The American Scene - Haze (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The American Scene

Haze (2014)

Pure Noise

The American Scene made a confident and bold statement for the scene they often found themselves in with their "debut" LP (depends on who you ask, given the nine-track makeup of 2011's By Way of Introduction). 2012's Safe for Now was an excellent refresher in early 2000s emo rock, culling shades of the Jealous Sound and Hot Rod Circuit and using common but well-expressed themes of romantic entanglement to create a well-formed, formidable and often emotionally powerful record. It also hinted during its darker midsection that the band carried the ability to follow up with something far more shadowy and progressive, perhaps à la Brand New's The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. But lo and behold, the emo black sheep of the pop-punk scene confounds expectations again.

Haze is, admittedly, often a little darker than Safe for Now, but there's a noticably fresh element to their sound: an inherently dancey vibe, with disco drum beats and prickly guitars that lie at the base of just about every track. It's a newly rhythmic undercurrent reminiscent of festival-friendly indie/alternative rock acts like Phoenix or Foals; mixed with the band's more measured vocals and early 2000s Vagrant Records-inspired tone, it surprisingly results in something somewhat akin to what Alkaline Trio was sounding like by Crimson, which isn't a terribly frequent comparison regardless of what scene one might try to pigeonhole the American Scene in. Although it's not far-fetched to presume they're inspired by Vagrant's more recent stuff, too.

Although it's chilling to think about the other musical and emotional depths the American Scene could have purveyed, and in spite of "festival rock"'s more shallow and irritating moments, it's an entirely engaging sound in the band's hands. Vocalist/guitarist Matthew Vincent carries through with a sinister and almost deliberately slurred delivery that restrains the record from ever really sounding fun (save the major key chorus in "Royal Blue" or the lonely-girl/"Thrash Unreal"-esque matter of its immediate followup, "Nails of Love"). This is totally fine, as "fun" has never quite been the band's bag, instead approaching whatever they've done with calculated consideration and stoicism with smarts and vigor controlling tightly written, three-minute songs. The "Nails of Love" chorus is a little more bubbly than the band usually sound comfortable in, brinking on +44 territory, but it's a slight misstep they don't often encounter again on Haze.

The rest of Haze is an energetic and largely rhythmic endeavor, effortlessly pacing through tracks like the wistful pair of "4th and Broadway" and closer "Brume", and the urgent "What I Could Gather", the latter of which finds Vincent pleasingly pushing his range a little more than usual. The darker tint keeps up on cuts like "White Widow", where Vincent also sounds a shade more emphatic at one point, while he thumps his bass and his bandmates color the atmosphere with a steady tension. As an aside, the bridge in "Drone" actually resembles the Republic of Wolves.

Haze is certainly not what most fans of Safe for Now probably desired or expected, but in its place is an unpredictable and enjoyable sophomore success.