With the oversaturation of bands in that short-lived "sing-scream-sing" genre that reached its peak in popularity only a few short years ago (only to receive a critical backlash quickly thereafter), it was only natural that most in the genre would simply fade away and die. Yet for some, there was a decision placed in front of them: continue with the constricting style of music you built your fan base on, or make a slow transition from that style to one that is still relevant.
The Reason were faced with this very problem, their well-received debut Ravenna released in 2004 more or less fitting into the aforementioned sound. The band has decided to stray from their former musical path, no doubt resulting in what many press packages and reviews will call a more "mature/melodic/fully realized" sound (one of the three), which would prove an apt, although slightly misleading statement.
To give a good idea, it seems that while the band was previously influenced by albums such as fellow Canadians Boys Night Out's Make Yourself Sick, their influences are now as diverse as, um, Boys Night Out's Trainwreck. Okay, that wasn't being quite fair. Truthfully, there are definitely parallels to be drawn between this album and BNO's 2005 full-length, with a slower pace and added keyboards, yet there are moments that also bring to mind labelmates Moneen or even, to a lesser extent, Modest Mouse and Minus the Bear (listen to the laid back, bouncy guitars on "Unquestionable").
The problem with this album is that it starts out feeling like it is in transition, a somewhat awkward step before the band finds their footing again. The band is still stuck on bringing in those aggressive moments that fit in well on Ravenna, but here they feel out of place. Gavin Brown's production makes this album slick and radio-friendly, and throwing in contrived screaming over polished guitars just sounds forced and uncomfortable. It's nice that the band only throws it in on rare occasions, yet they shouldn't be present at all.
However, when the band is accepting of taking that jump from the old sound to the new, they can be quite successful. "Is It Just Me?" features some pseudo-falsetto vocals in the chorus, and singer Adam White's voice, which can seem shrill during some of the more aggressive tracks, sounds a lot more fitting. The emphasized keyboards also fit in well on tracks such as this one, rather than as the afterthought they sometimes appear as. This new sound offers some definite hits, one in particular being the eighth track, "We're So Beyond This." The track features Sara Quin (of Tegan and Sara), and should be packaged up and released as a radio single as soon as possible. It has hit written all over it, from the simple yet instantly catchy melody to Sara's breathtaking harmonies. Her voice mixes beautifully with White's, and provides a definite highlight to the album. From that point on, the album is at its strongest, a rare case where an album's second half is noticeably stronger than its first.
Fans of the Reason should find something to enjoy about Things Couldn't Be Better, but will perhaps be left wanting a more complete package than they received. There are a few missteps here and there, particularly in its first half, and though I wouldn't call it a sophomore slump, one can't help but feel that things could be better.
[originally written for absolutepunk.net]