I found a bit of amusing irony in the fact that members of various bands commonly miscategorized as "screamo" came together to record United Nations' self-titled album last year. That is, because United Nations was an actual screamo album. I suppose it was the opposite scenario with Mikoto and their own self-titled release. Level-Plane is a well-respected label with a catalogue containing actual and awesome screamo bands (Envy, Aussitōt Mort, Saetia), but they definitely raised some eyebrows when they released Mikoto in 2005.
See, Mikoto bears former Taken frontman Ray Harkins on vocals, a good hardcore backbone to have. But the "screamo" on that EP was more of the latter-day variety -- to give you an idea, the band garnered comparisons running the gamut from Underoath and Alexisonfire to This Day Forward, and a whole lot of mixed reactions in the process.
Three years later, I still think Mikoto sound like Alexisonfire. However, they're more consistent than that band and they've kept the cheese level to a very dull roar on this, We Are the Architects, their debut full-length.
Opener "The Hours You Keep" has the typical barked vocal / sung chorus, but it's actually pretty well-done considering. A few listens over and the initial judgements of eye-rolling turn to enjoyment. The general good cop / bad cop scenario seems less obvious and prevalent as the album becomes more and more familiar. It's a weird type of melody that really seems to burrough itself sometimes, but it works.
Like Alexisonfire, there's a careful attention paid to having a strong set of guitars moving things along. Their riffs can set an atmospheric pace or chug and roar, giving things a fluidly heavy feel (check "It Was Better When No One Knew About It"). Heck, there are parts that are more in the line of straight-up, mid-tempo or faster hardcore than anything, like the sporadically This Is Hell-ish "Every Story Is a Ghost."
Lyrically, Architects sometimes seems to criticize things within the "scene." The title of the last song I mentioned talks about exactly what you think ("Progression and change scare everyone. / When this club became not so exclusive, what did you do?"). "Giving Up" seems to directly call out other bands playing the same style as Mikoto, only much worse and uncreative: "I'm...coming to the conclusion, / that make-up can't make up for current lack of passion and heart. / ... / We've traded our passion for a watered down soundtrack to current trends and fashion. / It's all wrong." Makes sense from a bunch of dudes who have been kicking around for a while.
I'll admit I was pretty ready to write off We Are the Architects from the start, but after a few spins Mikoto's subtle flourishes and creative tendencies really come to life, and the sung parts seem to be delivered in more of an anguished yell. I guess it doesn't really matter much, as most of the band left to go play in that wonderful electro-emo-pop thing anyway. But this is a promising document of their time together, and if the major lineup change means they're going the heavier route, let's hope we hear more of that creativity that pushes Mikoto well above the Alesanas and Blessthefalls they don't deserve to be lumped with.
The Hours You Keep
Waiting by the Docks
Every Story Is a Ghost