[4th January 2014]
01. Boiling Point
03. Family Portrait
04. Nothing to Fear
08. The Sun Won’t Rise
10. Living Will
Melodic hardcore as a genre could and should be considered something of an oxymoron. Granted, the melody more often than not comes from the hands and fingers of guitarists, but more refreshingly – albeit quite rarely – it extends to the frontman/woman as well. Purists will argue that passion and emotion in screams more than makes up for a lack of any discernible melody, and that is a valid POV, but as the internet has afforded us (spoilt us more likely) more choice and exposure to bands than ever before, one could argue it has become harder ever for bands to stand apart from the crowd. The opposite may be even more true; with so many bands sounding increasingly (and often frustratingly) similar, a small deviation from the norm could be just the right ear candy to entice new listeners.
Connecticut’s Manners fall somewhere in the middle of this musical conundrum. Tagging themselves as post-hardcore, indie and experimental brings with it a certain expectation. One; that this is a band that is looking to do more than just rip through their songs at break neck speed, and two; that there will quite possibly be some interesting song structures and ideas on offer, maybe even in the vocal department. Frontman Chris‘s raw emotion and passion for his craft are evident throughout Pale Blue Light. This intensity is captured effectively on the record and no doubt live his performance would be something to behold, but on repeated listens it tends to become a little one-dimensional. The promise of experimentation isn’t quite realised (well not vocally anyway). Whilst his delivery is spot on, and his integrity is obvious and compliments the rest of the band, at times it feels like the songs would have benefited from some experimentation with melody, or even just a change in pitch for a scream or two.
Fortunately, the melody and harmonies are most definitely present in the guitar lines. The tone is thick, crisp and powerful for the most part, but floaty and hypnotic in just the right spots. “Nothing to Fear” is reminiscent of Kurt Ballou‘s glorious noise and, like Converge, Manners have produced some excellently crafted songs. The star of the album is most certainly drummer Danny. Showing both flair and maturity in his playing, his ability to write interesting fills/patterns/ideas sets him apart from your average hardcore drummer. This definitely keeps things interesting, enticing the listener to stay in the moment – just when you might feel your attention wandering, up pops a tasty little fill or a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it blast.
Standout tracks “The Sun Won’t Rise“, “Rent” and “Equinox” exemplify this perfectly – these songs stray from the traditional hardcore pummel beat with some extremely tasty rhythms and feature some delicious guitar riffs, but the aforementioned lack of melody in the vocals feels like an opportunity missed; these great songs could have been outstanding.
Ian Bates‘ production/engineering on this album is fantastic. It’s refreshing to hear that bands still want their instruments to sound on record like they do live, and that engineers are still passionate in capturing that live essence when it’s become so easy to just plug in to a computer. The drums have a great natural sound and the bass is right there in the pocket with some gritty bottom end to beef everything out. Ultimately, Pale Blue Light is a positive step forward from 2011 debut Apparitions; a solid release for those of us looking for something less traditional in melodic hardcore in 2014. Let’s hope they continue to grow and experiment.