Defeater - Lost Ground
Record Label: Bridge 9 Records
Release Date: November 21, 2009
Boston hardcore band Defeater made a small splash in hardcore circles with their debut album Travels early last year. Travels wasn't just any hardcore record though; it was unique in that Defeater had created a sort of period piece concept album that traced the travels and tribulations of the story's protagonist. Along the way,Travels' central character met a pivotal character that the protagonist called the Prophet in Plain Clothes. This "prophet" was an older African-American World War II veteran who sings the blues on the streets of New York City in order to scrape by. The prophet did not appear again in Travels after his eponymous song, though he was mentioned in passing in later cut. However, the prophet returns in Defeater's latest release, Lost Ground.
Lost Ground starts a number of years before the central character of Travels was even born and follows a significantly younger prophet living in the south in the midst of World War II. The record leads off with "The Red, White and Blues," an intense up-beat song that is accentuated by frantic guitars, a deep rhythm section, and lead singer Derek Archambault's unforgiving vocals that channel the Prophet's hardships. This first song is pretty indicative of what's to come and is the perfect way to kick start the record.
"The Bite and The Sting" follows, and is a considerably slower song compared to "The Red, White and Blues." Defeater sets up the song to perfectly encapsulate the atmosphere in the context of Lost Ground's story. At this point, the prophet has gone to war and the band conveys the inherent tension of war with incredible finesse and a sense of ever increasing intensity; it carries a similar tone and progression to Katheryn Bigelow's 2009 film The Hurt Locker.
After being shot and hospitalized, we find our hero discharged from the military and attending the funeral procession for his fallen superior in "A Wound and Scar." Again, Defeater has written music that fits perfectly within the context of the story. Through Archambault's frenzied cries, the prophet's post-war frustration is channeled and presented with increasing hopelessness.
The title of the next song, "Home Ain't Never Home" harks back to some words of wisdom the Prophet gave Travel's protagonist. This song pretty clearly deals with the racial tensions of the late '40's and early '50's and the Invisible Man-esque nature of an African American World War II veteran in the south. It should be noted about here that even though this EP is the length of a traditional hardcore album, it never drags once. The pacing is impeccable, the music brimming with emotion, each word meaningful, and each note needed.
Things pick up again with the breakneck "Singin' New York Town." After deciding to leave behind a home that didn't want or appreciate him, the protagonist heads to New York City, a land of promise, a land of hope. But like many people, he becomes disillusioned when his promise land is little more than a facade. What's impressive about this song is not just the music, but the subtlety in which the band touches on social issues.
Lost Ground ends similar to how Travels ended; all hope is lost, the characters are lost, and the protagonists' eyes are opened to a different view of the world. However, even if there was no continuity of the story in the final song, it would still be downright amazing. In "Beggin in the Slums," the guitar work especially shines through. It's not the most technically proficient riff ever, but it incorporates this really bluesy feel that compliments the song so well. Fans of Travels will recognize quite a few lines in the closer allude to the song the prophet's acoustic tune in "The Prophet in Plain Clothes," as this song is where the time line of the two records intersect. These self-references in this album are not deeply hidden, but at the same time the band isn't throwing a brick at your head.
And that's what I think is so damn good about this album, and just Defeater as a whole: the way they can use techniques not commonly found in hardcore, like the bluesy riff in the final song, and yet they still made a record that kicks you in the ass and doesn't let you get up. You witness this poor character's journey of depressing self-realization and you truly feel bad for the guy. Even though Archambault's vocals are always on the brink of a full on scream, he delivers the lyrics in such an unbelievably poignant fashion over the rest of the band who flawlessly constructs a unique and yet almost palpable atmosphere for each song, whether it's the unbearable tension, or lingering death in the air, or sometimes just an overwhelming sense of frustration. Lost Ground is easily one of my favorite releases of 2009 and most definitely my favorite EP of the year. If you have an open-mind for hardcore, I think it'd be a wise move to pick this up and support this awesome band.