Every Time I Die plunged quite a depth from 2003's frenetically angular and generally brilliant Hot Damn! to its shaky and awkward followup, 2005's Gutter Phenomenon. But if 2007's The Big Dirty found the band regaining their footing a bit with stronger, heavier interpretations of the southern rock-inspired metalcore craze they kick-started early this decade (for better or worse), New Junk Aesthetic is the next thankful improvement. And it's easily their best album in six years.
New Junk Aesthetic commences with a grumbling 30 seconds of feedback bellowing forth before a sludgy buildup and then a bottom-heavy, lurching rager for opener "Roman Holiday." The Dillinger Escape Plan's Greg Puciato provides a screechy counterpart to the chorus in "The Marvelous Slut," a portion that's less call-and-response and more a menacing twin interrogation, but even alone, always literate frontman Keith Buckley is quite the force, notably in "Who Invited the Russian Soldier?". That repeated refrain -- "You're standing on the edge holding a rose" -- is dynamic as all get out and an early highlight on the album. "Wanderlust," a surefire FUSE hit, has more in common with the melodic drawl of Gutter or Dirty's more single-oriented moments, but it's executed in finer fashion than the band have tended to in recent years; frankly, it should be jarring how much Buckley is actually singing in this one, but he pretty much nails it.
"For the Record" serves up a suddenly frantic and -- considering the band's evolution -- overwhelmingly heavy cut with a breathtaking number of changes and more tasteful hints of the "horror chord" that found way too much favor from 2002-2004 (:cough:, Norma Jean). It's just utilized entirely better here, and the song, which casts serious shades of the band's consistently overlooked 2001 debut, Last Night in Town, results as one of Junk Aesthetic's finest offerings. Hot Damn! sensibilities enjoyably pervade the next track too, in "White Smoke," though the levels of discomfort reached by the creepy backup singing on that album aren't quite met here (yeah, that's actually a criticism).
Oh, and the Bronx's Matt Caughthran hopping on the pulsating, rolling closer "The Sweet Life"? Much less redundant and way more awesome than one might naggingly wonder.
Persistently changing chord movements, an unnervingly relentless energy and less of a reliance on that "southern" coating keep Junk Aesthetic going strong, too. If every moment isn't outright compelling you, it's at least holding your interest in some capacity, and it pushes the album to the brink of greatness as a result.
Buckley may not produce as strong of the English-major metaphors he used to provide; the same sense of excited panic isn't quite there; the anthemic plateaus previously reached by the band still seem a bit out of reach; and the pieces aren't gelling quite as perfectly as they used to. Still, New Junk Aesthetic comes closer than the band have been in a hot minute. Fuck, even Pete Wentz's glass shard-ridden guest spot in "After One Quarter of a Revolution" isn't bad.
The Marvelous Slut