This is not an easy record to take in. Sure, it may sound like a very mellow, emotive indie record, but there's so much more beneath the surface of this album that makes it one of the more troubling CDs I've purchased. Beneath all the smooth, flowing tempos, or at times, the driving chords, there lays a story drenched in self-doubt and personal struggle for singer Ryan Shelkett. The smooth instrumentation of the opening track, "A Great Depression," can only try to cover the story told by the album's dark lyrics.
I suppose an explanation would do good about now. Essentially, this album is the story of Sheklett's battle with depression, anti-depressants, and even his attempted suicide, as expressed in "London Bridge." But I'll get to that later.
Before getting to the lyrics of this album, which are really the basis that everything is built around, I'd just like to talk about the music itself. And luckily, it's constructed well all the way around. "Somber" is probably the operative word when describing Cross My Heart. This comes across not only lyrically but in the music itself. These guys obviously have been playing together a while, because everything is tight, and everything is very, very well put together. It's not very technical, but it doesn't have to be. At times, there's smooth, almost jazzy American Football-esque tempos, and other instances more crunching guitars over Sheklett's despair-laden lyrics. The soft taps on the drums, and each subtle chord are struck for a reason, and you pay attention to each individual action. It's usually the vocals that are the centerpiece, but the guitar steals the spotlight on "Infinity Doesn't Live Here Anymore."
The vocals seem to just be background noise. It's somewhat due to the production, but the arrangement of that song serves to put the guitar at the forefront. The next track, "Self-Loathing Bastard," is probably the most upbeat you'll find on this album, but it can only momentarily mask the dark content of the lyrics. So, I suppose I should actually talk about these lyrics I've been rambling about for most of this review now.
As was said before, this is a dark record. Full of disparity, introspection, self doubt, and regret. I suppose a bit of the dilemma posed with content like this is how many people can actually relate to the kind of depression talked about in these lyrics. I'm not talking your two week depression because your girlfriend of a month dumped you and left you without a date for prom, but this is a deep-seeded struggle with depression. The dyanamic vocals are spread throughout this album; from lightly sung to gut wrenching screams, it's a seesaw balance between extremes here. "London Bridge" is the song that specifically deals with Sheklett's attempted suicide. The lyrics don't spell it right out for you, but the troubles are obviously there; "I wish I could paint myself invisible, or at least take me out of the phone book / Last night, I was ready to pull the plug / That fueled the light in my eyes, and I know I should be happy / I take my medication, cause it will make me happy." The hooks drive the words right into your head. It's not something easily swallowed, but you're forced to take it all at once. Every line sung drips with remorse, and it's an almost haunting experience at times. Lines like "Just a cold shoulder / that's all you offer me / but it knocks me off my feet," evoke a surreal feeling of understanding, whether you've been there or not. The sweeping and soaring vocals of Sheklett couldn't convey this more accurately.
This album is equal parts calming and intense, changing between the extremes faster than most. It's very smart songwriting. Every hook has the potential to be stuck in your head for days, and every lyric has a chance to stay with you longer. Given the chance, this album can have an impact on anyone. The vocals are just as melancholic as they are powerful, and the honesty of it all gives it that much more of an impact on you.
Just lay down, hit the lights, put this album on, and let it slip right into your subconcious. You couldn't stop it if you tried.