Review Summary: Kurtastrophe.
Kurt Travis is a machine in human form. The man has fronted two fantastic post-hardcore bands, started one of his own (Eternity Forever), created fantastic solo material and started his own record label. And despite all of this, his vocals have an unforgettable tone to them that reaches the perfect balance between melodic and powerful. So, when Kurt announced his departure from A Lot Like Birds
, it was hard to imagine a future without him. His distinctive sound played such an integral part in both Conversation Piece
and No Place
, with his performances always being standouts on the albums. However, ALLB were quick to push forward as a five-piece, releasing a steady stream of studio clips. And, as it turned out, that future started to appear bright. Cory Lockwood had picked up clean vocals and was sounding fantastic. Matt Coate, the new addition to the quintet, took up the task of second vocalist, and the rest of the band were quick to excite just as Cory and Matt had. And here we are, at the arrival of Divisi
. But, despite all the incredible promise teased to fans in the lead up to its release, Divisi
falls flat consistently, proving to be an uncharacteristic stumble for a band whose music up to this point was near-flawless.
The influence from Michael’s solo project is in full effect throughout the album; gone are the aggressive verses from No Place
, and in their place are overly mellow, incredibly dull periods of time. Throughout Divisi
, the band repeats themselves consistently. Focusing on a more streamlined approach to song-writing, performances tend to feel recycled and lacklustre. Each song has a build-up to the chorus, an explosion of noise, and then back to the build-up. The crazy time-signatures of both their previous outings are completely eradicated, leaving songs like ‘For Shelley (Unheard)’ and ‘Trace the Lines’ to begin to overstay their welcome, particularly after a few listens. Although both Cory and Matt try their hardest to reach the heights of Kurt, neither has the ability to step-up completely, leaving their vocals to fall flat consistently. Cory’s lower vocals tend to become uninteresting as the album continues. This isn’t to say his inclusion is wasted; rather, his higher vocals soar incredibly well and prove his new-found ability for singing. But his underwhelming performance, along with some very disappointing spoken word sections (‘The Smoother the Stone’, beginning of ‘Divisi’) and lack of his incredible harsh vocals, leave the album lacking the punch their earlier releases had. The more alone.
-esque production also leaves much to be desired; vocals are pushed lower into the mix, additional instrumentals continually come over the top, and both bass and drums are easily lost in all the noise.
Although a change in music direction is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, the band feel so incredibly out of place in a more mellow sound. Drummer Joseph Arrington, known for his wonderfully sporadic patterns, is forced to take a back seat to the more atmospheric sound the band has reached out for. Although he does still perform some fantastic rhythms, particularly on the back-end of the album, his ability is wasted continuously. Despite this, the guitars from both Michael and Ben Wiacek put on a standout performance, tapping and noodling their way throughout the album. Despite the tamer sound of Divisi
, their inclusion always adds an extra layer to the album, particularly on ‘No Attention for Solved Puzzles’ and ‘Further Below’, despite the inconsistency of the album as a whole. The bass of Matt Coate is also gladly prominent, but his measured performance stands relatively tamely when compared to that of previous bassist Michael Littlefield on previous outings.
The varying consistency of Divisi
is one of its biggest weaknesses. The front-half of the album is incredibly lacklustre, with songs overstaying their welcome substantially by having sections last far too long. ‘Atoms in Evening’ progresses far too slowly, and the payoff doesn’t match the pace of the song. The back-half of the album completely blows the front-half out of the water however, with the more experimental songs being huge standouts. ‘Good Soil, Bad Seeds’ and ‘From Moon to Son’ are much more fully realised, and are better for it, providing standout performances from the entire band. Cory’s harsh vocals make a welcome return on both the latter song and closer ‘Divisi’, if only for a brief moment, and Matt provides a great vocal performance throughout.
But the issue that Divisi
continually presents is simple; is this really A Lot Like Birds
? Their commitment to a new sound whilst nearly completely abandoning their previous influences hasn’t paid off. And even when it does, you realise moreso just how much better the band has and can be. For every great song that harkens back to previous material, there’s another song too washed away with alone.
influence. The front half’s inconsistencies aren’t forgotten by the time the back half rolls around, as the length issue persists throughout the album. Adding to this, vocal performances tend to drag, not providing enough of a change to really be something to draw the listener in. The Kurt-less quintet progress forward, but leave pieces of themselves behind, resulting in a product that doesn’t measure up to their previous outings.