Issues - Issues (Cover Artwork)


Issues (2014)

Rise Records

If you haven't heard of Issues or you don't know what they sound like, I suggest you sit down. You'll need to be sitting for this. Go to YouTube and search "issues hooligans." Get to the one-minute mark of that video. Then try not to pass out.

Issues play a version of metalcore that is unlike anything the music world has seen. Not only do they incorporate nu-metal record scratching and Eurodisco keyboard blurts, they also have a white R&B singer who croons and raps like Trey Songz or J. Cole or any number of guys who, you know, don't do metalcore. Snobs and tastemakers have long rolled their eyes at the wimpy hardcore that emphasizes melodic choruses over actual abrasiveness. But Issues have taken this style and stomped an Absolut Vodka bottle-sized hole through it.

It would be easy to just trash a record like this, give it one star and move on. But that's not the goal here. The goal is to objectively review a record and decide its actual worth. Let's recover and try to give Issues a fair shake, right?

That goal almost goes out the window by the second song of the record, when the band is doing some chugging while crooner Tyler Carter sings/raps: "I got this girl, I know she's tryin' to play me/She's like a Honda, these days I drive Mercedes." GODDAMMIT. What a nightmare lyric. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to continue after this, and truthfully, that feeling kept coming up in every song. Every time "unclean" vocalist (which means the guy that screams) Michael Bohn steps aside and lets Carter do his ridiculous thing, it's like getting punched in the groin over and over again. You just have to accept the pain, grit your teeth, and get past it.

What Tyler Carter does as the "clean vocalist" of Issues is so shockingly bold that their DJ and keyboardist, Scout, almost gets lost in the craziness. But don't get it twisted: the DJ and keyboard stuff is crazy. From frantic scratches, to reggae-like air horn noises, to twinkly keyboard prettiness, Scout takes the already pop-oriented nature of Issues and pushes it that much further over the top. And by the end of the record, after you think you've heard all the insanity this band could possibly offer, the last song culminates in a triumphant gospel choir sing-along because why the hell not.

Put aside all notions of lameness, of what is cool and what isn't. Forget the 13-year old goofballs who love this band. The real question is whether or not this music is any good, and that is why I can't just give this one star. Despite the whiplash-inducing genre-jumping, Issues still have competently written songs, played by people who at least know what they're doing, and screamed and sung by guys who hit the right notes. The songs are vaguely memorable, with a couple choruses that admittedly stuck in my head after a couple listens. But the songs also run together in a hazy blur because the band employs the same tricks over and over again. Once you've heard one song, you've literally heard them all (except for that gospel choir thing, but that's just stupid).

The plain truth is that Issues possess a fresh, albeit polarizing take on a genre that we didn't think could go in this direction. This record debuted at #9 on the "Billboard" charts, and the band has garnered millions of YouTube plays. Just because it sounds so wrong and so vile to people like us, does that mean it's terrible? Just because we don't like it?

In recent music criticism pieces there is a term being propped up and debated called "poptimism." Going against the old favored view of "rockism," which saw music critics defending the old guard of critical favorites as being the "real" music, and pop music as being the disposable music, poptimism says that Beyonce deserves the same amount of critical thought and consideration as Bob Dylan. This is the idea that pop music is just as valid as anything previously deemed more valuable, because music is music.

The guys in Issues all seem to be roughly around the age of 23. They have grown up in a time when the supposed trend of poptimism has been increasingly relevant. To them, mixing the influences of Asking Alexandria and Lil Wayne probably isn't even that disturbing of a concept. It's just what they've listened to since they became music fans, and it's how they have processed the supposed different levels of value within music. If it's all the same, then why can't their band be the embodiment of that very poptimism?

If your answer is "Because it sucks and it sounds like shit," I really can't argue with you. You might be right. But when we peel back the layers of a seemingly inconsequential band like Issues, we see the beginnings of a complete breakdown in everything we thought we knew about genres and taste and what a band is supposed to be. Issues is anarchy, just not the way Johnny Rotten imagined it.