The Valley Arena - Take Comfort In Strangers (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

The Valley Arena

Take Comfort In Strangers (2005)

Astro Magnetics

Of the complaints that you could level against Geoff Rickley, the most obvious is that he is the frontman of what is ostenibly a very influential major label "screamo" act, but listening to Take Comfort In Strangers, it becomes clear that you could not make the same claim of his co-owned label, Astro Magnetics. While the second release on the label by Ashville, North Carolina's Secret Lives Of The Freemasons could succumb to that charge, the other artists on the label fare much better.

One band, Colorado's Blackout Pact sounds like it would be just as comfortable on Suburban Home with its gritty, Midwestern punk rock; Baumer, one of the other notable acts on the label, takes more from New Order than from post-hardcore. The most riveting band on the label so far is certainly the Valley Arena, an act that seems to effortlessly take the twin influences of Dischord greats Fugazi and Jawbox and synthesize them into a simpler, but still energetic whole; it's not quite Dischord-lite, but it's in that vein.

Based on those comparions, you can expect -- and recieve -- a prevalence of stop-start rhythms, angular instrumental and plenty of energy. The band also channels much of the classic art punk sound as well, with a stoic vocalist who maintains a sharp edge while preserving that frosty ennui. Still, the band manages to bolster the strong vocals with jagged songs layered on interesting and unusual song structures.

The weakness of the record is unfortunately that it loses some of its energy after the spectacular first single, "Paint It Red;" however, it manages to regain its composure with "Piano Wire," which manages to conjure up much of the same nervous, discordant energy. The band seems to work best on the more aggressive tracks like "The Plastic Knife You Swing" which plays with a high-pitched guitar melody accompanied by angular guitars before settling into a rumbling bridge.

While the record has some dry moments, particularly after the first quarter of the record, there are some exceptionally strong songs scattered through the record, and considering this is only their debut, the followup will indeed be something to watch.