A Wilhelm Scream is a band that, as of late, has received a fair amount of praise on this site. Understandably so; their latest, Mute Print, is a well-produced skate punk album with more than a handful of memorable songs. But, had the praise come from this record alone, it would have been unjustified. Simply put, Benefits Of Thinking Out Loud fails to deliver on many levels.
Although they've been an outfit since 1993, the guys recorded this album in the infancy of their recording career - my copy still boasts their old name Smackin' Isaiah on its cover, and unless www.allmusic.com is playing a trick on me, this is their debut - and, in doing so, stumbled into many of the hurdles that present themselves whenever a young group searches for its sound in the studio. Some of the songs are either too short or long for their own good. For instance, the speedy "You Make Me Feel Like I Need A Psychiatric Evaluation" begins with explosive gang vocals, then, just as you're expecting a full-blown chorus, ends at forty-six seconds, leaving you with a sense of what-could-have-been. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the closer, "Month Of Sundays," is a sluggish, four-minute power-pop tune that would be right at home on Tell All Your Friends. This album is structured much like Mute Print in that it features a pretty even mix of emotional and aggressive moments, but whereas the latter never becomes too plaintive, at certain points in Benefits vocalist Nuno Pereira becomes almost unbearably whiny. It's precisely in those instances that his lyrics tend to waver into simplicity: "Can I move along just like you do? / Because it feels good to be alone / I deserve to be alone." In turn, so does the instrumentation. The dynamics of the band become buried under stale, slow beats and uninspired riffs. Such moments are thankfully sparse; still, there are three songs on here I can't tolerate because of that flaw.
Production-wise, it's...alright. The sound quality is in the middle of the road between the abrasiveness of mid-nineties Asian Man punk releases and the current slick Fat sound. Given A Wilhelm Scream's fast pace and use of dual guitars, it certainly dampers them more than, say, the Lawrence Arms. Nuno's vocals are quite raw on Benefits, and somewhat reminiscent of Chuck Ragan, so if that's your thing, you shouldn't have any problems with them. But then there's the clicking. Despite the fact that I paid ten dollars for this album, I kept on thinking I was listening to a burnt CD. All of the tracks here flow into one another, but not with the smooth transition expected of a professional recording. Instead, you get a noticeable click in between almost each track. The sound is jarring to the ears, especially when heard through headphones, and detracts from the album in the sense that it comes off as a bit rushed and amateurish.
This disc isn't without its triumphs. Opener "Hike" is the one short song that actually works; at barely thirty seconds and both fast and catchy, it serves as a nice glimpse of what to expect from most of the album. The Strung Out-flavoured soloing on "A Chapter Of Accidents" is vibrant and serves as a template for the extensive guitar work showcased on later songs such as "The Rip." When he keeps his subject matter political, Nuno does manage to pull off a few decent lines: "Please don't speak, because I can't think less of you / You fuck with us and we'll be fucking you soon / We're in line, a number / Just know we've got yours."
Though most of the ingredients that make Mute Print such a great album are in place here, albeit in lesser portions, ultimately there's something missing to the recipe. Perhaps A Wilhelm Scream's dynamic nature is dulled by the somewhat lacking production; perhaps Mute Print is just so superior to this record that it eclipses it in every single way, but I just don't find myself listening to Benefits at all. If the band were to tweak these songs today with their current arsenal and experience, I'm sure they could make it great. But alas...
In closing, Benefits is by no means terrible; in fact, the few bright spots place it slightly above your average punk album. But, for the clicking issues alone, I must knock the rating down a peg. I feel that this is simply inexcusable from a band/label that charges the same prices as Fat Wreck or Deep Elm for their products. If you enjoy Mute Print, you might want to pick this up just to witness the amazing leap of progress A Wilhelm Scream has made in only three years. If you only casually enjoyed their latest, however, don't bother with this one.