Courtesy of Hopeless Records

October 19, 2016

TEST SPIN: Taking Back Sunday — Tidal Wave

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There are select phrases that evoke a warm, fuzzy feeling inside of me. Among them are “Warped Tour” and “Hot Topic.” And I still wholeheartedly believe that it’s perfectly okay to long for Warped Tour and Hot Topic even in 2016.

You see, there’s something about teenage angst that epitomizes nostalgia. Something comforting, even. But this same nostalgia reminds us that the heyday of pop-punk has long since passed. Nowadays, the bands at Warped Tour seem to miss the mark that the old guys somehow got perfectly right. For those of us that find our anthems in 2000s punk-rock, the sudden inundation of final albums and goodbye tours brings a rush of inexplicable feelings.

For the bands that do stick around, they become unrecognizable in the mire of vacuous lyrics, vocal synths and trite themes. But there’s a second trend that our favorite Warped Tour icons fall into: the process of creating uninspired and frankly pitiful albums that are, at the very best, tribute songs to bygone glory days.

And I was so, so afraid that Taking Back Sunday would fall into the latter of these two groups. But when it comes to their seventh album, Tidal Wave, which was released on Sept. 16, Taking Back Sunday trades in nostalgia for experimentation. Tidal Wave breathes life into a band that was beginning to fade into obscurity. It’s an eclectic blend of Americana, folk and indie building on the punk-rock base that we’ve come to know. From the softer tracks that radiate maturity to the familiar guitar riffs that define punk-rock, Tidal Wave has something for new and old listeners alike.

The title track, “Tidal Wave,” is laden with the same punk-rock lyrics that challenges us to be introspective, rebellious and that, at times, act as an outlet for the emotions we have difficulty expressing. In this way, the lyrics of the titular track betray the compositional ambition that the ensemble puts together. The initial barrage of drum beats soon gives way to new, distinctive Adam Lazzara vocals. His voice takes on a half-grungy, half-blues sound leading to a gruff and raspy shout at times. The song is fast, brash and, most of all, oud, and though that formula should amount to the Taking Back Sunday that we’ve come expect, the exact opposite occurs. While Lazzara’s vocal melodies may be eerily similar to ’80s British punk, ironically it’s these same tried punk-rock elements which shine through to add a layer of originality.  But this track is just the first of many samplers in the exploratory album Lazzara, Nolan and crew put together.

But just as we probe into the experimental, TBS returns to their roots and kicks the nostalgia into high gear with the track “All Excess.” With a fast build up and the catchiest melody on the album, this song takes longtime fans back to what TBS sounded like when they first made it on the map. If there’s one track on this album that will inevitably be stuck in your head, it’s this one.

TBS moves back into the experimental with arguably its most beautiful track on the record with I felt it too. Lazzara’s shift to a softer, eased vocal compliments the slowed guitar melody. And in the end, it just sounds authentic. There’s no other word to describe the unrefined and unproduced vocals. This is (old) Bon Iver infused with the sound of experience from guys who’ve had a taste of the rock star life. Up to this point, Tidal Wave is charged with loud vocals and fast rhythms. I felt it too is not only a refreshing shift in the sound of the album, it’s a moment of pure catharsis.

But none of this is to say that this album is flawless. In fact, at some moments, the obvious series of missteps form a cacophony of sounds that really detract from an otherwise great song and great album. The latter half of the album has Lazzara experimenting with vocal synths that are not only out of place, but are so poorly produced that they would be troubled to find their way into any pop record today. Later, in Lazzara’s second attempt at a softer sound, his vocals end up being little more than a series of voice cracks and incongruous noises.  And at other points later in the song, the chords and melodies sound trite and derivative of the first half of the album. This raises the core problem behind Tidal Wave. Perhaps some of the songs went on for a little too long and the album would’ve fared better if it was just a little shorter, and even the standout, memorable songs suffer from being too drawn out. Cut out a few tracks or a few minutes from the longer songs, and TBS would benefit from a more refined and polished product.

Regardless, these are small prices to pay in an experimental album that broadens the horizons for a seemingly outmoded punk band. And while the experimentation is more exploratory than innovative, TBS has made huge strides to broaden their musical horizons. Nonetheless, this album boasts more successes than failures and there is truly something for every listener. If this is the end for TBS, then they’ve finished on a strong note. But more than likely, this is the starting point for a reinvigorated Taking Back Sunday.

William Wen is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]