Review Summary: Rudderless.
Bands change. This is not an inherently bad thing, and can actually be a very good thing.
. Okay, now that we’ve acknowledged the elephant in the room, let’s talk Pianos Become the Teeth.
The heart of an album like The Lack Long After
never rested on the strained screams, nor the winding guitar riffing, nor the serpentine drumming performance. Those were secondary to sincerity—the genuine prose and emotional ties that bound individual lines together, providing the listener with comfort in the midst of absolute bedlam. For what the tracks potentially lacked in originality, Pianos made up for it in playing passionately from the depths of their souls, therefore connecting on a deeper level than peers were capable of. Substitute the harshness for atmosphere and you’ve got Keep You
, which, sure, had some bumps along the road, but was overall a potentially promising shift in course that introduced intimate, delicate post-rock into the fold while still possessing youthful energy. There remained an anxious quality to Kyle Durfey’s vocals behind guitars that adopted perpetually melancholic tones. So far, so Pianos. Where the story gets murky is when the ambiance and energy were abruptly sapped with mixed results; the Maryland collective opted to forgo sadness for happier pastures during their successive effort. In a genre as emotionally draining as emo, craving a sonic route that catered more to an uplifting mood was entirely understandable, and it could capitalize on the Baltimore gang’s growing infatuation with lighter tones. Yet, rather paradoxically, Wait For Love
came across as an identity crisis. It was as if Pianos believed to separate from their older selves meant to discard the exuberance that permeated their earlier LPs, misconstruing a lack of explosive emotion for a ‘happier’ direction. The result was an album that was far from the dramatic disappointment it was often portrayed to be, but it did pose a fork in the road for the quintet: double-down on the v i b e s
, or begrudgingly trudge back to sadboi realms? Brace: it gets worse from here on out.
Having the ‘Teeth collective drop Drift
in 2022 given the context of their evolution seems like an abrupt backtrack. Perhaps the revulsion some had to their prior release was simply that
potent; it would explain how unfortunately halfhearted proceedings come across as here. Tracks typically wander without a sense of purpose, rarely knowing where to go, when to end, what exactly to accomplish or how to go about going it, simply sleepwalking through indie cliches minus any sense of conviction. The second half of “The Tricks” doesn’t use the momentum of its more energetic intro; after a dark bridge, the song completely loses the plot, heading to a prolonged fade out with a twangy, unchanging guitar riff and the unfortunately limited range of Durfey’s singing. Double the issue for the subsequent “Easy,” which takes over a minute to start much of anything beyond some light strumming. Kyle’s less of a hindrance here, but the lack of emotion displayed cripples the droning, melodic riff that endures for the entirety of the song. Despite its 4-minute-plus duration, the entry enters and exits like a light breeze, never once attempting anything new to justify its simplistic base premise. Then there is the equally meandering “Mouth” –another nothing tune with no climax to achieve, no progression to exhibit—and then there is how “Genevieve” collapses in on itself after its promising start, and how “Skiv” sounds like a band tired of playing music, and so on and so on. Nearly every number is cripplingly dependent on minimalism to create a vast space and therefore atmosphere, but there’s no intrigue to the songwriting Pianos bring to the table outside of lazy arpeggios, indistinguishable descending riffs or bog-standard alternative melodies. For post-rock soundscapes that emphasize barebones presentation, the core idea necessitates an x-factor to not only demand attention, but to also leave enough room to gradually develop. Rarely, if ever, do the tracks of Drift
devise concepts worth revisiting.
