Vanna must be good. I mean, Mr. Brett sure seems to like them. He signed them to his indie powerhouse label Epitaph only a year after they recorded their first demo. He even drafted them to contribute backup vocals in “Requiem for Dissent” off Bad Religion’s latest, New Maps of Hell. Forgive me for being insistent, but Vanna needs a lot more than associational cred to prove their worth.
“The Alarm” strikes hard with a heavy post-hardcore (err, rather, nü-hardcore) thrashing of the same incoherent yelps-adjacent-to-melodic-emo-wails of “forefathers” like From Autumn to Ashes and From First to Last (who were probably replaced by Vanna on correct presumptions that they would jump to a major). However, the predictable nü-hardcore structure kicks in after the second chorus as the band pounds out a round of uninspired thuds -- the dreaded breakdown: a chance for the kids to show off their “dance” moves kicking everyone in a four-foot radius in the head, including unsuspecting 14-year-old girls. “The Vanishing Orchestra” follows with an ultra-annoying screech, a fairly impressive snare-led transition measure, and unbelievably bad lyrics: "Give my blade your wings / Find their hearts / Black as the devil's eyes / Smile back / Go like the wind / Like the wind in her hair."
“This Map Is Old News” rounds out the album, offering the best material on the record. The melodic singing and screams weave in and out frequently, freeing the song from the predictable structural pitfalls of most of the other tracks. “Trophy Wives” demonstrates the band’s ability to capture the intensity for which they strive and fail on most songs, but the hook-less chorus and bland lyrics ("I am still for you / I see them looking / The hearts you've broken“) ruin it.
There’s also the troubling reality that Vanna are poseurs. No, I’m not talking about punk rock politics or elitism but something just as worthy of discredit. Despite the fact that three-fifths of the band praise God in the back of the liner notes, they sell out the Third Commandment for trendy sloganeering in “Country Boys…Goddamn” and in the strident attempt at horror-themed machismo “We Ate the Horse You Rode in On.” Come on kids, Congress passes these things for a reason.
In short, Curses isn’t all bad, it’s just mostly bad. The few moments when Vanna manages to harness something intense or unique show a flash of promise, but for now the band seems utterly content to float along in the same mucky pond with every other band cashing in on a manufactured idea of hardcore.