The title of Schoolyard Heroes' latest album is Abominations, and it is quite fitting. I must say I enjoy the moxy of this band, for they claim to want to destroy the much-maligned style-over-substance genre of nü-emo (holy daring dashes Batman!). How do they set about performing such a task? Why, with the oh-so original combination of pseudo-goth, punk and metal! Wait a minute…
Much like fellow horror-themed rockers the Horrorpops, Schoolyard Heroes' greatest asset is their vocalist. Ryann Donnelly soars over the musical backdrop that is provided for her and tends to shine throughout. The only problem is while the capability of the other band members to play their instruments is never in question, they do tend to get drowned out quite a bit. Things start to look more promising when the music is interesting enough to compliment her vocals, such as the metallic noodling and upstroke guitar of "Plastic Surgery Hall of Fame" or the dancy "Sometimes They Come Back." The former is ruined however by the hook of "you're so pretty and you're so dead," which suffers both from over-use and gag-inducing sentiments. The band rectifies the problem of hook over saturation with the winning chorus of "Violence Is All the Rage."
The crux of the problem with this album is if you are going to anchor the band around the vocals, your lyrics are going to have to be -- at worst -- passable. Sadly, more often than not Schoolyard Heroes' lyrics simply aren't even that. One shouldn't be expecting anything deep and meaningful from a band with song titles like "All the Pretty Corpses," but if there isn't, there should be some hilarious or memorable lines. Yet, with this album you won't find any "I wanna fuck, I wanna fuck the dead" or "I got something to say / I killed a baby today." The vocals themselves don't escape without a misstep either though, when the "la la la"s of 'Children of the Night" reduce things to a bad Nightmare Before Christmas outtake. Those kids with Jack the Pumpkin King hoodies should be stoked.
While Donnelly is certainly a talented vocalist and the rest of the band knows how to play their instruments, you can't help the feeling that they decided to take a mental vacation when it came to writing the music and lyrics. Hopefully "Violence Is All the Rage" is an indication the band has the ability to write a pretty good album if they ever decide to overcome their own style-over-substance issues. Until then all their albums might as well be entitled Abominations.