To say Banquets and Nightmares For A Week packed epic quality into this would be one of the biggest understatements. Both bands cook something up that float neatly into the realm of The Get-Up Kids, Gaslight Anthem, Red City Radio and Restorations with a diversely emotional, catchy and rock-steady sound that has a mainstream, radio-friendly vibe to it yet you can tell it's a sound both bands crafted by roughing it through their respective scenes.
I'm still torn between Civilian War and Don't Die as to what's NFAW's best sound. I love their direct approach to things and how they managed to refine their sound. They gained their voice steadily and never compromised their musical integrity which would perhaps push me toward the former. That said, they really treat their fans once more. "Canadian Tuxedo" is chock-full of airy guitars that assemble a strong alternative, mid-tempo sound, as with the majority of their music. Steven Markota's heavy-handed kitwork and a swirly, post-rock flow best pattern the album while still making room for their acoustic material.
Case in point, the gruff, western-esque acoustic "Dead Will Stay". Bill Manley's vocals adjust well to a folky tinge that points to Jay Malinowski's recent stuff post-Bedouin Soundclash. The slow, melodic build of "Up To The Mountain Heights" continues in the same, not-too-loud vein of their tracks and this less-aggressive approach is something they fine-tuned well over the years. It has a ballad-esque feel while maintaining the band's sing-along ebb and flow. The way they build harmonically in such a dramatic fashion into a dearth of whoa-ohs is perfect testament to this. It's a softer-laced affair which really adds versatility to their basket.
Banquets do win the split for me though. They really outdid their already A-effort aka last year's self-titled. Travis Omilian's pedigree on the mic really can't be undersold. He's that good. There's a powerful tone, a sense of urgency, a raw passion and desperation in his voice and you feel it in their music. It's determined, focussed and authentic melodic-punk that's brash and catchy. "Two Feet" pans out dramatically and frustrated in its clean, polished spin. Voluminous hooks with bits of post-rock here and there complement their fiver so well. They expand track after track so strongly with huge choruses and guitar-driven sprawls that scream vibrant-punk. "The Engineer" echoes this in its loud, fast-paced riffs and rip-roaring solos. Crunchy guitars, impressive vocal harmonizing and a deep-lying catharsis hover over all their tracks which distinguish how clean and crisp the production is. They wow you hook after hook after hook. All immense.
They maintain a distant sound now and then but when the time comes to run riot with their bouts of woah-ohs, quick drums accompany massive basslines, through which tracks like "My Moped Year" flourish. The methodical drums circle heavily to flush out this as well as "Come Home Ragged" which shows just why Banquets will be a top-contender in the foreseeable future for the energetic melodic-punk championship belt. They show that much like NFAW, whatever they're gonna work on next, will have us waiting with bated breath. Both bands give an exceptional account of themselves with some of their most solid work to date. If you were looking for a jumping-on point also, then you're in luck because I can't think of a better starting-point.