Review Summary: Open up the doors, let the breeze in.
The type of emo Free Throw has been bringing to the table for the better part of a decade now is of a deceptively subtle kind. While their quirky song titles, in-your-face instrumentation and extravagant vocal performances might suggest otherwise, the band has been attempting (and mostly succeeding) to find middle grounds within the genre. By contrasting catchy, loud choruses with more complex instrumentation and verses, Those Days Are Gone
’ and Bear Your Mind
are thoroughly enjoyable records. On the aptly titled new record What’s Past is Prologue
, Free Throw have refined these subtleties into their best work yet.
The somewhat amateurish nature of vocalist Cory Castro’s lyrics has always been both its greatest strength and weakness. In spite of often being clumsily worded, this aspect of songs dealing with heavy topics such as mental illness and alcoholism only made them feel more genuine. What’s Past is Prologue
is no exception to this rule, although there is a clear progression immediately to be noticed on ‘Smokes, Let’s Go’. Having covered the topic of alcoholism expansively in the past, from the slightly more immature ‘Two Beers In’ to the full on desperation of ‘Randy, I am the Liquor’, the opener adds another addiction to be dealt with. However, instead of indulging in the satisfaction of yelling ‘*** this’ repeatedly, ‘Smokes, Let’s Go’ ends on the somewhat selfaware note that “I smoked my first pack in 4 years today/I mean, I guess it didn’t really help”, setting a cautiously optimistic tone on one of the bands most depressing tracks.
With the entirety of the record playing out like the story of Castro fully discovering this self awareness and attempting to ***ing feel
something again, lead single ‘The Corner’s Dilemma’ brilliantly displays Free Throw’s progression. The relentlessly catchy verses have a real bite to them, with the instrumentation capturing the chaotic anxiety in Castro’s mind as described in the lyrics. Impressively, the guitars twinkle and bounce off the frantic drumming, without ever feeling disjointed. If anything, Free Throw has never sounded as tight as they do on What’s Past is Prologue
. Even when slightly cliched moments show up, such as the finger tapping on ‘You Don’t Say That’, the band pulls it off by letting songs breathe when they need to. Having not only improved their instrumental sense of dynamics, Castro’s yells have become much more impactful as well due to their sparse nature. When he does scream “Man, *** it, whatever, I guess” on ‘The Corner’s Dilemma’, the immature slip is easily forgiven by the punch it packs.
The one-two splitting the record in half consisting of ‘Today is Especially Delicious’ and ‘The Fix is in’ shows a turning point. Slowly fully realising the routine of alcohol for breakfast is not a healthy habit, the latter sees Castro explicitly saying that he needs help. “In hindsight, how the *** did I not think of any of this at all before?”. This realisation is a gratifying and genuine one: using flawed, stream-of-consciousness lyrics, it’s clear that the Free Throw on the remainder of the record will be looking up, for once. Thankfully, the back half is not one of grand statements or reassurances of the “you’ll be okay!”-kind: it focuses on getting better in the most realistic sense. ‘Monte Luna’ deals with the importance of a good night’s rest to one’s mental health, and ‘Cerulean City’ with having a reason to wake up the next day. The fact that the album plays out like a story only adds to how closely tied all tracks seem to be; the entire project flows incredibly smoothly. On top of this, all tracks have distinguishing qualities to prevent it from becoming too same-y, such as the guitar lead on ‘Stay Out of the Basement’ or vicious nature of ‘Anaconda Vice’.
Closing out What’s Past is Prologue
, the title track shows not just the album, but Castro’s mental progression coming full circle. Referencing several older Free Throw tracks, the climax shows him proudly yelling that he was actually able to love himself for once. When the final, contemplative moments of the record see the vocalist throwing away his smokes and properly breathing again, it’s hard to feel anything but happiness for the guy, and for the band for creating a brilliant and engaging backdrop to a story of addiction, desperation and finding strength again.