A short summary of Troubled Coast's early discography: Their first real release, 2009's 100 Miles from Home was a generic slice of modern hardcore, providing 10 tracks in 12 forgettable minutes (but Creator-Destructor packaged it in a pretty 10" format with varying colors). The followup, last year's Vagabonds EP, was more thoughtful: The track lengths were doubled; the tones and tempos varied a little more; and something of a post-hardcore element had emerged. But it wielded too much of a craggy, straightforward tilt to really be worthwhile.
Only a year and change after 100 Miles comes a much, much stronger effort from the band: Letters, a sprawling full-length of modern post-hardcore that provides ambitious musical turns, good riffs and texturally diverse guitar and vocal styles, making for something far more interesting than their earlier, nascent material.
But let's get the one glaring issue out of the way: Either aesthetically or musically, Troubled Coast wear their influences on their sleeves way too blatantly. Three bands that get loving tributes (if there's more, they're unrecognizable to this reviewer):
- Half of the track names are adapted from Crime in Stereo: "Wolf Republic" and "Drug Halo" are basically rearranged words from titles on I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone; "It's Not Good for You" is a reversal of one of the most memorable lines from "...But You Are Vast"; "XX/YY" looks an awful lot like "XXXX" (or "Four X's"), and "Absent Father, Holy Ghost" like "Almost Ghostless/Above the Gathering Oceans"; and "Love"...well, that's just a CiS song title, straight up.
- Fifty-five seconds into "Wolf Republic", the guitar drops out, leaving bass, drums, and the singer cleanly proclaiming "You had your hand on my wrist, / I had my eyes on the sun, / you said, 'The future's a mess, / republic coming undone'"–and it's almost exactly what La Dispute does 51 seconds into "Damaged Goods", vocal cadence, rhyme sounds and all. Really, this moment is so close both musically and lyrically that it actually just sounds like a cheeky, intentionally direct reference. But why do it for an album released only three years ago? And why not slip a credit into the liner notes?
- The repeated riff that opens "Me and My Shadow" is pretty much a straight rip of Thrice's "Of Dust and Nations".
After taking all that verbiage to point out the band's acts of plagiarism, it should be stressed that Letters is a good album. Really! This is a promising record that, despite its several instances of comfort lying entirely too close, find a band weaving together a collection of quite varied, curious-sounding takes on mercurial aggression. They perform the sing-scream m.o. with a confounding number of vocal strains and light experimentation and elasticity. Alternative rock/emo melodies infect "Breathing"; circling guitar lines and spoken word set up an interesting intro for "Night Drives"; the first minute of "Absent Father, Holy Ghost" opens slowly and eerily before riffing away into merely okay, melancholic emo rock; a tense build in "A Shallow Place" is clipped by cello strings; and "Feigned Belief" sounds a lot like something off Beloved's Failure On, and that is a fantastic thing. Around the course of the album, mid-period Alexisonfire comes to mind as well.
Troubled Coast have made improvements in inches from one record to the next, and Letters is no exception. If the band can just weed out their tendency to pay tribute so closely, while continuing to improve their own style and songwriting, their 7" debut for Pure Noise should be an easy career high.