Namesake – Borders & Fences
Record Label: Imagen Records
Release Date: August 7, 2012
EDIT: This review reflects an incorrect track listing: some of the terminology may be misleading. That said, what I feel about the album has not changed, and so I have left the original text as is (and corrected the track listing at the bottom of the review). I apologize for the confusion and inconvenience.
It was a sweltering August afternoon when I first received news of Borders & Fences, pop-rock band Namesake’s debut release. It’s funny that it didn’t quite sink in then; the album is music made for the summer, loaded with explosive choruses, lyrics made for shouting along to, and powerful instrumentation. Oddly enough, though, I’m only figuring out what makes this click so well as it serves as a counterpoint to the brutal coldness of December.
Let’s get this out of the way: this is a shamelessly sugary release, one unabashed about its intentions to pound its hooks in with the force of a sledgehammer. Almost every chorus is sing-along worthy, from the soaring highs of “A Million Good Reasons” to the disenfranchised—and yet hopeful—anger of “Here I Am” to the anthemic thrusts of “The Movement”. The energy is high throughout; the band rushes through these eleven tracks without a single ballad or breather, perhaps fittingly so for an album about the highs and lows of youth.
Those listeners who keep busy defending their lawns from meddling kids have been duly warned, but Namesake has a lot going for them. For one thing, the band features some of the best dynamic work to be found in pop-rock. Songs like “A Million Good Reasons” and “In Your Hands” may live on the force of their hooks, but the verses are just as intriguing; the former, also serving as the album opener, lets drummer Kevin Nordeste switch his game just when it seems like he’s been made while the latter switches seamlessly between measured, restrained beats and emphatic, bombastic ones before quieting down for a sparkling piano interlude. The control of dynamics mirrors the emotional subtext perfectly throughout.
Furthermore, the instrumentation on this album is top-notch, all five members of the band demonstrating impressive understanding of how they fit together. Vocalist Will Crafton has pipes capable of both introspection and release, and if this album is any indication, he's not afraid of showing them off. Namesake also works with not one, but two guitarists in Brad Wagner and Troy Harmon, both of whom bring sonic firepower, not to mention some very enjoyable solos sprinkled throughout. Bass guitarist Seth Van Dusen, on the other hand, plays foil to their caterwauling, oftentimes squeezing in nifty little rhythms into nooks and crannies. The production (done by James Paul Wisner, whose previous work includes Paramore and New Found Glory) often layers shimmering countermelodies beneath the fury of the guitars and drums, details that lend the album a bit of distance from all the fury, a bit of perspective to temper the intensity of the now.
That’s all pop-rock 101, but Borders & Fences also dabbles into other genres, serving up a diverse plate of sounds that complement their foundation well. The title track, in a memorable little motif, drops what sounds like a punk rocker's interpretation of dubstep right before launching into its roller coaster of a chorus. Meanwhile, "Look Me Up" cribs straight from the Go Radio playbook of hushed, pretty verses and aggressive, pulsating choruses, but the band brings some of their most affecting lyrics (“You’re turning yourself into an origami bird so you can fly around / Fly around with me” is one of the better metaphors about love I’ve heard) and a more nuanced blend of the two dynamic extremes: it's a standout track that assuringly demonstrates the band’s ability to craft complex interpretations and songs that do them justice.
The only pitfall, perhaps an inevitable one, is the band’s refusal to slow down. Near the end of the release, a sense of fatigue creeps in, as if Namesake doesn't know what else to do but keep playing. Sadly, some of the album's strongest tracks, like the wistful but energetic "Times Of Our Lives", get lost as the borders of each song begin to blur a bit. It's difficult not to wonder if the choice to power through all the way to the end was a conscious one or rather a reflection of the band's reluctance to experiment a bit with other textures, and as a result, it's all a little overwhelming by the time we make it through eleven songs. Also mildly concerning is the band's tendency towards excess; "Right Beside You" never quite manages to make its slow-fast dichotomy click, though it features a few compelling moments, and "Saturday" weakens a knockout chorus with verses and instrumental asides meandering around it.
Even with those caveats in mind, though, these guys close with a bang: "Worlds Away" is the band at their most optimistic and upbeat, packing one of the most immediate choruses on the album and one of Crafton’s best performances. It’s a relief to finish strong, most of all for me: four months after the fact, the track still packs all of the heft it did on first listen.
Four months late, some would say, but perhaps the right time is now. While I’m here, freezing my butt off, it’s nice to know that music will always be there. And whatever the season, Borders & Fences is a much-needed jolt of energy in these frigid times and the introduction of a great new addition to the pop-rock canon.