Review Summary: Pass the torch
One of the more pleasant discoveries in emo-rock over the last several years has been Out of Service. The band clearly falls within the confines of the scene from an aesthetic standpoint, at times sounding like an amalgamation of Sorority Noise, Citizen, Seahaven, and The Republic of Wolves. Few artists want to be coined as a rollup of their peers, but in this case the company that they’re in is so good that it becomes an inadvertent compliment. For this upstart act hailing from New Jersey, the brimming talent is so apparent that even John Nolan (Taking Back Sunday), Devin Shelton/Toby Morrell (Emery), and Nathan Hussey (All Get Out) decided to get in on the action. With two solid showings to their name already in 2018’s Morning
and 2019’s Burden
, it’s 2022’s The Ground Beneath Me
that sees them take that all-important next step towards relevance. This is their big leap.
Out of Service’s third LP is noticeably bleaker than its predecessors, and ‘The Ferry’ wastes no time plunging you into that pervading sense of darkness. It’s about as good of a song as Out of Service has ever penned, with Mike Capuano’s brooding vocals overlaying Bryan William’s slithering, twangy, Daisy
-esque guitar line set to chilling lyrics about reaping what you sow: “Drink and raise your glass to the end of days you’ve waited for / Bring payment for the ferry, you’ve dug the hole where you’ll be buried deep.” The track carries a massive payload, too – a whiplash-inducing crescendo that subsequently and gently peels itself back, illustrating the band’s continued growth and restraint. It’s the perfect way to lure in listeners, carefully balancing its moody atmosphere with a taste of the fiery aggression yet to come.
That momentum spills right over into ‘A Moment Trapped In Time’, which is easily the album’s most uptempo song courtesy of Ken Bond’s raw, propulsive drumming and Bryan Williams’ frenetic guitar work. This is also when Out of Service’s impressive guest list begins to arrive, as Emery’s lead and backing vocalists chime in to carry the song to an intense and thrilling finish. It’s flourishes like this that help to elevate The Ground Beneath Me
above prior works; there’s a flair for the spectacular that ushers in a new era for the band – one where they feel less like a Brand New offshoot and more like their own uniquely harrowing entity. They achieve this feat on their own, but adding well-known talent from the outside certainly enriches the experience.
Out of Service have always prioritized the emotional component of their music, and The Ground Beneath Me
once again thrives in that regard. Capuano remains just vague enough to be cryptic – using that ambiguity to cast a forsaken aura of self-loathing doubt over the record. The lyrics tend to shy away from narration, instead coming together via scattered but interconnected thoughts. A common thread woven into many of these songs is the idea of returning to the ground from whence you came; a recurring theme that appears to reference the album’s title. ‘Day Forty One’ and ‘Offshore’ are prime illustrations, offering bleak allusions to death: “For a little while my life was in reverse, or standing still / Like a broken statue left to bear the weight of all the passing storms / Or destined to break down into the very earth”…“When the dirt has settled and the grass has grown / When the stone is weathered, if you can see / May it read he found his place
.” These aren’t the subtly poetic musings of someone who has found contentment in life, but rather of one who is depressed – suffering, even – and searching for a way out. It’s a dreary, self-deprecating, and often morbid affair that demands the attention of its audience.
Such emotional investment is made easy on tracks like ‘The Fall’. Against a discordant wall of crashing drums and electric guitars, Capuano confesses “I grew addicted to the thought that I was flawed beyond repair”, before desperately clawing against utter despair: “The fall was worse than hitting the ground…If all I’m worth are the times I’ve failed, I’d rather disappoint than find my way back down there.” With additional vocals provided by All Get Out’s Nathan Hussey – who also produced the entire album – it’s hands-down one of the most poignant moments on The Ground Beneath Me
. Another piece that tugs at the heartstrings is ‘Twenty Roses’, a delicate acoustic ballad which serves as a heartfelt ode to the death of a loved one. Lyrically, it echoes Jimmy Eat World’s ‘Hear You Me’ by expressing regret over not getting the opportunity to thank someone for their everlasting impact. Featuring gorgeous acoustic picking, it helps to break up the album’s emo-rock aesthetic while also adding a sense of reflective beauty to the deceased’s life. These are merely two examples, but similarly powerful narratives can be found throughout the record.
Amid The Ground Beneath Me
’s gloomy and angst-ridden overtones, it can be easy to miss the occasional glimmers of light. ‘What You See’ feels like the ultimate triumph over rejection and isolation, abruptly shifting its tempo midway through while rapidly building to a euphoric crescendo – with additional vocals from John Nolan – that defies wrongful characterization: “The tale is always told, a different time another way…I am not just what you say.” The penultimate ‘Navigator’ peers beyond the present misery to wonder if the grass is actually greener on the other side, or if happiness is just a sterilized state of existence: “Can’t imagine living peacefully / Maybe I’d love it…or feel I’m missing out.” It might seem like a strange way to look at things, but there is a sense of invigoration that comes with embracing your darkest realizations and using them as motivation to truly live
. These sort of lyrical gems must be sought out, but they certainly are
there – proof that The Ground Beneath Me
isn’t just an inevitable destination when you die, but also a place to stand and feel your worth.
Still, this piece is largely about the journey to reach those kinds of realizations – and the acknowledgement that it’s not always going to be easy. ‘Tailored Lie’, despite possessing one of the most outwardly memorable melodies on the album, sheds light on how depression can make even mere survival feel like a futile goal: “Another day another night / Where my fucking head won’t let me live this life”…“I’m too scared to make it out alive.” The closer, ‘Just A Shadow’, leaves nothing on the table as Capuano delivers some of his most blistering screams/yells paired with the haunting imagery of one’s fading sense of identity and overall worth: “I’m just a shadow of my better / A ghost just yearning for a touch of something real.” It’s an absolutely crushing curtain-call, but it leaves us with a reason to keep on going; to put one foot in front of the other if for no other reason that to continue on being
: “I owe it to myself to try.”
By the time The Ground Beneath Me
concludes, there’s this sense that there is still more to unpack – but that’s a good thing. Each successive listen reveals newfound depth, whether it’s a subtly catchy guitar riff that went unnoticed the first time around or a verse whose meaning has finally crystallized. This is the band’s most moving and deceptively complex release thus far, and they’ve never sounded this impactful or unwaveringly confident in the execution of their craft. Sure, they could experiment more and embellish/enhance their sound in order to shatter some of the all too apparent emo-rock stereotypes that they so willingly embrace, but for everything that The Ground Beneath Me
aims to be, it is
. Time will tell if this ends up being Out of Service’s crowning achievement, but the fact that there are still avenues for improvement means that Out of Service may very well only be scratching the surface of their abilities. If that is indeed the case, then count me in for the long haul.