The Misery Index: Notes from the Plague Years (2006)
Boy Sets Fire's 2000 effort, After the Eulogy, seemed to put them at the top of their game in the eyes of many. So much so, that with the uneven response to Tomorrow Come Today, people seemed to think the band was past their prime, and would soon fade into the growing list of post-hardcore acts from the late `90s who just couldn't keep reinventing the sound.
The Misery Index: Notes from the Plague Years is sort of one big 'fuck you' to that notion. While the album introduces itself with an acoustic guitar, the ever-outspoken band cuts right to the chase. After a minute and a half of a lyrical assault to those who keep silent about current events, the band returns sonically with the ferocity that was seemingly lost over the past few years. The album demands to be heard, it pulls no punches, and takes pride in that fact.
While the vast array of layers of instruments and vocals would be seemingly overproduced, I happen to think that in this instance it works quite well. Some of the disc would be hard to replicate live, but when dealing with political content, there's always a certain theatrical aspect involved. The production is noticable, but doesn't detract from the music; it more enhances the sound. The guitars are driving but not overpowering, and the vocals are layerd but not distracting. The drumming is absolutely phenomenal, and is the spine of the entire disc.
This is not an album without faults. While "Requiem" is a mid-tempo rock song that is radio-friendly but not the 'obviously included for a single' song, the background vocals of "I need to feel it, please, just let me feel alright," give it a cheap mall-emo quality that I think could have been easily disposed of. "Deja Coup," while a clever assault on organized religion, sounds out of place with the pop-punk sound. The band has many experiments on this record, as far as varying influences are concerned, and this is the only one that sounds like it might be out of place. Even as it transitions into a horn-led chorus, it sounds just fine, but the bouncy verses seem a bit out of place.
However, for the few faults, there are triumphs tenfold. When the band signed to Equal Vision, they hinted at a record of political determination, and delivered almost in an over-the-top manner. When the band isn't singing about George Bush directly, they're attacking organized religion, poverty, and hunger. Even in the break-up anthem, "Falling Out Theme," the band compares love and war. With so many acts these days falling into the safety net of screaming and heart-on-sleeve mascara and bad haircuts, Boy Sets Fire refuses to do so, and puts their money where their mouth is.
While there are many different types of songs on the album, from the spastic "Final CommuniquÃ©" to the nostalgic "(10) and Counting," the album doesn't feel uneven in the way Tomorrow Come Today does, and I mainly believe it's because the vocals are delivered with such passion. Whether he is singing in front of an acoustic guitar or screaming behind the force of the full band, Nathan Gray's vocals have never been this good. A single listen to the closing track, "A Far Cry," will convince anyone of this. The voice pierces through the music like a bullet, unapologetically cutting down the Bush administration;
Give up because you'll never justify the blood on your fingers, the bullshit look of concern, the cover-ups, lies, and the bloated corpse of a system that is begging to burn.
After that passage, a repeating wail of "Surrender!" bridges into an ironic prayer of destruction and war, and then into a surprise re-recording of Eulogy's "Still Waiting for the Punchline."
I'll admit that before this album, I wasn't the biggest Boy Sets Fire fan. I enjoyed my copy of After the Eulogy, but it isn't an album I listen to on repeat. I was disappointed with the majority of Tomorrow Come Today, and had basically left this band for dead. This is, with all puns intended, truly a ressurrection. This album is monstrous and should not be left on the shelves. It is pertinent, it is intelligent, it deals with issues that should be dealt with, and it does so in a listener-friendly manner. It's the album that BSF needed to make, and they came through with resounding success.