Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I See Stars - 3D Album Review

For a while most of the Decoy staff were only writing album reviews for bands they liked and releases that they knew would be good. No one wanted to cover the albums that might end up being not so good or, potentially, suck pretty heavily. In order to attempt to balance out Decoy's overwhelming positive bent, I took it upon myself to review many of the "lesser" albums that came our way. This is the first in a series of reviews that ended up ripping bands apart (and for good reason... they suck). So, please enjoy this little nugget of negativity from May 19, 2009.

Damn you, Enter Shikari, damn you! By mixing metalcore with trance, synths, and dance beats you set the stage for hundreds of horrible knock-offs and poser scene bands that only want to try out the latest trend. And I’m not altogether sure, but I think we might even be able to pin some of the blame for moron-core bands like Brokencyde and Dot Dot Curve on you as well. Now, I’m not saying that Enter Shikari are altogether horrible, in fact I kind of rather like them, but they did give rise to many of the current synthcore bands like Sky Eats Airplane and Attack Attack. The sub-genre itself isn’t inherently bad, as no genre can be bad in and of itself (except maybe that crunk crap masquerading as music), but the genre will be known and judged by who gets big and popularizes it. In this case, when bands like I See Stars are getting pushed as purveyors of the genre, it’s definitely in trouble.

There are so many things wrong with this band and album that it puzzles me to no end that some songs are actually listenable despite their handicaps. I See Stars are not doing anything new. They’re simply mashing up the most popular pieces of trendy bands into their own squishy bowl of musical porridge. The album starts off innocently enough with “Project Wakeup”, a very routine Saosin rip-off, and it is quite the rip-off. The guitar lines feel directly stolen from Saosin and vocalist Devin Oliver is an uncanny doppelganger of Cove Reber. The only part of the song that diverges from the Saosin formula is some added keys at the end of the song and a couple of bad screams. Throughout the album you will swear that every sung line is Oliver doing his best Reber impersonation. Their voices are simply that similar and, it should also be noted, that a comparison to Reber is not exactly a compliment, but I suppose it’s not too horrible of a slam either.

The screamed vocals, on the other hand, are pretty atrocious. They feel very forced and hollow. A good scream needs to have some weight and depth to it where all of Oliver’s are hard to swallow. He is only 16, but even at that age he should be able to hear that screaming is not his strong suit. In fact, the band could have gotten along fine without using any harsh vocals since the majority of the songs are very upbeat and pop-core focused. It’s like they felt obligated to toss in some breakdowns and screams since that’s what everyone is doing nowadays.

What is most troubling about nearly every track on 3D, however, is that the keyboards, which dominate certain sections of songs, are completely unnecessary and fail to add anything worthwhile to the band's formula. Whereas The Devil Wears Prada or In Fear and Faith use keys to accentuate certain passages or perform transitions, I See Stars have absolutely no concept of how to utilize keys or what a good transition is. They more often than not force the keyboards into the songs or try to find a way to write a keyboard section into the mix. Take, for example, “I am Jack’s Smirking Revenge” where you have a keyboard intro that suddenly quits one minute in as the guitars and screams start. There is no transition—the keys stop and the breakdown starts. Then, as soon as the screaming is finished, the band jumps into a poppy, bouncy bridge that is unrelated in every way to the first two movements of the song. The bridge then cuts off as the band rips into a guitar focused chunk of metalcore before it is then tossed aside for a pop-rock finish. Honestly, this entire song is a sonic mess and encapsulates the youth of the band and their lack of knowledgeable songwriting.

However, it’s very obvious that this band is going to fit in perfectly with all of the other scene darlings such as A Skylit Drive and A Day to Remember since they manage to force yet another unwanted marriage of metalcore with pop sensibilities, which is all the rage right now. Some songs are listenable, such as “The Big Bad Wolf,” where the band sticks to their Saosin worshipping, and the opening track, “Project Wakeup”. But on the flip side there are some giant mistakes, such as “Sing This!” which is a quasi-dance-hop song with a guest appearance by Bizzy Bone of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. This song is a flaming, exploding train wreck of awful and it’s baffling that it was even included on the album.

I See Stars just don’t cut it. They have a hard time crafting a coherent song, can’t focus on what they want to accomplish, they try to cram too many trends into their music, and they simply made some poor choices on choosing the contents for their debut album. They probably could put together something decent if they really wanted to, but it’s pretty apparent they are more interested in short term success by fitting into the current popular scene than creating anything of artistic, lasting value.

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