The Plastic Constellations occupy a unique position. Sure they’ve opened for Low, but sonically they share a lot more in common with almost anything on Epitaph. Somehow instead of following along that more obvious path, the band has found its way into the Frenchkiss fold. The move makes sense in some ways. The band is a cut-above in smarts and style laying claim to hardcore, punk, and indie aesthetics. Unfortunately all those influences have distilled down to an uneven and disappointing album with Crusades. As their first for Frenchkiss, the record should have been a springboard towards more ambitious and rewarding results. Instead, the band does itself in with an excess of restraint and not enough risk.
For all their influences or points of reference, The Plastic Constellations remain primarily hardcore at heart. Ambiguous as that term can get, it comes across in their attempts at lyrical conviction and rhythmic dexterity. Regrettably any attempt at inspiring comes too close to preachy and outright groove is sacrificed to overwrought riffing. The chops are there but prove entirely too fluid. Far too flighty to be effective, their earnestness is belied by perfectionism. Occasionally the players put all that thinking behind them and lock down into an adequate fist-pumper. “Phoenix and the Faultline” opens the album with all too much wanking and overplaying before breaking down to a final minute of fundamental yet compelling hardcore.
The Plastic Constellations have crossed over into indie audiences with their ability to wield hooks. Unfortunately those run spare on Crusades where only a few songs shine with memorable moments. “Iron City Jungles” boasts a bombastic chorus charging along so strong it obliterates any lingering aftertaste from some stale verses preceding it. Amenable as that affinity for pop can get, it can just as easily alienate. Jeff Allen turns in the strongest vocal lines, but his timbre comes discomfortingly close to that of Offspring’s Dexter Holland. Co-vocalist Aaron Mader doesn’t help much, often lapsing into a rap/sing/speak evoking former label-mate Craig Finn without any of his inspired associations or endearing enthusiasm.
Despite these shortcomings, the band still feels right at home amongst the Frenchkiss family. Like so much of that roster they bring a lot of energy with enough edge and intelligence to distinguish what are otherwise only passable hooks. What The Plastic Constellations still lack is some sense of swagger. For as much empowerment as they advocate in their lyrics, the band sounds all too eager to please and impress. There’s still a lot of love in them though and once they allow themselves to let that all out unfettered they’ll have something really ferocious. For now their eager flourish aches with overcompensation making for an inconsistent effort that falls far too short of its intended relentlessness.