Review Summary: Accepting the new musical trends that have come along, Production effects, synths, Auto Tune, vocoders, pop-lyrics are the new tagalongs to Acceptance's second LP twelve years later. Recommended: "Golden" (#11)
Twelve years have passed since Acceptance launched their debut LP, "Phantoms" on Sony, debateably heavily influential for many bands that followed in the footsteps of their sound, but there'd be no LP2 as the Sony Rootkit scandal, a lack of any label marketing, etc, led vocalist Jason Vena to retreat to climbing the ladder in management in their hometown Lexus dealership.
2015 brought some bands of Acceptance's era back in the forefront with reunions (like Saosin), and Acceptance teased with "Take Me Away," a 4-to-the-floor piece that would likely interest anyone who liked Phantoms---it felt very much like a natural modernization of their sound.
"Colliding by Design," however, isn't quite an expansion of the single "Take Me Away." And its definitely not "Phantoms," but as anyone who listened to Saosin's reunion LP, its not rational to expect a repeat of an album that was written 10+ years ago. But Acceptance has one major differentiating factor---Anthony's been publically busy creatively, but Vena has not and maybe this becomes more evident when you're pushing an album of 11 songs than it does on a one-off single--but of course, this isn't a solo artist---the band does have evolutionary members, with McAlhaney coming off of Anberlin, Kaylan/Ryan from Search/Rescue--and you'll find Anberlin and Search/Rescue bits within the reunited Acceptance.
The album opener, "Diagram of a Simple Man," might be enough to pique your interest, its not bad by any means and is one of the better songs (lyrically so as well) on the album; "We live in black and white / we dream in color" Vena croons, his voice run through mild processing/AutoTune. As Vena explained in an interview, the song is based around "this lone image of an individual who had lost his individuality." But don't expect too much creative lyrical genius, as the next track (the title track, of all tracks)--might as well lyrically, be Billboard-ghostwritten-pop, with a prechorus of "sit tight, hold tight / night after night / night after night" and a chorus built on "let's kiss before you go away"--and it becomes a foreshadowing of the word bank that much of the album's lyrics will draw from. These include things like "her face," "my name," "loving you," "losing you," yeah...used on multiple songs to where Acceptance can feel like The Chainsmokers with a higher-pitched vocalist.
Continue further down the yellow brick road, and it becomes very much evident musically that this album is drenched (err...submerged) in synths all over. I understand their clear aim for a revival-80s-electropop sound, but, the guitars are backseated for much of the album, tough to say when a band's got talented guitarists on board. Don't get me wrong, there are some interesting instrumentals here and there, but the entire album from front-to-back is kind of undistinguishable from one song to another.
The album closer, "Golden" is debateably one of the best songs on the album where the production choices, the voice processing, the synth, the lyrics all meet a decent compromise, the focal line "we're all just chemicals" isn't the freshest theme, but hey, by the end of the album, might as well be fresh crisp lettuce compared to the "watch [her/you] go" that's the theme for almost half of the album's choruses. The song is also so very fitting as a bookender, with the outro's "it gets better, better than this" offers a positive message that one could almost say, ties all the way back to the 'man who lost his individuality' that Vena builds the album opener on. The drums are great on this song---the guitar lines are there---its not gonna be a Top-10-charting single, but its a song that makes Acceptance competitive amongst the hundred bands that have birthed since their last LP.
But Golden is just one song, and to be honest, if the band is gonna talk about how great Jason's voice is (in interviews), was it too much to expect being able to hear it without the buckets of AutoTune or processing" Yes, its stylistically tasteful on certain songs, but overall, just bordering on excessive, especially when "Take Me Away (2015)" showed that Vena is still capable of singing. And this coupled with the lyrics, such as the cringeworthy "Goodbye"---I'm paralyzed / if I ever hear you say goodbye / goodbye goodbye goodbye goodbye goodbye goodbye (no really, Clippy, its really 7 repeated goodbyes). All the respect to the dudes though irregardless, if this is what they wanna do, that's cool, but there's so much latent talent somewhere in this band--that will hopefully be more fully utilized if there's ever an LP3.
tl;dr : Neither "Take Me Away" (2015 single) or Phantoms are foretellers of what Acceptance has created in "Colliding by Design" ; if you missed Jason Vena's voice, its only available in the AutoTuned/processed flavor now.