Review Summary: "Do you ever feel afraid, you'll never amount to anything?"
From the outset, Heavy Thoughts
sounds like an utter disaster on paper. Brought to us by San Diego five-piece, For The Win, it feels like a glorified time warp to 2009; offering a heavier brand of pop-punk that echoes the likes of Four Year Strong, A Day to Remember and Set Your Goals, all while applying a rawer, albeit still nuanced sheen to the proceedings. Heavy Thoughts
− their second full-length album and their debut release under the much maligned label Victory Records − sees the band spewing out major key breakdowns, gang vocals and larger-than-life sing-along choruses that saturate virtually every track. It's very familiar ground but thanks to the assured, exuberant vocals, courtesy of frontman Kyle Christensen, coupled with intelligible and often explosive guitar riffs, Heavy Thoughts
successfully doles out a series of arena-primed bangers that are forced to co-exist with some unfortunate song writing blunders. Still, it manages to give A Day to Remember's most recent and disappointing offering, Bad Vibrations
, a serious run for its money.
The album opens with the anthemic, call-to-arms war cry that is "Us Versus Them", which lays the groundwork for the proceeding nine tracks with the assurance that "This is a song for the beaten and broken"
− followed by a series of pounding breakdowns and meandering lead riffs. Though the track veers decidedly towards the metal side of the spectrum, the chorus flourishes and pops with gang shouts galore. It sounds huge and entices you to sing-along − in fact, every track on Heavy Thoughts
comes laden with an ear-grabbing, often by-god catchy hook that incentives multiple listens, even as they occasionally tread overly familiar ground. This is part and partial due to Kyle Christensen's extremely competent vocal-riffage that strikes a pristine balance between State Champ's Derek Discanio and A Day To Remember's Jeremy McKinnon. This is mostly evident in the massive sounding "How Can I", which packs one of the biggest choruses you're bound to hear all year, complete with a key change that's so out-of-left field and ridiculously awesome. It's the clear highlight of the album. The equally poppy "All or Nothing" is also home to more than a few sing-along moments and tackles the arduous predicament of leaving behind loved ones in search of greatness.
Elsewhere, the bombastic intro riff that announces "G Series" also packs a wallop and features some of the best lyrical content on the album; exploring elements of self-discovery, self-doubt and perseverance. Unfortunately, the rhythm section is dirt simple throughout most of the track and the breakdown around the three-minute mark feels trite, trying and overly bland. Still, "G Series" is an addictive romp through white-knuckle riffs and a potent, infectious chorus. "Nowhere The Run" and the title track "Heavy Thoughts" follow similar patterns, with the former track boasting one of the strongest lead hooks on the album, whereas as the head-bobbing grooves of the latter invites participation. Lyrically, Heavy Thoughts
waddles back-and-forth between some extremely heartfelt and genuine subject matters that are often sung with a great amount of conviction from Kyle, whilst some tracks on the album features lines and lyrical excerpts that are extremely clichéd. A prime example of this is the main hook featured in "Dancing Shoes" (one of the heaviest cuts on the album) which reads "you're the voice in my head, telling me I'm better off dead"
. It's generic to the point of absurdity, and since the track amounts to little more than a ho-hum homage to A Day To Remember's heydays, "Dancing Shoes" winds up being the most forgettable track on offer.
Lead single "Crash and Burn" is also another head scratcher. Being one of the few down tempo songs in For The Win's discography, it gracefully shifts between heavier instrumentals and a more measured chorus, before cramming in a breakdown in the bridge section that's extremely contrived and serves no purpose to the song; it brings what is otherwise a competent track to a screeching halt. We also get a mostly stereotypical acoustic ballad as the closer, complete with string arrangements and other production trickery that builds to a solid, if predictable crescendo. On the whole, Heavy Thoughts
is most definitely a guilty pleasure − it takes cues from virtually every single heavy pop-punk band that has dominated the scene for the last ten years while often showing glimmers of brilliance in its many earworm-choruses and strewn out song writing chops. If you're anything like me and have a shameful soft spot for breakdown-ridden pop-punk, For The Win's end-of-summer jams may just be for you.
Us Vs Them
Nowhere to Run
How Can I (Get Back to You)