The Matches - A Band in Hope
Record Label: Epitaph Records
Release Date: March 18, 2008
I remember my first experience with The Matches very well. I was on the way back from Chicago with my family in the summer of 2006. My brother had purchased E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals and was lobbying desperately for me to give it a listen. I finally capitulated, allowing him to play for me one song. That song--"Dog-Eared Page"--got me hooked. Everything was just right: the intensity, the vocals, the music. It was my pop punk dream come true. I couldn't get enough of this band. I was overjoyed when Decomposer arrived that September, and proceeded to listen incessantly to that album as well. I fell in love with Shawn Harris' unique vocals, his quirky lyrics, and The Matches' infectious energy that pervaded even slower songs like "The Barber's Unhappiness." Needless to say, I was beside myself when I heard about A Band in Hope. And now, having heard it, I remain beside myself.
First and foremost, Harris' vocals are at their best. "Between Halloweens" features some of the best singing I've heard from him to date, and he deserves mention for mastering his unique voice. Even those put off by the vocals on Decomposer will be able to better enjoy the singing here. Kudos to Harris in that respect.
As for the album itself, A Band in Hope starts off more energetically than Decomposer. "AM Tilts" is a rock song through and through; however, something about it just doesn't click with me. I enjoy it, but it's certainly one of the weaker songs on the album. It doesn't go anywhere. It also doesn’t help that "Their City" is track number two. This completely defies the blandness I see in the album's first song. "Their City" rocks, and it rocks very well. It drives with that same restless energy that pervades The Matches' previous albums, making it a winner in my book.
"Wake the Sun" is a catchy number, and though I thoroughly enjoy it, I am far more enamored with the fourth song on this album, "Darkness Rising." I can't call it a ballad, really, because it plays more like a musical number from a Broadway show. It also showcases some of the album's best vocals. The Matches are at their most sensitive here, and the vocal arrangements are incredible. Jon Devoto’s foray into lead vocals proves a successful one; his voice is not dramatically different from Harris’, but it still adds a certain something to the overall effect here. This song is probably one of the best this band has ever written, to be sure. It builds very nicely from the beauty of the piano to the bombastic chorus, which seamlessly slides offstage to allow Devoto to end alone with the piano. A highlight, to be sure.
"To Build a Mountain" is next and is surely a winner with a melodic line (underneath) that comes directly from "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen. The next song that really caught my ear was "Clouds Crash," which didn't overindulge in the strings and sported a section of "la-da-da" vocals reminiscent of the final track on E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals. After this comes "Between Halloweens," which has clever lyrics and again calls upon the power of Queen, this time in the form of a very "Bohemian Rhapsody"-like call-and-response-with-a-chorus vocal section. This does not, however, indicate Queen worship. The Matches do a very good job of integrating this type of "classic" element into their songs without letting it define them and their style. In essence, they do not revert to the Sam's Town kind of idolatry that leads to muddiness and a lack of direction. The Matches know where they're going with this kind of inclusion, making it all the more interesting for the listener.
E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals makes a thematic and stylistic appearance on this album with "Yankee in a Chip Shop." The speed, the gang vocals, and the goofiness of the song make it a fun and nostalgic trip down pop punk memory lane. The final song "Proctor Rd." is a strange and atmospheric way to end; however, for all its quirks, it provides excellent closure to an excellent album.
This album, simply put, is great. Anyone who likes Decomposer will like this album. However, just like its predecessor, A Band in Hope sometimes suffers from too much. "From 24C" is a stab at an electronic number, but it finds Harris drowning underneath synthesized beats that seem clunky and overdone. Luckily, this type of over-experimentation is not the album's undoing. It is a strong album from a strong band, and hearing A Band in Hope takes me right back to that car ride home from Chicago in summer when I first heard E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals. She may have killed The Locals, but The Matches live on. The Matches' hope was well-placed; they've created a winner.
I disagree in that 24C is my favorite song on the album (followed by Between Halloweens). 24C is more of a departure for them than Darkness Rising and I feel like they pulled it off better, even though I still enjoy listening to Darkness.
Not a fan of this one. I love there other 2 albums to death, but this one...it doesn't have the energy that the other albums have. They should have mixed up the songs from Decomposer and this album better. The album's too dull for me.