Review Summary: ...yet never comfortableAlmost Foreign
is an album attempting to be an anthemic voice for the upset and oppressed; a cry of defiance and a criticism of the ones in power. The swelling, climactic instrumentals and cutting lyrics act as the album’s agents for these lofty goals, both comparable in emotion and impact. Whether it’s actually fruitful in its efforts is up for debate, however, as this album displays obvious highlights yet embarks on many unnecessary detours.
The one-two punch of ‘Dillon and Her Son’ and ‘Blank #12’ practically embodies the stark contrast between TWIABP’s successes and failures; the former is a delicate flurry of cymbal crashes and bubbling guitars while the latter’s reliance on its past devalues the empty ambient-effort almost completely. For an album so adamant about asking for change and development, it is strangely (albeit, humanly) preoccupied with its predecessors’ achievements. It is this contradictory element that plagues the entirety of the record; it’s a constant gradient of poignant political analysis and angst-ridden, unmoving outcries. ‘Faker’s’ question of, “Where do the spirits fade in our weakest dreams, when belief crumbles away"
” would’ve been thought-provoking enough, had it not been followed up with the wincingly hyperbolic, “Where do the fires start in the city streets, when the whole flag burns away"
”. Mix this with the bitter “I can’t wait to see you die
”, and it’s clear to see that the band has abandoned taking the high road as their egregiously counter-productive viewpoints hinder the album’s legitimacy. Although TWIABP can excuse this immaturity due to their genre’s cliches, when an album commits to such ambitious goals the boundaries of a genre shouldn’t restrict the outcome. It’s here that the album’s critical faults can be uncovered fully as the emo/post-rock songs all too often mold to comfortably generic track imprints. Despite it being a clear highlight, ‘Marine Tigers’ shows its cards a bit too early before its Manchester Orchestra-esque choral breakdown produces satisfying chills. It is a fluttering of trumpets and rolling snares that is slightly hindered due to its obviousness, yet it could be argued that it’s this blatancy that makes it all the more likable.
While the album’s intentions and methods can be questioned, at face-value the end-product is a structurally sound form. In fact, it has all the elements one would look for in a diverse yet cohesive record; a well thought out tracklist, a variation of tempos and musical styles, and a consistent lyrical theme. Expectations and faulty viewpoints aside, the arc of the album is satisfyingly rounded; a crescendo of uplifting melodies that slowly unravels into desperation and cathartic egress. Despite the inherent flaws in the oddly pop punk-sounding ‘The Future’, when looked at as a piece of the whole, the thin vocal performance and unoriginal musicality can almost be excused. ‘Faker’s’ glistening guitar loop and cleanly sung melody is reminiscent of any average emo/indie pop act, but it is strangely addicting as the all-too-obvious melody takes on the value of a much-needed checkpoint within Always Foreign
. By the time ‘Fuzz Minor’ peaks its timidly post-hardcore head out, the faux-contentment has all but vanished, opting for a more appropriate bitter yet lively sound. And finally, despite the obvious callback to their perennial output, ‘Infinite Steve’ surprisingly levels itself with its alter-ego as it becomes a symphonic amalgamation of TWIABP’s sound realized in the form of dual vocals, provocative strings, and breathlessly lulling trumpet lines. This album realizes its own past, understands the present tenseness, and has a vision for a better future, but in the end, it’s the way that they connect these together that seems disingenuous. A beautifully constructed building with adorning facades only to hide the cold and hollow interior.