Bomb the Music Industry!'s sixth full-length may come across as an attempt to break away from the band's usual hit of spastically fun ska-punk with the occasional slow dose, but I see it as more of a step in the right direction for them. Jeff Rosenstock has grown immensely as a songwriter and lyricist over the years, and it became more apparent on their previous LP, 2009's Scrambles. The three songs from Scrambles that really sounded the winds of change were "Sort of Like Being Pumped", "$2,400,000" and "Wednesday Night Drinkball". They are dreary, yet uplifting tunes that sprawl through a day in the life of the narrator. They also featured instruments not normally heard in BtMI! songs, such as classical pianos, banjos, and wurlitzers. One could only imagine what their next release could be like when considering this detour from their original sound.
While Vacation may be a more serious album in terms of the songwriting and lyrics, it still sounds like a fun summer album. I've seen this compared to the likes of Titus Andronicus and the Thermals and those comparisons are pretty spot-on (at least, I know the Titus Andronicus one is). Another difference between this album and the previous five is that all of the songs are, on average, a minute-and-a-half longer than they usually are. The album opens up with the dreamy, piano-driven "Campaign for a Better Weekend". Vacation is truly a concept album of sorts and that is apparent within the lyrics of this song. "Wake up at 10 a.m. It's 55 degrees, and even since it's barely March. Since all winter it's been freezing this is cause for celebration. Cause for picnics and coffee" opens the song and stresses to the listener the need for an escape from the norm. Even without the lyrical push, any frequent listener of BtMI! would know that they are headed far from the loud, beer-soaked sound of their prior releases. It's almost as if the older album were positively negative, while this one seems negatively positive (?).
One delightful surprise on Vacation is hearing the alternate and fresh takes of the songs previously released in the album's infancy, such as "Everybody That You Love", "Can't Complain" and "Hurricane Waves" (which, by the way, is an unreasonably perfect song). The songs sound much cleaner and "fitted" for their placements on the track listing. Another great surprise is the somewhat spooky sound of "The Shit That You Hate". You can really hear the Andrew Jackson Jihad come out on this one (and while I'm not sure if this is the song they recorded on, it'd be my first guess). The song clocks in at almost six minutes and finishes with the most epic finale on the album. The colliding of instruments and the chanting really ties the whole package together and makes for what is probably my favorite song on Vacation.
I have two very minor issues with Vacation, which is, there seems to be the inability to just throw it on in your car when you're driving to the market. Another way to compare this to Titus Andronicus could be in how the songs don't necessarily stand out superbly on their own as well as they stand together in unison. It's hard to appreciate a classic like Titus Andronicus' The Monitor if you listen to it one song at a time. It's a ton better when you take the time to listen to the songs as they flow into the bigger picture. My other issue is the lack of songs. The list calls for 13, but two of those tracks are interludes. I suppose it's a trade-off, though, since the 11 full songs on Vacation are all about four minutes long, and it has a "hidden" bonus track or two depending on whether you're listening to the CD or the vinyl.
All in all, Bomb the Music Industry!'s sixth full-length, Vacation, is easily their most standout and varied effort in the band's career. I have not yet figured out if this is their best work, but I'm going to give it a huge maybe. If you have never listened to BtMI! before this, or you have denounced them as goofy, this is the time to give them a(nother) chance. Vacation is undoubtedly the best album to come out this summer and probably any summer in the last five years.