The structuring woes inevitably extend to the record itself. From end to end, none of Drift
feels focused in any manner, and it’s frequently reflected in the confusing flow between a given song and another. Many of these can be attributed to the latter portion of the LP—the primary area where the release goes off the rails. There’s a sign of hope in the heavy interior of “The Days” and its infectious liveliness, yet its sadly brief culmination awkwardly segues into “Mouth” and its immediate adherence to frustrating restraint. Not only does it murder any potential momentum, but the transition is mishandled to the point where it’s uncomfortable, almost as if neither track was intended to be next to the other. The dull melancholia and sliding bass groove of “Skiv” randomly runs into the upbeat, messy presentation of “Hate Chase,” juggling randomly louder guitars and odd effects while Kyle Durfey provides his most dire performance to date. Considering how perpetually dry most songs are, any arbitrary bursts of energy clash so spectacularly that their presence is perplexing; nothing about “Hate Chase” coincides with “Skiv,” nor does it assist in developing the languid emptiness of “Buckley.” Concentrating on soothing timbres in service of an aesthetic doesn’t have to be a drawback, but there’s no creativity involved or any effort to advance ideas. When string compositions are introduced in the closing minutes of Drift
, it’s meant to encapsulate an emotional journey and draw a potent reaction, yet it’s hard to get any sense of instrumental continuity to validate it, and the lyrical narratives, while sporting good lines on occasion, don’t have a strong enough through-line to tie proceedings together. The crescendo itself is devoid of resonance, forcing delicate, controlled tones to bear the weight. It’s a lazy walk to the finish line, and nothing about its supposed payoff feels earned.
There’s a lot acting against the album even if one discounts the terrible songwriting choices or lack thereof. This is the most underutilized David Haik has been on a Pianos record; his percussion efforts, once the saving grace of Wait For Love
, are painfully sidelined for the majority of the runtime. The bass either swallows the guitars whole, drowning them out, or pulls a sudden disappearing act, becoming meager background noise alongside the lurking melodies of songs. In the case of “The Days,” the melody itself is distorted to where it’s hard to perceive, which is commonly a consequence of the album’s excessive reverb or effects abuse. Unfortunately, the most prominent member in the production is Kyle Durfey and his singing. While it was more of an annoyance on previous works, it has now graduated to an unquestionable anchor that will almost always bring a promising tune down to a net negative. Him and the domineering bass decimate the finale of “Genevieve,” with the former supplying cringe-inducing harmonies and the latter destroying the resonance of the guitars. The general complaints remain the same: Durfey either cannot support notes in a higher register or refuses to, and his lower baritone notes slip into an apathetic tone that sounds alien to his regular range, creating a painful contrast. That ‘regular’ range encompasses roughly five notes—hold onto your hat if he heads up and down outside those barriers. Aforementioned “Hate Chase” finds him at a previously inconceivable low where he awkwardly shout-sings the brief tune, although it’s far from the only head-scratching choice he makes; the hilariously toothless ending of “Buckley” is a veritable trainwreck of his mumbling low notes and random wails, and introductory track “Out of Sight” features him attacking from every vocal angle with his trademark inability to display charisma. Considering how loud Kyle remains in the production, it’s impossible to ignore his shortcomings, and they’ve reached a juncture where they are incompetent by any measure.
For all the undeserved flak Wait For Love
took for daring to embark upon a poppier, better-off route, that central gripe—that the collective believed less would automatically equate to more—defines the entirety of the crew’s fifth work. There’s a genuine try buried inside the LP embodied by the group’s attempts to employ tape manipulation and other unique effects, yet it’s portrayed in the least captivating manner possible. The real lesson to take from Love
wasn’t to eject more
energy but to bring it back. Nobody needs Durfey to shred his vocal cords—those stomping their feet for ‘pls skrem’ left the audience long ago anyways—though a singing lesson at this point couldn’t hurt. Nobody needs to hear the impressive technicality of yesteryear to understand that Pianos are conveying emotion, nor does David Haik have to work overtime behind the kit to put a metaphorical ‘This is a Pianos Become the Teeth album’ stamp on the record. There’s but a simple desire to reclaim the heart of the band which has now seemingly vanished, creating an uncanny detachment that’s difficult to stomach, and leaving in its absence a strange return to depressive tunes that’s less an honest shot and more of a panic maneuver. The reality is far removed from this, but whatever emotion happened behind the scenes in the making of Drift
fails to translate to its songs accurately, instead replaced by monotonous rock. Listeners wouldn’t blink twice if any change orchestrated by the quintet came about naturally; heavy bands the world over have frequently transitioned to softer soundscapes, and often for better. There’s an unshakable sense that the ‘Teeth boys are functioning without a rudder nowadays, unsure if they’re still a sad post-hardcore project at their roots or a vibe-centric indie outfit. It’s another identity crisis, and another instance of the band drifting from what made them compelling in the first place.