The Academy Is.. - Santi
Record Label: Fueled By Ramen
Release: April 3, 2007
And so begins Phase 2 of Fueled By Ramen's 2007 takeover of the radio waves and the MTV generation. FBR grads Fall Out Boy have already set the bar high with Infinity On High, a pop-punk extravaganza that pleased past fans as well as endearing 12-year old girls. Panic! At the Disco, the cabaret boys that have also blown up promise to deliver the second half of '07 in FBR's favor, and in the interim the Hayley Williams-fronted Paramore promise to deliver a pleasing radio-friendly summer follow up to their debut, All We Know is Falling. Representing another cog in the hit machine is The Academy Is, the band fronted by the paper thin Bill Beckett that created big buzz with their debut Almost Here. Beckett and co. return to the FBR spotlight with the catchy and hooky Santi, a sophomore effort that finds TAI taking their sound much like Fall Out Boy in that with every passing album, they take something away from their music and add another. For Santi, the thing removed is a sense of personal connection with Beckett's lyrics, which hit home with such standout tracks as "Classifieds," "Checkmarks," and "Slow Down." What is added, however, is a big rock sound that brings TAI into the arena rock genre, a genre that, if Santi is any indication, they aren't going to be leaving any time soon.
The album begins with the fast rocker "Same Blood," which features subdued instrumentation in the chorus to accentuate Beckett's talented voice, building to a big bombastic chorus featuring gang backup vocals behind Beckett. "Same Blood" is a refreshing transition from their debut to Santi, in that it is clear just from the first track that TAI have evolved their sound to bigger rock, but in "Same Blood" they also retain their "relatable" lyricism. Another indication "Same Blood" gives about this album is that the guitar work is absolutely superb. Whereas TAI's debut featured minimal and most of the time simple guitar melodies and chord progressions, here The Academy Is guitarists Mike Carden and new member Michael Chislett have truly experimented with their axes to create a sound that is straight up rock that you can hear flowing through the big speakers of an arena.
The next two tracks, "LAX to O'Hare" and "We've Got A Big Mess On Our Hands" were the two songs TAI released prior to the albums release to whet the appetite of their doting fans. "LAX" is another fast rock in the vein of "Same Blood" with Beckett voicing his still angry heart at the blind fad-jumping kids by saying "Maybe I should bluntly throw my faith/ into the next big thing that comes my way" as if to say that he knows TAI are about to explode and he just wants everybody to know that he realizes that many of his new listeners might be the fad jumpers he so adamently attacks. "Big Mess" is a jaunty, dance-worthy rock song with equally big guitars and backup vocals, along with simple but effective drumming from their affectionately titled drummer, The Butcher. Another that channels the two single-worthy cd beginners are "Bulls in Brooklyn," a dancey track that sounds a lot like "Big Mess" with a slightly weirder bridge, featuring off-tune pianos and gang yelling throughout. "Chop Chop," which was tentatively the album's title for a while, relates the speed and hookiness of "LAX to O'Hare." When the album finishes, "Chop Chop's" chorus is one of the first choruses that stays stuck in your head.
The albums weak tracks are when TAI go mid-tempo, such as "Sleeping With Giants (Lifetime)" and "You Might Have Noticed." While the guitar work is still consistent, the two songs drift too far into the typical rock arena tracks, almost veering into Daughtry-like melodies and vocals. It hurts me to say that about TAI and Beckett, but they fail to impress with both tracks. The worst part is is that I can't really point to how they fail; the vocals are good, the guitars are well done, and the production is good. It is just something about the songs that leave a long-time TAI fan with a bad taste in his/her mouth.
Compensating for these slightly weaker tracks are three standouts, one of which comes as a complete surprise to any listener of TAI. "Neighbors," ostensibly the most effective rocker, infuses pop-punk and fun-rock with Becketts naturally fun-loving voice, added with a feeling that they aren't taking themselves to seriously on the track, they're just letting themselves go and rock out. It works. "Everything We Had" and "Seed" are Santi's two best songs. "Seed" is a mid-tempo soft-rocker that switches paces and keys on the listener, again accentuating Beckett smooth delivery as well as, you guessed it, their old-style relatable lyricism. When Beckett sings the chorus to "Seed," you believe him.
And then there is "Everything We Had." Nothing on Almost Here gives the listener any hint that "Everything" is coming. Beckett's voice takes center-stage here, his beautiful falsetto and convincing delivery echoing over the strings, acoustic guitars, and big kick drum. He is an actor on "Everything," and anyone listening close enough can picture themselves in the crowd at a stadium watching Beckett deliver the chorus crying "everything we had/ everything we had" over a swarm of adoring fans. To bring in the admittedly regrettable Fall Out Boy comparison, "Everything We Had" does everything that "Golden" doesn't: keeps TAI in their genre but still expands to a different, but welcome sound. With a slightly weaker finish that I would have liked, I really think that "Everything We Had" should have finished the album, the choruses soaring over the last seconds of the release.
The weakest aspect of the album that is not specifically song related is that Beckett sometimes abandons the relatability of Almost Here. While "Same Blood," "Everything We Had," and "Chop Chop" are all tracks that the listener can relate to lyrically, there are about an equal amount of songs that are cryptically written about the features of fame that the listener can have some trouble personalizing with. Prime examples of this are "LAX" and "Big Mess," which, while being strong lyrically, are not as relatable as the fame centered songs on Almost Here like "Attention" and the perennial fan favorite "Black Mamba." It is not necessarily a weakness, it is just that I can slowly see Beckett drifting from his lyrical excellence that was a key in Almost Here.
The Academy Is... are no longer the little unknown band that FBR loyalists know about and keep hidden; William Beckett and co. are exploding on Santi. From Beckett's soaring vocals to the monumentally better guitar production and execution, TAI have crafted an arena rock album that won't be remiss from your summer rotation. It is a consistent release from TAI, evidence that they have a bright future to come in the rock world if they continue to recreate and build upon themselves. Santi is far from 'holy,' which is what 'santi' means in Italian, but they just might be the arena rock gods of this year.
1. Same Blood
2. LAX to O'Hare
3. We've Got A Big Mess On Our Hands
4. Sleeping With Giants (Lifetime)
5. Everything We Had
6. Bulls in Brooklyn
9. Chop Chop
10. You Might Have Noticed
11. Unexpected Places
Yes, please never say pop-emo again. Its an outright contradiction, just drop the emo. Call it scene, pop punk, pop rock, w/e you want, just stop abusing that genre name.
I mean, seriously, arena rock is now pop-emo?
subjective criticism... i think the first paragraph needs work. your mentioning way too many bands (3) which begins drawing attention away from Santi. The first paragraph should be a big hook into the album, IMO, using creative writing but when your mentioning "...as well as endearing 12 year old girls" is that line really necessary? I think you tried to give FOB a punch in the stomach, but failed. breaking that down already took off the thought for the obvious point, which was to review Santi and either draw people in/out to the album. But the other paragraphs i thought were great for a review.. just one writer to another
i remember being blown away with TAI's first album. but this....i don't know, it doesn't suck... i just am not "wowed" at all. I think they should have taken a bigger risk and tried to set themselves apart more. i'm not bashing them or the album, i'm just disapointed. i'll see if it grows on me.