At a Loss - A Falling Away From (Cover Artwork)

At a Loss

A Falling Away From (2004)


Somewhere between the lines of punk, metal, emo, and hardcore, people got tired. Bands and listeners alike backed away from these genres that were perfectly defined, perfectly sealed off, and unapproachable. People wanted more from music and more flexibility to like different kinds of genres that overlapped with each other. It is within these lines that we find bands that can't be described with one name, one tag line, one band comparison. One of these bands is At a Loss.

At a Loss hail from New York City, a city where any kind of music can find a niche. Signed to Blackout Records, a label that receives praise and criticism alike, At a Loss's January 25, 2004 release shows how tired some people have become with simple genres and simple concepts. The ideas and styles put together on this album vary, and are technical and complex. The CD can almost be summed up into three different parts. The first section of the CD, from Cut Before the Death Scene to Turbulence, shows an emphasis on pop sensibilities. These songs are more straightforward than the other songs on the CD. Cut Before the Death Scene, the bands first single, puts an emphasis on pop sensibilities, although there is much more technique on this track. Effect pedals define the verses in this song, as well as a strong beat and bass line. In the Aftermath shows off Stephan Blackwell's vocals, as he yells some of the lyrics and croons the rest. The bridge in the middle of the song also introduces a guitar riff that could be used in a Thursday song, the first hint of any emo influence on the CD.

Without a Name is perhaps the most varied of the first four songs. After the intro in the song, the beginning verse is very quiet, with only a bass line and vocals. The lyrics repeat and the second time through the verse is louder, with a guitar part and a brought out drum line. Aaron Bumpus's guitar influences are brought out after this verse, as he kicks into a heavy metal influenced guitar solo. While this may seem out of place, it fits perfectly with the crescendo in the entire structure of the song. The best example of the pop sensibility of the section is Turbulence, which shows the most basic riffs on the CD with the most straightforward progression on the CD.

The second section of this CD is very short. It is only two songs, and one of which is more of an instrumental intro straight out of the playbook of bands like Texas is the Reason. Low Oceans builds up perfectly to a strong and epic beginning to Closing Yours, my favorite track off the CD. Closing Yours starts strong and then immediately goes quiet. The rest of the song is spent building up to a final section. Blackwell sings out "This is how I break down," as the song moves from the first section to the second. While the first song is very held back with great tension in the guitar lines, the second part starts to slowly release the tension. Bumpus's metal influence starts to rear its head again, and Blackwell's lyrics are practically yelled out as the effect sounds help to build the mood. After three silent beats of just drum tapping, Blackwell screams out "Live, Learn, Burn, Feel my stomach turn" to reach the crescendo of the song, highlighted by a chromatic guitar line. The song softens up for one final moment before the beginning of the song is repeated. Truly an emotional rollercoaster, Closing Yours is a section of the CD on its own. It is an epic song that shows heavy emo and metal influences that blend into a sound that is neither.

Closing Yours is a perfect split from the first to the third section of the CD. In the third section of the CD, from Only the Outline to Fighting Stance (the end of the CD), the final section of the CD is much less concerned with pop sensibilities, puts a focus on dissonance in vocal harmonies and guitar lines. Only the Outline is a brief song but it shows the new focus of the CD and helps release the tension that was not fully let off after Closing Yours. To This Cross is one of the most metal influenced tracks on the CD. From the opening guitar riff, you can tell how the song brings in more metal influence. However, the metal sections of the song really stick to Bumpus's lead guitar lines. The rhythm guitar sections stay very straightforward, which prevents the song from becoming an extravagant metalfest.

Look Away is also tinged with metal lead guitar lines, but the rhythm lines are more upbeat and higher pitched, keeping the song very different that the influence of the lead guitar lines. Look Away sees more chromatic build-up, which by this point in the CD has become well recognized. Blackwell's vocal lines are looser and calmer on this track than the others, not to say that he doesn't get intense within the song. Black Window Space follows, the second instrumental track on the CD that builds up to Retract Your Wings, but builds up much less intensity and anticipation. Part of this is the nature of Retract Your Wings, which is more subtle in the way it builds up.

Retract Your Wings is the other almost epic song on the CD. The beginning of the song is loud and strong, but the song cools off into a backing metal line over Blackwell's cry of "you can't decide, I can't decide." The chorus line is intense but not overly loud. In fact a major section of the song is spent in a quiet section with a metal solo over it. What makes the song special is how the metal lines build up the song to climax where the strong becomes very straightforward and in your face. The song also does the best job in showing off the effect and metal skills of Bumpus and Blackwell's guitars. Finally, the CD ends with Fighting Stance, which sums up all the parts of the final section. Metal and loud, quiet and withdrawn, building up to a high point. In fact, Bumpus gets the last word on the song because the ending is driven by another elaborate metal solo.

Are there any bad things I can say about this CD? Perhaps the greatest problem is the aftermath of the tension built up. Some of the songs on the CD do a better job of building up to a climax than blowing it off. The falling action if you will is not as intense and not as lengthy as the climbing action of the songs. This is especially evident in Closing Yours, which spends 3 minutes building the song up and about a minute blowing it off.

Still, this is a small criticism to a CD that deserves a lot of praise. At a Loss does a great job at building crescendo's, working in chromatics, using metal solos and effects and other elements of many genres to create music that isn't any of them. In a time where emo is over-saturated, grindcore and metalcore are "in" and punk bands are struggling to do something new, At a Loss creates a genre for itself. This CD is for people who are open minded, who appreciate musical creativity, who are looking for something new, who are fed up with genre restrictions, or who just enjoy great music.