Review Summary: cause all I got, all I really got, is this music that's left in me
Trying to describe my relationship with Senses Fail has me jumbling the words I want so badly to get from my head to the page. How can I do justice to a band that's given me so much? I can still remember screaming "Shark Attack" in my childhood bedroom until my face was blue. I can still remember listening to "Family Tradition" and missing the dad I never knew. I can still remember wandering the streets of Philly looking for my next fix, "Lifeboats" on repeat and wondering if I'd ever see my mother's face again. I can still remember my little cot in rehab, and all the nights I spent quietly reciting Let It Enfold You
cover to cover until I could finally fall asleep.
With the release of their new album If There Is Light, It Will Find You
I rejoice that there's still this band for me to hang my hat on; and once again, it sounds like Senses Fail and I are of the same mind. Opening track "Double Cross" sees Buddy tearing his throat out, yelling "This still is the only thing that, that is worth my breath!". The song is autobiographical, a love-letter to the history of Senses Fail, and there is a certain sense of satisfaction to be felt that the first song on an album meant to be a return to their roots celebrates the passion they felt when they started forever ago in 2002.
And musically it really does sound like an early and forgotten Senses Fail album. Caught somewhere between the raw energy of Let It Enfold You and the ever-so-slightly more refined Still Searching, If There Is Light…
would sound right at home with the pop-punk/”emo” zeitgeist of the early 2000’s. Despite this retracing of steps, the back-to-the-basics approach doesn’t sound dated; it feels nostalgic in the best way. There’s an energy behind it that feels refreshing. It’s no secret that Senses Fail has been plagued with line-up troubles for the better part of the last five years – aside from Buddy, the longest surviving member is guitarist Gavin Caswell who joined in 2013 – but this new cast of members have imbued this record with an intangible but recognizable youthfulness.
It’s what makes this album the most fun Senses Fail record since 2010’s The Fire
. “Elevator to the Gallows” despite its name, opens with bouncy rhythm guitars and nimble lead guitar licks, recalling the synergy that Garrett Zablocki and Heath Saraceno first introduced to their sound a decade ago. Joining them for the recording of this album, Dan Trapp the band’s original drummer is as always, a master behind the kit. His discerning feel has certainly not deteriorated, and in songs like “Stay What You Are” his opening fill is the perfect ignition to start the pop-punk rocket that follows The band is so in sync with each other, all either basking in the looseness and relative freedom of songs like “You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense” or tightening the screws on tracks such as “Orlando and a Miscarriage” and “New Jersey Makes, The World Takes”.
As always on a Senses Fail record, an easy highlight is Buddy Nielson’s performance. He’s never been a great vocalist technically – he’s whiney, he’s nasally, and his range is rather limited- but I’d be impressed if you can find someone more passionate behind the mic. “First Breath, Last Breath” is the best example of the emotive delivery and painfully personal lyrics he’s known for. Inspired by his wife’s near death experience while delivering their first child last year, Buddy’s caterwauled about depression, addiction, sexuality, but never has he sounded more impassioned than he does here. Nearly crying as he wails “Remember they said you'd have to sacrifice I know/But I was not prepared to watch the life drain from your soul/I have never felt so crushed, the sadness buried in my bones/How the hell am I supposed to raise a daughter on my own?” the delivery is so raw that each crack in his voice feels like it's being inscribed on your heart. While yes, he can certainly still be a bit overdramatic – look to the millennial rant of “Gold Jacket, Green Jacket” – it’s in songs like this where he puts seemingly too extreme to fathom feelings into words you can understand, that you realize how goddamned good he can be.
It's the earnestness of If There Is Light, It Will Find You
that will keep you coming back. It’s so relieving that after all these years Senses Fail still have such a grounded and real approach to the way they write music. We live in an age of nostalgia, and a “throwback” album with modern themes, as well as ones that are universal couldn’t come at a better time. The realness of Senses Fail is what keeps dedicated fans like me coming back for more and inspires new fans to start listening. As long as they continue that, they will always be a band that feels like home.