It's impossible to open any major music publication these days without the word "emo" staring you down. Like grunge before it, the emo virus has spread through the ranks of the major labels as countless bands are being signed, hyped, marketed and forgotten about. Instead of getting stronger however, the music has gotten weaker as each band emulates the last hot group to come before, creating a watered down, generic sound that has critics like myself rolling our eyes at the first sound of power chords and anguished vocals.
Enter the Beautiful Mistake. Their debut Light a Match for I Deserve to Burn, was an immediate success for the band and became the Militia Group's top-selling album. Now two years later, the band returns with their sophomore effort, This Is Who You Are. Teaming with producer Michael Rosen (AFI, The Donnas, Rancid), the result is an emo album that is surprisingly refreshing. Rosen's production work is subtle yet effective, creating an album that stands out from the rest of emo pack.
Along with Rosen, much of the credit must be given to guitarists Josh Haquist and Shawn Grover. Refusing to rely on a paint-by-numbers emo sound, they nicely offer up creative breakdowns and understated time changes. Together their guitar work is well thought out and nicely contrasts. Haquist also takes on lead vocal duties, and instead of a tormented howl, offers a confident, strong voice that is more akin to angrier Rob Thomas (Matchbox 20) or Stephan Jenkins (Third Eye Blind).
From the opening cut and title track, the Beautiful Mistake show they aren't willing to take the easy way out. The first third of this song seems to be a familiar trip down Emo Lane, with cascading verses and choruses, until the final third offers truly breathtaking and emotionally potent turn, segueing into a nice reprise of the chorus. "The Separation" moves into a swelling chorus that upends the standard emo verse that comes before and finds some a truly chilling lead guitar line nicely counteracting Haquist's swelling vocals. "Cold Hearts (For Tired Souls)" -- one of the best tracks on This Is Who You Are -- nicely mixes standard power punk, hardcore and even some keyboard embellishments creating on a knockout of a song. The latter part of the album lapses into more standard emo territory, though the band does show flashes of creative life, but it never fully settles into the sound that Deep Elm records has become so synonymous with.
This Is Who You Are certainly isn't for everybody. If the very idea of listening to yet another young emo band fills you with dread, the Beautiful Mistake aren't going to change your mind. What this album does show above all is a band with promise. If anything, This Is Who You Are shows a band unwilling to settle within the familiar confines of their genre and there are flashes that are willing to embrace the studio process even more. Do we have the next Radiohead on our hands? Not likely, but the Beautiful Mistake show the promise of a Diary-era Sunny Day Real Estate.
The Beautiful Mistake won't convert the emo unbelievers, but fans of the genre looking for something with a little more substance than the standard emo fare will find much to love in This Is Who You Are.