Anthony Raneri - Sorry State of Mind (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Anthony Raneri

Sorry State of Mind (2015)

Hopeless Records

Love 'em or hate 'em, Anthony Raneri and Bayside have a knack for consistency. Since 2004’s Sirens and Condolences, Bayside have produced a solid, if pretty analogous discography. In 2012, Raneri went off on his own for his first solo release, New Cathedrals, which was a surprising departure for the singer-guitarist. While not as dark and heavy as Bayside material, the EP didn’t stray too far from the format, pushing Raneri’s songwriting through slightly folksier pop-rock numbers. That in mind, I wasn’t anticipating anything too far removed from that (i.e., special or interesting) from this record. Thankfully (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), Raneri didn’t just throw out another album of Bayside b-sides. Aside from the brief opener, “Smithereens” (essentially an acoustic Bayside waltz), he took some chances on Sorry State of Mind, some for good, some for naught.

I’ll start with the latter. “Gone” begins like a standard Bayside track with Raneri lamenting, “It seems like best moments in life foreshadow the worst, most every time” over acoustic chord-picking. The typical intro gives way to electric drums and a synth-heavy chorus that’s more Hellogoodbye than I’d ever expect on a Raneri record. The song’s even got autotune! It’s a high quality pop tune that would feel right at home on the radio, but one that seems out of place in the context of the songwriter. The following track, “No Good,” is a similarly radio-ready somber piano ballad that’s essentially an “it’s not you, it’s me” breakup song. On these tracks, Raneri has removed his dark imagery and cynical wordplay in favor of generic lost-love lyrics and pop song accessibility. Both are well written and extremely polished, but I can’t help but wonder who the intended audience is for them -- it’s certainly not Bayside fans.

Luckily, synth-pop and the piano ballad are not the only roads traveled on Sorry State of Mind. Raneri uses the album’s titular track to explore an ambling folk songwriter sound. With a moseying snare and bass beat leading the folk-country instrumentation (featuring some playful piano tinkling and even fucking saxophones!), the song is a pleasant surprise, reminiscent of “Sandra Partial” from his first solo release. Raneri’s back in his lyrical zone, singing “You were a bill I couldn’t pay, a shirt I couldn’t change/ You were forbidden fruit that I just had to taste.” He heads toward synthy-pop-rock a la Motion City Soundtrack on “I Never Want to Fix Myself Again”; the melodies, the self-reflection and the lead synthesizer over upbeat pop-punk all reek of Justin Pierre and company. Both tracks couldn’t be more different, but they’re both interesting departures for the Bayside vocalist.

Raneri’s voice has never sounded better. Of course, the fantastic production and layers of harmonies on most of the vocals doesn’t hurt, but it’s easy to see his marked improvement over the years. Writing strong melodies and big choruses are both strengths for Raneri, and they're certainly present on the record. He deserves loads of credit for making such a short album span so many different styles and approaches. While some don’t work for me, I can’t deny the strength of the songwriting and the willingness of an artist to explore entirely new areas. If you’re looking for another Bayside record, go ahead and spin Cult again; you're not going to find that here. Sorry State of Mind is the singer-songwriter goes pop, folk, rock and acoustic album all rolled into one.