The Saddest Landscape – After the Lights
Record Label: Topshelf
Release Date: February 14, 2012
2011 was kind of a downer year in context to a lot of emotional records. Separation, Wildlife, The Lack Long After - it seemed like every time I got an album I was anticipating, it ended up being lyrically overwhelming in its own right. While hope shined through here and there, a wavering feeling of shock and horror plagued some of the most gut-wrenching records of last year. In a scene laced with angst and dramatics, that sort of feeling is the reason a lot of listeners latch onto the music and especially its lyrical primer. We all go through heartache, depression, anxiety, overly thinking our steps, etc. If you pull up the well produced carpet of many of those records, the rough surface of wood and dirt is what listeners search for when finding a sort of comfort. It's more than cliche to put it bluntly, but it just feels real. It's an audible therapy session that some of us latch onto for one reason or another.
When I heard The Saddest Landscape's return in 2010 with You Will Not Survive, it felt real. I was so sick of hearing overly produced synth lines and auto-tuned vocals from bands that were just coating a fine layer of wax over something I held special and was being bastardized into something as fake and processed radio hits - and especially having the audacity to call the product "punk" or "hardcore" or "post-hardcore" or whatever. It was a joke and a disservice. While The Saddest Landscape had been active since the early 2000's, You Will Not Survive was a return for the band that some even thoughts was the first time, because it sounded contemporary among a lot of what was rising from the underground. Still, You Will Not Survive sounded more like a throwback while a few younger kids were pulling new tricks around the veterans.
Instead of feeling like an out-of-date classic some may perceive them to be, The Saddest Landscape forged ahead in their songwriting and composition as a whole. Hearing "Shifting My Clarity" from their split with We Were Skeletons last year, there's a mark of post-rock beauty mid-track that really captivated me. After the Lights takes that idea of songwriting and pushes the band into their finest moment to date. The Saddest Landscape didn't write another "screamo" record, they instead stepped up their writing, added a few subtleties of pensive harmony and have shown you're never too old to craft your influences into something not only fresh, but your best effort to date.
The cello line in "When Everything Seemed to Matter" is one of the most haunting moments of counterpoint on the record. It's a hardcore version of "Taps" you can feel through your nervous system. While more melody exists on After the Lights, vocalist and guitarist Andy Maddox is still a frantic mess fans know him to be, and the choral lines in the opening "In Love With the Sound" crash against the urgency of each guitar downstroke. It's those moments and lines that will stick out the most on the album. The chanting of "This heals Nothing!" from the track of the same line and "Everything is fine! Everything is falling apart!" on "The Comfort of Small Defeats" are simple, but perfect in the album's lyrical content and message. That's the album's greatest achievement is keeping the listener on edge during its most heightening, brash moments as well as its most harmonic.
This genre of music doesn't harness a lot of "hope" lyrically. A lot of records tend to be huge downers that many of us connect to for one uneasy reason or another. Rarely do you hear a record that's as anxious as this one riddled with a humble undertone and embracing love. On "Desperate Vespers," when Maddox distantly cries out, "And I will never take you for granted!" over and over followed by a spiraling march on, you can't help but think of all the people you love and care about the most. The track closes out a powerful record that makes simple and direct messages of love and hope in a genre that's usually a black cloud. Desperation to continue to feel a pulse doesn't always have to sound like doomed anxiety, sometimes it can sound like bright ambition that's a polar touch of beauty and exhaustion.