Sound — 8
Almost three years after the huge "Wildlife," La Dispute is back with a new album. This time the band opted to make things in a more "subtle" way, in terms of sound. All the passion is still here, but the delivery is a little different. Back until "Wildlife," the music itself sounded a lot more urgent, whereas now the it's a lot more focused and somber (Jordan even does a few clean singing in some tracks). It's not a shift of direction by any means, but an expansion of their sound. Some tracks sound like garage/indie rock ("For Mayor in Splitsville"), while others remind bands like Slint ("Objects in Space" and "Woman (In Mirror)." It has a lot to do with the story and the imagery the band wants to depict this time, filled with nostalgia and old memories visited. But there's still place for their trademark energetic and dynamic songs like "Stay Happy There" and "35."
The singer Jordan Dreyer still spills his heart out with passionate spoken-word singing/screaming, but follows the same path as the music, sounding somewhat mellower overall, and saving the bursts of screaming for certain parts.
Lyrics — 10
As much as La Dispute's instrumentation is rich and full of pleasant details, the lyrics always got a lot more attention, and it's completely understandable (although music and lyrics complement each other perfectly).
As said before, nostalgia and remembrance are the key elements of the album's theme. This time we are welcomed to the main character's old memories of a relationship. Jordan's lyrics evoke vivid imagery in the listener's mind, detailing with precision important events in the character's life. The first lines make an exact prelude of what's to come ("There are bridges over rivers / there are moments of collapse / there are drivers with their feet on the glass / you kick but you can't get out / there is history in the rooms of the house"). Jordan also used real life events to enrich the story: a quick google search takes you to the Hudsonville tornado in 1956, which is the background for the opening track, "Hudsonville MI, 1956." Another key point in the story is the 35 bridge collapse detailed in the song "35," probably an allusion to the I-35W Mississipi river bridge. This bridge is mentioned in several parts of the album, alongside common objects in the house, as coffee and the TV, helping create a movie playing in our heads.
Jordan also mentioned using his grandparents' story to write the song "The Child We Lost 1963," one of the most touching songs on the album once you get the story that served as inspiration for it. We're taken back and forth through the character's life with the one he loved, having fights, tender moments and his recollection of memories after she's gone depicted as we listen, closing with "Objects in Space," a track about how small collected objects can contain such history about one's past. Once again the imagery is vivid, depicting the character examining several objects (some mentioned in previous moments of the album), describing how each one takes him back to a different time and place with that person in his past, and how it moves his emotions.
Overall Impression — 9
La Dispute's music has always been a kind of a grower. You have to spend some time with it to appreciate the nuances and get the details of the stories told behind the desperate spoken words. If you're used to La Dispute and didn't listen to it yet (which I find hard, given the release date and this review's date), you know what to expect. If you're into earlier post-hardcore/indie/'90s emo or have an appreciation for emotive, though-provoking music in general and still didn't listen to this band, I highly recommend it. One of my favorite albums of the year so far.