I feel like a real album reviewer right now. Whether it was done due to error or as a reward to those of us who went for the fanciest pre-order package for Hello Fascination, the new Breathe Carolina album, I know not, but the fact of the matter is that while the album hits shelves today, I’ve had my copy since Friday. I suspect it was through error though, since when I stuck the CD in my computer on Friday, eagerly ripping it to my itunes library, itunes had no idea what I’d put in to my computer and I had to add all the album information by hand.
Excuse me while I open up wikipedia. Now search keywords “Breathe Carolina”. Ah, there we go.
Breathe Carolina, who hail from Denver, Colorado, started as a myspace band in 2007, which is to say, they made music with no intention of playing it live, purely existing on myspace and through digital release. The music that the at the time two-piece (Kyle Even and David Schmitt, not exactly “rock star” names) was a sort of electro-pop club sound with a hardcore influence. Yes. A hardcore influence. Much like the bizarre “cybergrind” genre, Breathe Carolina ambitiously attempted to put to fuse electronica and screamo (which is a definite improvement over cybergrind’s attempts to fuse electronica and grindcore) in a way that would be equally appealing to a raver or a hardcore fan. This somewhat unique sound was not what grabbed my attention, though. What made me turn my head was the fact that Breathe Carolina’s widely praised debut album It’s Classy, Not Classic (no, I don’t get the title) was recorded entirely in a bedroom with Apple’s standard package music software, Garage Band, which is more than a little impressive
It’s Classy, Not Classic was truly a breath of fresh air in a scene grown far too stale. While somewhat similar artists such as the dreadful BrokeNCyde (fuck those guys, seriously), only manage to make the genres they fuse more cliched, Breathe Carolina was able to take the cliche and make it interesting again. The melodic, swirling synths, largely vocoded vocals, and pounding beats, combined with the the occasional burst of screaming made for an album that had no trouble getting your attention. The album felt poppy and familiar in a good way, like listening to your a playlist of nostalgiac dance tracks. While the screaming isn’t for everyone it takes the album from a level where it might be easily forgotten to a place where it stays stuck in your mind. While at first I wasn’t terribly impressed, the album was infectious (especially “The Bird and The Bees” as well as “Diamonds” and after a while it became hard to listen to anything else. Simply put, it was an album of parties and one night stands, an album of dancing all night and living with no regrets, an album of pouring your heart out, from your tenderist moments to your most frustrated. Okay, that wasn’t simply put at all, but I can’t help myself, it was a good album.
While far from my favourite album from last year (maybe a top # albums of ’08 is n order while there’s still some ’09 left?) it was good enough that I decided to pre-order Breathe Carolina’s second album. The price was right, the pre-order package came with t-shirt, sticker, signed poster and CD for 24 dollars, which I would honestly pay for just a t-shirt. Of course, once you add in the absurd 10 dollar shipping and handling (WHAT THE FUCK?) it’s not quite so attractive, but still, it was worth it to me. Seriously, fuck you, shipping and handling, ten dollars is absurd. Even with all the stuff if in this package it still wasn’t any larger than a fucking vhs tape. RAAAAAGE. AND THAT WAS THE CHEAPEST S&H AVAILABLE. RAAAAAAAAAGE.
Musically, the album steps in to new territory, with a much more full and diverse instrumental section. This is due to, in large part, the addition of three new bandmates. Kyle Even and David Schmidtt (names guys, I’m gonna say it again), still do all the primary song writing according to the liner notes, but clearly these musicians are contributing to the writing process at some stage, since this album, unlike its predecessor, features guitar work. The instrumentation is probably the biggest improvement over the last album it’s fun and dancy, but also holds up to close listening. The album opens strongly with the title track, “Hello Fascination”, a which follows up perfectly on the sound of It’s Classy… but builds upon it at the same time with the addition of guitar. It doesn’t take long to notice how much more polished the music is. The instrumental parts are more distinct, the vocals sound really well-produced, and the beats sound infinitely cripser, but besides that and the guitar the song doesn’t tread a lot of new territory. The lyrics are a little more ambiguous and less party-oriented, but still fun lyrics about the confusion of romance. The whole song sounds vaguely Family Force 5-esque, which you couldn’t say as much about the old songs, but even this doesn’t significantly set it apart from the first album.
The second song, however, definitely crosses in to new territory, even just witht he length of its title. “I’m The Type of Person to Take it Personal” has more words in the title than any song on their previous outing, not sure what this means, but it’s a good song title none-the-less. And it’s a great song, the sound is somewhat reminisicent of Innerpartysystem, which is an awesome thing to be compared to. This song sets the tone for the album, int hat it explores a much darker harder sound, and sets a standard of covering new ground that the album will continue to follow.
From total dance hits like “Take Me To Infinity” and “Welcome to Savannah”, to genre pushers like “I Have To Return Some Videotapes” (probably the album’s best song), the album rarely misses a beat. One thing I have mixed feelings about, however, are the vocals. There are a lot more clean vocals (no vocoding/auto-tuning or screaming) than on the previous effort, which is a definite improvement, but some of the unique vocal flares of the previous album such as harmonic backing vocals that featured so prominently on tracks like “No Vacancy” on It’s Classy, Not Classic. While these unique features aren’t gone entirely, they are less present and are definitely missed. The problem comes down to the fact that, in polishing their sound they’ve managed to over-produce in places, which is a an understandable problem for a band that went through the transition that they went through. In going from having nothing at their fingertips, to having a pretty amazing array of resources they’ve managed to go a bit too crazy in places, losing some of the features that made their first album so remarkable. I imagine that as they continue to put out music they will probably realize this and get in to a comfortable groove with their music where it’s neither overproduced nor underproduced. A good example of this starting to happen is the song “Can I Take You Home?” which is a real return to form for the band and stands out as being one of the highlights of the album.
Not every song on the album lives up to the overall progress, either. “Tripped And Fell In Portland” could have easily been the best track on the album with it’s anthemic guitar and hardcore vocals juxtaposed next to off kilter electronic sections that serve to perfectly break things up and keep it from being a straight rock song, but is ruined by the terrible hyper-typical pop-punk chorus. The only thing the chorus has done right is to include some swirling snyths that don’t fit the pop-punk style, but aside from that it sounds like any other song out there and completely fails to be interesting. The last song on the album, “Rescue” also fails to deliver anything interesting, and as soon as I reach it, try as I might to make it through the song, I usually end up going back to the beginning without listening to it all the way through.
Pop is a funny word. For some reason there is a prejudice against pop, and I’m not exactly sure where this prejudice comes from. It seems as though as soon as music becomes fun it stops being cool in a lot of circles. While I can understand a certain amount of the pop hate that goes on out there, there is certainly a place for pop in this world, and in my heart for that matter. While older reviews that I’ve done tended to be more focused on reviewing obscure acts, often highly experimental in nature, lately I find that I enjoy listening to and reviewing pop music. Not all pop is worthy of my listening (most isn’t) but I do try to give it more of a chance now than I did in the past. While your average pop album has less musical complexity than just one song by, say, Tool, there’s something to be said for music that can make people want to dance. There’s something magical in dancing, in letting a song move you and just being a part of the moment. Breathe Carolina have not released anything near a perfect album, but they have released something that makes you want to dance, and maybe that’s good enough for a sophomore album. Perfect or no, I would recommend this album to anyone, and have no regrets with my purchase of the album.
That said, I think I’m going to review something weirder next just to shake things up lest these pop reviews become too much of a habit.
HelloLion some how got a hold of access to the project groupthink dashboard and he refuses to relinquish control! You can follow us on twitter @pgtblog (which he also has the ability to update, sneaky devil).