My Fictions – “Stranger Songs”

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Mt. Misery” “Postcard”

Boston group My Fictions know how to do hardcore right. Their new album, “Stranger Songs,” is fast, slick and uses volume to punish the listener’s emotions, not just their eardrums. At 10 songs and 28 minutes, it’s the work of a band that sounds frustrated and confused by the world around them, and they take out their feelings as quick as they can, with no unnecessary embellishments. “Stranger Songs” is loud and assaulting, with a dark and uncertain tone to boot.

The album’s opening track, “Mt. Misery,” starts with a bit of a cop-out intro, before jumping suddenly into a menacing, hardcore blast. Its follow-up, “Postcard,” the shortest track on the album, is an all-out assault on the listener. It is, as many of the songs are, centered on the frantic and explosive drumming that drives the beat further and further into submission. “Parking Lot” and “Stranger” also play around with false or building openings, and the energy behind the kit never lets up throughout the album.

But the album isn’t just about volume, it’s about using it properly. The album has an almost tantric feel to it, quickly softening and building back up, sometimes hitting a huge climax, sometimes not. “Airport Song” drops off completely at the end, leaving just faint bass notes and distant vocals. “Lower (A Selfish Song)” slows down towards the end for a punishing mid-tempo climax that’s as abrasive as they can get. My Fictions don’t come out of the gate and pound the listener into the ground with speed and volume – they welcome the quieter moments and tempo changes that enhance the hardcore sound.

“Stranger Songs” is not a summer album. I’d been receiving e-mails from (the excellent) Topshelf Records about the album’s release for months prior, but it’s a little difficult to get into it when I have the air conditioner running. It’s a dark and dense album, with the lyrics’ emotions coming out through the strained vocals. The band have an aura of unbridled frustration, no more apparent than on the aptly-named “Wake Anxious.” The guitars are dissonant and thundering, the drums heavy and the vocals distant and screamed. They sound disturbed by something, just in general, and use this album as their release. The album’s midpoint, “Concern,” is centered around a soundclip of someone asking a poet, “How can you write poetry if you’re not bothered by something?,” a line that comes up again in the final song. Taking a thunderous approach to your music only works if we believe there’s the frustration and anger behind it, and it’s on display here. They’re bothered. And it comes on full force. So prepare yourselves.

On an unrelated side note, I will be attending grad school in the fall. That does put this blog’s name in jeopardy, for sure. But I will be going to Emerson which is, by sheer coincidence, partially pictured in the cover of this album. I would like to promise this didn’t influence this review but no guarantees.

If you like this, try: I’m not up on my hardcore, I’m usually floored by a hardcore band’s stability throughout an album. So I’d like to suggest fellow Boston band Defeater’s recent “Letters Home” album, a continuation of their insane multi-album concept.

Balance and Composure – “The Things We Think We’re Missing”

(Photo Credit: Pitchfork)

Grade: B

Key tracks: “Back of Your Head,” “Notice Me”

On a first listen, Balance and Composure might seem like an average, borderline hardcore band. But they ride a nice, uh, balance between hardcore and fourth wave emo, without incorporating too much of either. It’s a balance that takes the best parts of each genre and mixes them into one. It has the intensity of hardcore, without the repetitive ferocity. It has the lyrics and melodies of fourth wave emo, without the wallowing sadness. This album isn’t overly memorable in the long run, but it makes for a refreshing listen.

The band really excels early on in the album. “Back Of Your Head” and “Notice Me” are two of the stand out tracks, showing the band’s energy. Some bands struggle to capture a song’s energy in the studio, but songs like these can make you sweat. For the most part, the album is energetic, taking advantage of it’s distorted, fuzzy sound to make a loud creation. “Dirty Head” is a stand out too, though, as the album’s acoustic piece. Ballads on albums like “The Things…” are usually throwaways, but Balance and Composure have written a simple, affecting piece. Strictly musically, the album embraces it’s blending of different genres.

The irony of the album, though, is that because it embraces it’s unique sound so hard, it starts to get repetitive. No other band sounds like Balance and Composure but Balance and Composure, and at points they really sound like it. The album’s sound goes on a little too long, and because it sounds so similar for so long, it makes it a less memorable listen. “Dirty Head” is a nice reprieve, but it doesn’t do enough to break up the album at all. Varying song lengths also try, to some success, but by the end of the album, it feels just a little too exhausting.

Still, the good outweighs the bad here. This is a good album from a unique band, one that asks to be praised more as an idea than a collection of songs, and it deserves it. Energetic without being upbeat, heavy without being hardcore, and honest without being too sad, it’s constantly riding the right side of a tough fine line. It might get a little watered down in it’s own ideas, but it’s a welcome relief for fans of emo and hardcore who are getting a little too tired of similar bands.

If you like this, try: Defeater’s “Letters Home,” a recent release by a proper hardcore band, one of the best working today.

-By Andrew McNally