lyrics. It's a nice intro, the electronics are pretty and really shine through. The “poetry” is decent enough, but it does sound like 3rd grade emo schlock. Perhaps this is why I enjoy this album so much? Maybe it takes me back to my school days, when I was the most emo kid in my whole town? The next track is a very sudden change of pace, sounding what I can only describe as “electro-MCR”. The track, “Why Is Love so Disastrous?” is the lead single from the album, which indicates it is the song Frank and James felt would be most appealing (or the song the record label deemed most likely to sell). Being the first track I ever heard from Death Spells, this is the song that grabbed me first, and is the sole reason I bought the record, and I can understand why. Having been a big MCR fan back in the day, and a fan of Frank's solo projects, this track appealed to my nostalgiac love for My Chem, and my more recent interest in Frank's solo album “Stomachaches”. This song sounds like an amalgamation of the two, with an electronic filling. It's one of the few tracks where Frank's voice is on the upper layer of the mix, but it is still strongly distorted. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, being an electronic album, clean untouched vocals would make it all the more disjointed. The track is easily the most radio friendly and accessable, with a guitar (?) driven breakdown towards the end, with a much more verse/chorus/verse structure when compared with the rest of the album. Perhaps this is why I enjoy the album, because it reminds me of MCR?
From then on, the album is a haze of electronic buzz, screams and crashing cymbals. The track “Where Are My ***ing Pills?” is a song that has been circulating the internet for a few years now, and is one of the duo's first songs. It starts off with a sound byte of two people talking about killing (or injuring) someone, before exploding into an assault of electronic noise and Frank's screams. It's not easy listening, and out of all the “mess” this album is, this is the dirty underwear under the clutter. However, I would call it an album highlight, it gives me a warm feeling and harkens back to walking around my home town late at night alone, under the street lights, listening to angry (probably more angsty) music. I suppose that may be why I enjoy this album? Because it feels nostalgiac to me without actually being a piece of nostalgia?
The album has a short piano driven interlude, before beginning the second half of the album, which begins with “End of Life”. This is another stand out track, being largely piano driven, with Frank soflty crooning over the top. It's very atmospheric, I dare say beautiful, before the electronics begin once more, and the calmness of the song is broken, and it throws us back into the chaos of the album. The track following this is “Hell All-American”, easily the albums most fun track, almost dance-infused. Frank's vocal work is once again distorted, so much so on this track making out lyrics is nearly impossible. It is a fun song, with a bouning beat and a techno influenced chorus, probably the most “danceable” track from the album. “Hypnotic Spells” is more another interlude than a track, it's electronic backing is one of the more pretty ones, it consists of the aforementioned electronics, and a slowed down distorted voice of someone performing hypno-therapy. The final minute is Frank quietly screaming over the ambience, before breaking into the next song, which is the track that clicked with me when I first heard it, “Fantastic Bastards”. Out of all of the songs on this record, this is the standout that stands tallest. Bouncy as “Hell All-American”, this track could easily be a b-side from Stomachaches, with a more distorted guitar sound and the clearest vocal work (bar “Diluted”). Frank's voice is distorted still, but not to the extent it is on the rest of the album. Telling the story of an abused child, it's a more unique song on the album, in that it is the only one I wouldn't call a disjointed mess. It flows well, it works cohesively, and the vocal delivery is one of Franks most sincere. The album closer is a slow blend of electronics and drums, with Frank's singing creeping over the top. Sounding like a more refined and meaty “Hypnotic Spells” in terms of style, it closes the album perfectly.
I don't know what it is about this album that I love so much, it could be the way it reminds me of MCR, a band I am nostalgiac for, it could be the way it somehow takes me back to my teenage years, lonely nights walking around my small town listening to anything that expressed my anger in a way I could not myself, or it could just be that this album clicks with me and there is no greater reason why. I don't think I'll ever work out what it is, but I do know that this album for whatever reason, is important to me. It is a mess of chaotic proportions.
I recommend you give this a go if I have managed to spark your interest in any way, or if you are a fan of Frank Iero's solo projects (if you enjoy Leathermouth, you have more of a chance of enjoying this). However I do concede most will strongly dislike this album, because as I have said before, it is a chaotic mess.