In all compromises you usually look to come out on top. Crime in Stereo have accomplished this with The Troubled Stateside, their Nitro debut, third release in less than a year and second full-length overall. This rush of material hasn't seemed to thin the band out too much, but in truly developing a unique identity -- progressive melodic hardcore, really -- with Stateside, they offer an album that's musically diverse but a bit disjointed and overall fairly uneven. That's not to undermine a number of great, well-written songs however present.
The album begins with 2 of its standouts: "Everything Changes / Nothing Is Ever Truly Lost" and "Bicycles for Afghanistan." The former begins with a thrash drumbeat and a furious scream, developing into an excellent minute-long youth crew cut with a breakdown performed by obvious veterans. The latter1 offers one of Stateside's most especially emotional choruses: "And so we drift together, yet apart and alone..." From there, the record makes a number of ups and downs. The Lifetime-inspired "The Impending Glory of American Adulthood" is solid, while "I'm on the Guestlist Motherfucker," despite its vehement lyrical content which we'll get to later, seems a bit middling. The excellently written "Sudan" resonates with powerful, punctuated gang vocals of "So goodnight, Dark Island!," but the song it references isn't thrilling; "Dark Island City" is the most troubling of these few mediocre tracks; it starts off with a promising lead, goes quiet, allows Kristian Hallbert to exercise brief nostalgia of a past party, recovers that guitar lead and then fades out, all over the course of 2 minutes. It feels drastically incomplete and non-sensical. "Gravity/Grace" is a slower offering that surprisingly finds Hallbert employing some rather Adam Lazzarra-like vocal strides in its bridge.
"I, Stateside" may be the most ambitious track the band's written, as it begins with a bouncy chord progression and is eventually propelled by breathtakingly emotional "whoooooa"s at the forefront and similarly heartfelt guitars in the background, with Hallbert pleading "God please save these troubled states!" The guitars then sound off alarm-like in the bridge, break down and allow the way for atmospheric strokes to appear in the bridge, gaining strength and picking up harder to close the 5+-minute song.
The other minor flaw is the musical cohesiveness of Stateside. No transitions between tracks exist, whereas the ones that existed on the band's last full-length, Explosives and the Will to Use Them employed them perfectly and gave it a unifying feel. Stateside seems to have little connectivity, thus giving it a bit more of a "B-sides/rarities compilation" feel than a complete, one-session full-length album.
However, where the album does manage to walk in one piece is in its devastating lyrical content. Granted Hallbert confesses "recurring themes of love and God and war" in "I, Stateside" but more often on Stateside he's writing about the everyday financial struggle and quest to avoid the doldrums of the 9-to-5. In "Sudan" he takes on the perspective of a woman wishing to escape her country and establish a new life in the United States. "For Exes" is a straightforward narrative of a supposed answering machine message asking a friend "how are things around the office these days? Did your boss ever give you that raise?" When Hallbert isn't referencing those points, he's writing rather confrontational material. "I'm on the Guestlist Motherfucker" almost seems like the band's disgust with Victory Records and possible attempts the label may have made to sign them, with lines like "So put a big black sticker on the front that says 'For Fans Of:' / and you can donate a penny to my future pension. We've got big retail chain front-of-store displays, but just remember: It's three grand for a half-page ad, so you better be paying attention." Brief observations of the scene around them are made as well ("If it seems as of late, I've stopped sitting around talking about the bands I hate, maybe I'm starting to relate"). "I, Stateside" is simply agitated by the left's constant damnation by its American counterparts: "And I can't set aside all the condescending lies they're making us believe about state and faith and law. Paint every dark-skinned man a criminal, every white Christian forgivable. We're choosing sides, a solider's life in the new culture war...'We'll fix the fat and ugly with incisions. We'll stash the gay and liberal up in New England. We'll keep the black and poor in (or under constant threat of) prison. And they'll all feel blessed just for being part of the vision.'" Quite the powerful concluding statement.
There are some rather fantastic songs on The Troubled Stateside, but it's an album that's really kept afloat for its duration by the songwriting, which are some of the most well-written personal expressions and poignant observations made in some time for its genre. Crime in Stereo has definitively matured and found their niche; now they simply need to take this ambition to write songs that'll connect each other not just in the thematic sense, but in the musical one as well.
Bicycles for Afghanistan
1 - Interestingly enough, the title of the song apparently references an October 2001 article by John Whiteley, president of the Chattanooga Bicycle Club, who suggested the possibility of collecting old bicycles, fixing them up and sending them to the people of the country in question as a gesture of goodwill. I can't find any research confirming whether or not this act of charity ever ended up occurring, but it seems a peculiar thing to reference regardless.
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