‘Recently Added’ to My iTunes: Defeater – Empty Days and Sleepless Nights

‘Recently Added’ to My iTunes

Defeater – Empty Days and Sleepless Nights

One of our favorite music bloggers is back again. Clay Smith, vocalist of the always entertaining Sleep Serapis Sleep, is here to author a new series on the Showasis Blog called ‘Recently Added’. Clay will take us through what’s new in his iTunes and share some of the most candid and insightful album reviews that you’re going to find on the web.

On playlists with: Rosetta, Verse, The Carrier

Empty Days and Sleepless Nights, the latest and double-featured release from Massachusetts’ Defeater, has been residing on my “Recently Added” list and begging my recognition for the past few weeks. However, for those “unDefeated” out there, a formal introduction is needed:

One could argue that Defeater is one of the best hardcore bands around, and it wouldn’t really be much of an argument either. Unrivaled emotional atmosphere, lyrical landscapes of literary proportions, Andy Reitz (who is the Travis Barker of hardcore) and poignant, masterfully written songs are all trademarks of this contemporary, melodic take on the genre. Few bands of any style are capable of such utter immersion, and Defeater’s debut full-length and fan-favorite Travels put all the competition to shame, seemingly overnight.

However, when vocalist Derek Archambault screamed with great conviction on that first record that “it was the first of many, many sleepless nights”, I didn’t think that he meant it literally. Sure, it was a great line, and part of an even greater story; but, it was also the first of many, many times we’d hear similar incarnations of those lyrics. With this latest album, Defeater has now committed two full-lengths and an EP to the same interconnected story. It is the tale of a boy from the Great Depression’s slums who copes with sibling rivalry, a deadbeat father, matricidal guilt and an ever-growing feeling of un-belonging. Though each album introduces a different character’s perspective, I’m starting to wonder if Defeater is a one-trick pony.

I do not contest that Travels has an engaging story and breath-taking, relatable imagery. But, wasn’t its point was driven home sufficiently a full-length and a half ago with its closing track “Cowardice”? This was a haunting ode sung by a suicidal protagonist filled with shame and regret, a song which could very well represent my favorite moments in all of hardcore. The story surely warranted its follow-up EP Lost Ground, which brought with it the new aspects of war, racism and a fresh perspective in the Travels’ vagrant, the “prophet in plain clothes”. However, committing another whole fourteen tracks to the subject now just seems unnecessary- even lazy. Even further, it is destroying the sense of mystery the story offers.

Tabling the lyrical stagnancy, this really is a fantastic record. There is an elegantly understated groove that prevails throughout most of Empty Days, one which chimes the “melodic” bell more frequently than its predecessors, but quite satisfyingly so. “Dear Father” and “No Kind of Home” will drag you down a staircase or two of heart-wrenching vocal performances. And the violinist at the end of “Warm Blood Rush” might as well be playing the hairs on the back of your neck. Truly moving tracks, all. And even though Defeater’s sound has persisted since their 2008 debut, it doesn’t ever seem to get old.

Of course, part of that sound has also involved stopping abruptly and switching from screams and shouts to bluesy, folk-infused acoustic, and this record does precisely that. This has always come to the delight of some and the dismay of others. Personally, I have been among the former. Though I must say the transition into the four-song, acoustic side of the release, Sleepless Nights, does leave something to be desired- okay, a whole hell of a lot to be desired, Defeater continues to triumph in their fearless inclusion of this seemingly outlandish style. Derek’s voice is powerful, honest, and thrives in either environment. And I’ll be damned if “Brothers” doesn’t pull off a Johnny Cash influence better than most actual folk bands could.

There being so much done right on this record, it feels wrong to dwell on this one negative. Yet, it is so substantial a let-down that it bears my full scrutiny. Lyrics have always defined Defeater. Travels and Lost Ground were great at a glance, but also took advantage of a secondary “blow your fucking mind” effect in their stories. They have a solid jab and a cross to back it up. This album is more of a haymaker-type assault that mostly misses the, admittedly tall, lyrical mark. I have no problem with Defeater writing another concept album. What I do have a problem with is Defeater writing the same concept album, especially when it isn’t done as well as the first. Much like a joke that becomes less funny with each reiteration, so too do all the best Travels lines lose their majesty as Defeater grasps at the power they held.

I absolutely love this band, and they still do it better than anyone else. Empty Days and Sleepless Nights was a great listen. But, Defeater is too young and has way too much potential to be stuck on its own legacy already!

Should it be on my iTunes?

I have to admit, my expectations were through the roof with this one. Despite my heavy criticisms, it is easily worth its weight in megabytes, especially to any yet-to-be-Defeated melodic hardcore enthusiasts.

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