If you haven't come across the synopsis by now, Terrible Things is something of an emo/rock supergroup. The short version is that it's got Fred Mascherino (formerly of Taking Back Sunday and Breaking Pangea); Andy Jackson (formerly of Hot Rod Circuit, currently of Death in the Park); Josh Eppard (quit Coheed and Cambria in 2006); and Brian Weaver (Silvertide; remember them? Me neither). The album itself, their self-titled debut, is something of a concept record, revolving around a series of fires set in Mascherino's hometown in 2009. But there's a different theme that emerges here, as it was given a home by Universal Motown at the tail end of summer–a time of disappointment and transition for many, and that, rather, is a metaphor that characterizes this album all too well.
Terrible Things could be vaguely panned out as 2000s "emo" as spun through a much bigger, glossier pop-rock tilt. While comparisons to Mascherino's stint in Taking Back Sunday might be warranted in some respects, this act really strips away much of the marginal punk and melodic hardcore influences that continue to influence even TBS's current major label era. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but the results don't have much to fall back on.
Mascherino mastered the art of hook-laden repetition with the front half of Taking Back Sunday's Where You Want to Be before running the trick into the ground with his solo project, the Color Fred, and its debut, Bend to Break. For the most part, he abandons that too on Terrible Things, save certain moments. Here, it's mixed results. A time it seems to work is with the band/title track, cutting through with the most memorable hook (it's probably easy to sing "We're doing terrible things" in your head without ever hearing the song).
That title track is third in the sequence. The "Intro" struggles to set up any sort of interesting act of foreboding, but the following "Revolution" better comes in as a thumping, pulsing rocker out of Foo Fighters' playbook, like one of their better singles from the last decade. From there, though, things are shaky. Jason Elgin's super compressed production stifles a number of the tracks' potential dynamism, though a few songs feel like they never had it to begin with. Strangely dancey midpoint "Conspiracy" is bogged down by completely cheesy lyrics ("I've been abducted by your ex-boyfriend who's with the FBI") and vast overprocess, and its chorus is annoying by the first repeat.
Jackson gets lead vocals on a few tracks. Naturally, at least one–"Wrap Me Up"–just sounds like one of Hot Rod's more radio-friendly jams (or decent Death in the Park leftovers), but "Not Alone" is forgettable. Along with the aggressive "Revolution", "Wrap Me Up" offers some of the album's best moments with swelling guitars and well-placed points of tension. The melancholic, slow-moving acoustic-picked ending to "The Arsonist's Wife" is also a highlight amid a very "background" last third, while acoustic hidden track "Can't Be True" feels more genuine and heartfelt than much of what precedes it.
That's the thing: Terrible Things often lacks substance and feels unfortunately vapid despite the intent. The album makes it hard to sympathize with the poor town of Coatesville, Pa., because Terrible Things never really feels specific about the events, nor does it really exact the emotion inherent in such tragedy. As master and commander here, Mascherino manages to provide a few proven moments amid a lot of somewhat forced and sometimes corny pop-rock pandering. The band's hardly doing terrible things, but there's a lot of mere movement here over meaning.
Terrible Things (save "Intro" and "Can't Be True")