[12 October 2011]
Rock music is the source of so many offshoots that it’s often easy to forget how closely linked certain genres and subgenres are at the core. Only after sampling an extremely vast set of different rock-inspired styles does it become easier to recognize the similarities that exist among punk, alternative, metal, indie, and hardcore. These similarities are the reason why bands like Heartsounds exist. The punk-rock quartet was born out of the ashes of melodic death-metal group Light This City following their breakup in 2008, mostly due to financial difficulties and what vocalist Laura Nichol summarized as a dissatisfaction with the metal scene in general. At that point, Nichol and drummer Ben Murray decided to shift their focus to their new musical love—melodic punk in the vein of Bad Religion and A Wilhelm Scream. Their debut album Until We Surrender was a decent beginning for the new band, and sophomore effort Drifter displays growth and an overall tighter focus for Heartsounds.
The most immediate sign of improvement on Drifter is in the guitar work. Both Nichol and Murray were new to primarily playing guitars when forming the band, and it showed on Until We Surrender. The guitar work on that album was uninspiring and fairly basic, even for punk standards. Drifter contains a much greater variety of guitar lines and maintains the interest level in listeners from start to finish. Interestingly enough, a number of riffs from the album sound as though they could also fit on Light This City songs, maintaining the thrash inspiration that the now-defunct group was so widely renowned for. In particular, “Every Second Counts”, “Unconditional”, “You Are Not Your Body”, and “Uncomfortably Numb” have that metallic edge, and with a little fine-tuning, those songs could very easily be transformed into solid metal pieces. Whether this was intentionally done by the band during composition or not, it certainly adds a deeper level of interest and intricacy to the album for Light This City fans that have continued to follow Nichol and Murray.
The main drawback on Drifter is one that carries over from Until We Surrender, and that is a lack of distinction. The members of Heartsounds are quite capable performers, and it is nice to see Nichol and Murray continuing forward with their aspirations. But Drifter still does very little to distinguish the group from their influences or their contemporaries. Their sound is still fairly archetypal for their genre, and they don’t take any big risks to try to do something unique or progressive. It is true that punk is usually not a particularly progressive genre as a rule, but with so many young, aspiring melodic punk bands appearing in recent years, Heartsounds will need to do something to stand out from the pack.
Putting the lack of uniqueness aside, though, Drifter is a good album for Heartsounds, and it makes sense as the next step in their development as a band. They’ve figured out the framework of the sound they want to make, while ironing out the major flaws in their music and firming up the basics that needed work. It’s unlikely to blow anyone’s mind, sure, but most people listening to melodic punk aren’t listening because they want to have their minds blown. In that sense, Heartsounds is doing exactly what they should be doing with their music. Hopefully the group can uphold that consistency moving forward, while simultaneously fleshing out their identity as a group apart from the rest of their scene.