What is sadder: a band that calls it quits after wallowing in a creative lull, or a band that hangs it up after achieving their most fully realized work? Whatever the case may be, Fifth Hour Hero is a band that definitely represents the latter category, with last year's Not Revenge…Just a Vicious Crush. Their true swan song however is in fact the two songs they contribute to this split with Navel for Japan's Snuffy Smiles Records.
This is my first experience listening to Navel, and sonically I’ve got to say they make for a logical pairing with FHH. They play melodic punk with fairly loose structure and raw production values that would undoubtedly fit nicely in the rosters of American labels like No Idea or Deep Elm. Their two offerings, “Swaying” and “Heartache” are alcohol-soaked numbers about -- you guessed it -- heartache. Vocalist Hideyuki Tominaga’s melodies on the second are especially strong but the band’s first negative aspect is in the lyric department. English understandably is not the band’s first language with lines that look like an electronic translator churned them out. Take for example this quote from “Swaying”: "My word is distorted with silence on and on why are you doing such sad faces? Like fill small glass with beer with unsteady my hands." Solution? I advise the band write in their native Japanese, which would sound a lot more natural and maybe include better-translated explanations about the songs in English. This awkward phrase structure Navel currently relies on serves only to trip up otherwise strong vocal arrangements ruining things for listeners of any language. The other area the band falters is in the production, specifically the drums. While the drum patterns are actually rather interesting and well-played, they sound like someone is banging on a piece of plywood. Overall their side of the 7” only shows the possibility of great things, rather than completely delivering.
At first listen Fifth Hour Hero’s side fairs much better, which is a shame because it will likely cause some listeners to skip over Navel’s half altogether, when they really do have some quality things to offer. Those familiar with Not Revenge…Just a Vicious Crush will note how that album contained some of FHH's catchiest and most driving songs. The two songs here however take a different approach, and in light of their recently announced breakup are put into a unique context within the band's career. “Red Room Full of Villains” is a more frantic song that features Olivier predominantly on the verses and Genevieve on the chorus. It reminds me a lot more of the type of songs the band was doing in and around the time of Scattered Sentences. Rather than be a throwback or regression the band incorporates that sound with the more developed vocal interplay they perfected on the last full-length toward the end of the song. Topically, it appears to cover distaste for an unkind industry and fickle audience, which perhaps sheds light on the band's mindset around the time of its demise. “Giving in to Your Good Sides” is essentially Genevieve and an acoustic guitar but opens with the somber tones of what sounds like an accordion that pops up again throughout the song. Some of the band’s best material followed a similar pattern such as “Badly Drawn.” Genevieve seems to be talking a lot about transitions and leaving in the song, which again is very fitting. The album closes on her haunting words of "Before you sing to my ears / that some people stay / Some leave / One thing you knew from the start."
Considering that each band compliments each other well and would be potentially appealing to each other’s fanbase, the main function of the split is certainly achieved. The actual music however is only half as successful, where two full-lengths in Navel still shows a need to find their sound and Fifth Hour Hero aptly displays the self-awareness of the ten-year veterans they are. Although FHH is gone, this 7” serves to show possible directions the different members might be headed, is a valuable piece of the puzzle for any fan following the band and a solid collection of songs in its own right.