Review Summary: You really want to know just what I think? You're lost.
The Dangerous Summer are a band that meant a lot to me when I was in high school, whose songs I played dozens of times more than the more Sophisticated and Serious bands I was a fan of. Reach for the Sun
was unapologetically earnest and undeniably corny, but gripped me with its clear and cohesive sound that fell somewhere between “last nights of summer pop-punk” and “’One Tree Hill’ soundtrack.” The band took a step forward on their follow-up War Paint, adding a tasteful layer of grit and depth to their sound and delivering a series of unrelenting anthems (if sometimes a bit too unrelenting). 2013’s Golden Record
, which came out the summer I graduated, amplified that sound to an extreme, an exhausting onslaught that was difficult to get through without a headache (and some second-hand throat pain). By this point the group’s songwriting formula had become clear: pounding mid-tempo drums with lots of toms, chiming guitars (for maximum emotional impact), and various combinations of the same four chords with plenty of dim7s thrown in. The band’s 2017 self-titled comeback record stretched this template to its limit: The Dangerous Summer
sounded like the output of a machine learning program fed the band’s first three records – and not a particularly advanced one either. There’s no doubt it’s a strong foundation, and it provided the band with both a distinct sound and the power to spontaneously snap the listener into sepia-toned nostalgia. But Mother Nature
reminds me of a friend of mine from high school, still driving the barely-running car he drove me to prom in but bragging about his new stereo. Sure it brings back memories, but there comes a time when you just gotta get a new car.
Once again, the Dangerous Summer’s core problem is still that they just can’t write a new song. Even as they try on new costumes – grit on Golden Record
, pop sheen on The Dangerous Summer, and some electronics on here – they return to the comfort and security of the same chord progressions and vocal melodies over and over again. This issue is magnified on Mother Nature
, which clearly makes a point of trying new sounds but constantly retreats back to the safety of the same old I, vi, and IV chords. An immediate example is the opening track “Prologue,” which offers something new right away – a tone-setting voice message intro. And then the instrumental comes in, and it’s the same damn I-IVdim7 progression as always. Over the course of the record (and especially over the course of five records) this gets extremely frustrating; by the time “Starting Over”confidently presents songwriting that would sound tired by the back half of Reach for the Sun
it’s almost a distraction. The vocals are the same way: Perdomo’s melodies are predictable and hit the same beats again and again and again.
instrumentally is clearly a direct descendent of Reach for the Sun
, but in many places veers more closely to Warped Tour pop-punk than even that record. “Virginia” is the clearest example, sounding more like a band that would open for the Dangerous Summer than the band themselves. “Way Down” brings Greatest Generation
-era Wonder Years to mind, while “Where Were You When the Sky Opened Up” evokes the All-American Rejects’ MSN-away-message-classic “Move Along.” 2019 seems like an odd time for the band to reclaim the pop-punk bona fides that they outgrew almost a decade ago, and somehow the squeaky-clean adult-contemporary sound of “Bring Me Back to Life” seems like a more natural fit at this point. That unapologetic cleanliness also makes the grittier passages sound more comical than refreshing. When heavy guitars do come in, they sound sterile, as in the unsatisfying climax of the title track, and the studio chatter and amp noises between tracks is particularly jarring when sandwiched between songs that sound about as far away from raw and live as possible.
Other new sounds wax and wane throughout Mother Nature
. Particularly striking are the electronics drenching “Better Light” and animating the second half of “Slow Down.” While these are tastefully done and certainly more engaging than more reverbed guitars, they’re more of a fresh coat of paint than a change of DNA. Compared to an album like Anberlin’s Vital
, which essentially reanimated that band’s sound, these effects are flourishes, keyboards playing guitar parts rather than elements that challenge the Dangerous Summer to try new things. Nonetheless, there are admittedly moments, particularly in the back-to-back “It is Real” and “Violent Red” where those tectonic plates finally shift and the band seems to break new ground from a songwriting perspective. However, while the different progressions are certainly welcome, the results aren’t particularly compelling, and the songwriting sounds immediately shaky as soon as it strays from the comfort of the template.
is not a bad album – it’s very listenable, often pleasant, and occasionally shards of nostalgia manage to pierce through and bring the listener back to the first time they heard Reach for the Sun
. It might be that in 2019 there’s little reason for the Dangerous Summer to really try something new – “Blind Ambition” will sound natural between “No One’s Gonna Need You More” and “Catholic Girls” on stage, and maybe that’s all that really matters. But five albums in, the comfort of the template is more evident and distracting than ever.