Don't give up on emo just yet, people.
When a genre becomes as stale as emo has over the past couple of years, sometimes all it needs is for a band of fresh-faced kids from Nowheresville to give the sound a sorely needed kick in the pants. While countless sound-alike bands continue to clobber a horse who's long since passed, delivering plenty of polite, safe, white suburban angst for kids on the Warped Tour, Peoria, Illinois quartet The Forecast have arrived with an interesting variation on the emo style.
The Forecast's debut full-length Late Night Conversations contains songs any distressed teenager can relate to, but this record particularly speaks to those kids who live in the small towns, those who dwell on the dull-flat great plains, where the overwhelming size of the sky crushes the spirit, where the stars at night outshine streetlights, where disturbing things happen behind closed doors. Theirs is a world where the only hope for a decent future is to either lose yourself in a haze of booze, or to just get the hell out. The band performs a harder-edged brand of emo than the watered down dreck we've grown accustomed to, and although they're certainly not the first rock band to eloquently depict desperate scenarios from America's heartland, it's very pleasing to know they're a young band who actually has something worthwhile to say. Besides, most kids don't want to listen to the Drive-By Truckers.
Along with the ominous subject matter, The Forecast possess another wild card that very few emo bands have tried: dual male/female vocals. Going back to the days of Los Angeles punk greats X, the boy/girl dynamic can work brilliantly, and indeed, the exchanges between guitarist Dustin Addis and bassist Shannon Burns inject plenty of life into the band's music. Songs such as "These Lights", "Late Night Conversations", and "Exorcise Demons" are bolstered by the contrasting voices, Addis singing hushed verses, and Burns coming in and blasting out a soaring chorus. It's a simple formula, but it manages to sound much more engaging than a lone melancholy male singer droning interminably.
The dual vocals rope you in, but it's the strength of the songs that keep you listening. The band still relies on the kind of melodies that emo bands love, the ones that sound lazily melodic, sounding pleasant but without any real killer hooks, but to their credit, the instrumentation is considerably richer. You get touches of X's storytelling skill, hints of early '90s alternative rock (namely the Blake Babies and Madder Rose), and best of all, a healthy dose of rough-edged Americana.
"Seating Subject to Availability" is the song that's stuck the most in the emo rut, but the lyrics sport real heart, as Addis croons, "You'll trade your six string for a family and a desk/ And I don't blame you for giving up," but not before declaring, "Waking up with the road moving under our feet is what moves us." The country-tinged "Helping Hands" speaks of, "pills, alcohol, and cuts that run so deep," while the roaring "Fade in Fade Out" is bolstered by Burns's impassioned chorus of, "Talk about a long night for a fist fight." It's "These Lights", though, that is the real highlight, an upbeat tune about driving on a rural road late at night, about contemplating the hope of one's youth, and the realization that now is the time to act before small town life sucks you in for good.
Late Night Conversations is not without its flaws, as the band reverts to the tired emo tricks a few too many times, but with this confident first effort, it's clear The Forecast are on to something good here. They're already better than most of their peers, but that's easy. Emo has always been, obviously, centered around emotion, but it's rare that such emotion can sound as genuine as it does here.