Review Summary: What To Do When You Aren't Dead
It's been 15 years, for the once celebrated pop punk/emo hybrid band, to have something for the masses to chew on; even a bit longer since they were culturally relevant. Their sophomore album, What To Do When You Are Dead
, featured their well-known hit "Car Underwater" which appropriately kicked off the thematic album of what comes after you die. This single song catupulted them to the top of many playlists you'd find associated with Taking Back Sunday or Saosin. I wouldn't say the afterlife narrative was too compelling overall personally, but the lyrics and vocal performance did offer up some compelling hooks to latch onto despite the bloat. The follow-up album, Smile For Them
, had some loose connotations to celebrity culture and was overall a decent attempt at a successor, serving the same type of emo energy the scene was bursting at the seams with in the early/mid 2000's. This album was ultimately their last before the long hiatus and while it did fine for them, it wasn't as big as their 2005 hit. I'd largely attribute the this to the lack of anything to really stick with the listener, something that was often recited by critics back in the day. The songwriting just lacked a draw and the attention they had before dissipated.
The Rain Museum
does suffer some of the same problems the band has always had, but it also has some bright moments that shine with some of their best work. Armor for Sleep trade in the poppier emo sound of their youth for a more subdued dreamy rock direction, kinda reminiscent of Anberlin or Circa Survive (although AfS don't really reach their pedigree). The music has improved overall with more dynamic songwriting, they do still have a bit of an edge in their music but it's more to accent moments with a bit of intensity as not to lull the listener to sleep. It's not uncommon for dreamy strumming to lead into a soaring chorus lead by Ben Jorgensen, his voice adopting a smoother quality compared to the anxious cries of his earlier work. Some songs still miss, like "Rather Drown" or "Chasing Rainbows", harboring a more repetitive structure that don't really bring the music to life and slogs along. I also think it was a bit of a mistake to open the album with a pretty meandering instrumental track, especially when "Car Underwater" hits you right out the gate. "How Far Apart" is one of the stronger songs here and would've been terrific for starting off the album, I don't find the instrumental track very instrumental to the album.
I don't know if Armor for Sleep are back for good, but the album is welcome and evidence they're capable of writing more than a few anthematic songs about dying. It's a departure from their established sound but still retains the heart from those early albums still beats. The penchant for upbeat and fun choruses, that sense of wry wit bleeding through the lyrics, and competent, catchy music. I'm not confident The Rain Museum
will bring back anyone that's written the band off beforehand, but it is great to see the band experience their own life after death