Sound — 3
From First To Last is a band I've always enjoyed. With or without Sonny Moore, they've consistently managed to hammer out quality material (barring a few tracks on their self-titled album), with interesting guitar riffs, catchy melodies, and lyrics that ranged from passable to memorable.
With this in mind, I was excited when they announced a reunion in late 2013, but after a few controversial decisions and a few more lackluster singles, the band is back, not with a vengeance, but with a petty, shallow plan to bring themselves back to relevance. Armed with newly acquired guitarist Taylor Larson, drummer Ernie Slenkovich, and most notoriously Periphery singer Spencer Sotelo, From First To Last has spent 30,000 dollars acquired under false pretense to give us the Hot Topic abortion known as "Dead Trees."
Now, from day one FFTL has been accused of being a band with a diva mentality, making decisions with no motivation outside of fattening their own wallets. This seems to hold especially true in their latest effort. After a Kickstarter that promised a line-up of Matt Good, Tavis Richter, Matt Manning, and Derek Bloom was fully funded, albeit getting little attention outside of its remaining fanbase, the band pulled a 180, overhauling their line-up and getting big name Spencer Sotelo in a transparent move to bring the magazines flocking. Unfortunately for them, they tried the same stunt with the actual music, with far worse results.
When listening to "Dead Trees" you'll instantly notice the band attempting to mix too many styles, all of which you'd find in a Hot Topic bargain bin, trying and failing to find some kind of common denominator between them. It's a far cry from anything you'd hear in the band's admittedly diverse catalogue, almost veering out of their familiar emo territory and going to a place that From First To Last really doesn't belong.
The song "H8 Meh," whose MySpace-influenced title is the closest they come to their mid-2000s heyday, starts out with a guitar riff so bland and generic I wouldn't be surprised to hear it in between plays at a hockey game, while lead single "Dead Trees" features the band's kindergarten interpretation of chugging, mixed with autotuned chants and D.R.U.G.S.-esque samples. These songs are bland and uninspired, but at the very least, they're cohesive. Songs like "Black and White" fail to even do that much, with verses and choruses meshing so badly that you can hardly tell you're listening to the same song, and album closer "I Don't Want to Live in the Real World" is such a stylistic clash that you might overlook the embarrassing lyrics just long enough to wonder where the hell they found acoustic guitars this late in the album.
There's problems all over, honestly. Matt Good seems to have forgotten that his guitar has more than the two lowest strings, the mix has the drums so loud that you can barely hear the other instruments, and half the songs have the same tempo and structure, blending together to make it feel like you're sitting through 15 minutes of music made with all the passion of a 6th grader writing a required essay at 9 in the morning.
I don't want to compare this to the band's previous albums, because I can understand that it's a different line-up and a 5 year gap between releases, but I can't resist. From First To Last released 3 really good albums, with solid production, musical ambition, and a sense of individual style. As far as the sound goes, "Dead Trees" feels like they held a cracked mirror to the latest trends and slapped their band's sticker on it.
Lyrics — 4
The lyrics are somehow just as bad as the music, something Spencer Sotelo and Matt Good should both be ashamed of. They're both capable of quality output, but in this album we get groan-worthy lines like "I let my DNA take over me." It's almost embarrassing to compare the lazy, hammy chorus of "you were everything that was killing me, but I survived" to better lines that they wrote 11 years ago ("Populace in Two" comes to mind). On top of that, it seems like the band is almost trying to directly recapture the charm of "Dear Diary." The second track (which starts right from an intro just like "One Armed Boxer" did years ago), "Straight to the Face" starts with a familiar sounding wail of "Hello again, the world is at your stage, so drop the curtain, kill the lights and go." Perhaps this was the new line-up sending a message, but that would require nuance and subtlety, something the band failed to show anywhere else in the album, so I won't give them the benefit of the doubt.
One particular track that seemed to catch people's attention was the closer, "I Don't Want to Live in the Real World." Try to imagine The Used's "Lunacy Fringe" but replace the lyrics with ones that are filled to the brim with already stale pop culture references, and unironic lack of character. A lot of people say this song shouldn't be taken seriously, or to lighten up, but here's the issue; the band has always used an ounce of humor in their songs, specifically dark, dead baby humor. They have a song named after it, most of "Ride the Wings of Pestilence" is filled with it, but this isn't that type of humor, this was them using a portion of that already ill-spent Kickstarter money to record a song that goes "Government mind control, MK Ultra, blah, blah, blah, blah, Miley Cyrus." It's bad, it's something you can't enjoy even ironically, and worst of all, it's only half a step below the rest of the album, which only gets away with it because thankfully the drums and screaming keep you from hearing how unabashedly terrible it is.
Honestly, I would forgive lazy, boring lyrics if I knew this was the norm for From First To Last, but the fact of the matter is that it's a new low. Above all else, one would assume that a band coming out of retirement would want to say something with their new material, something other than "we still exist," but the only thing I'm hearing from "Dead Trees" is "That'll be 8.99!"
Overall Impression — 3
If you want a new From First To Last album, this will do it, but in name only. All of the band's previous charm and adept musical talent has been swapped out for painfully generic guitar riffs, low-budget production, and borrowed talent performing at half-capacity.
As if to pour salt in the wound, the band also re-recorded a few old tracks; "Note to Self," "The Latest Plague," and "Ride the Wings of Pestilence" to show just how good this line-up can be when there's so much as an echo of creative spark in the music they're playing. Unfortunately, even that much is hard to find in the new songs featured on "Dead Trees." An avid FFTL fan would be hard pressed to keep listening to this album after more than a week, and more genre savvy listeners will find it hard to make it through the entire album even once.
At this point, there's no question about whether or not From First To Last have re-established themselves as a mainstay of the scene, or even if they can rebound with a more genuine effort next time around; instead what we should be asking ourselves is whether or not they deserve that chance. If there's another Kickstarter, or another album, does it deserve blind support? Should people really support a band whose name has become less of a standard in the genre and more the story of its own career? The obvious answer is no, but history's taught us that won't stop this band from trying.