Criteria - When We Break (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


When We Break (2005)

Saddle Creek

There's some pretty easy bait surrounding Criteria. It's roughly Stephen Pedersen's fourth musical effort (his initial outfit the White Octave put out two full-lengths before "calling it quits" more or less) since his alma mater Cursive reformed without him, and a case could certainly be made that he's still somewhat bitter about the whole situation, as hinted rather bluntly by the chorus of When We Break's first song and lead single, "Prevent The World:" "You're preventing a world / from hearing my songs." While mention is necessary, dwelling on this topic too much is a surefire recipe for pity stew, and also one that would overlook both the stunning improvements and glaring faults of Criteria's sophomore full-length / debut for the unsurprising new grounds of Saddle Creek Records.

The band had certainly established a still small-known reputation on their (his?) debut En Garde for writing infectious, intelligent rock songs with, like fellow Omahaians Desaparecidos, a strong influence from Weezer's Pinkerton running through it, but adding even larger rock riffs and a greater number of one-man anthems. While I certainly wasn't as overwhelmed by the album as others, I couldn't help but at least be captivated a fair deal by the honest to goodness rock brought. The roll hardly accompanies, but it's a healthy delivery regardless.

Without a doubt, my favorite moment from EG was the soul-baring climax -- as well as the great buildup to it -- in "This Life," with Pedersen's "renew" line unrelenting and perversely emotional, and it's disappointing that we don't see him bring that same kind of peaking fervor at any given on point on When We Break. Why this musical vacancy exists is hard to say, since lyrically we're still watching the singer/guitarist hover above the aforementioned awkward area. And sure, it's great to hear upbeat tracks like prime standout "Prevent The World" juxtapose Pedersen's slyly cynical disposition with the song's general vibe, but to hear it musically, if only once, would've been quite the replicated treat.

"Draped In The Blood" kicks off with Pedersen's signature vocal effect and the rhythmically muttered lines "safe / draped in the blood / I don't deserve / pedigree lies / they insinuate truth," and it's an inflection I'd imagine fans of Say Anything would appreciate musically and lyrically. It's this song as well as "Prevent The World" that proves Criteria is even catchier than proved to be on En Garde, with choruses as big as ever and hooks aplenty. As strong as these tracks are, the second half approaches with lesser highlights and shows that En Garde isn't as solid as some would like, suffering a bit from an uneven quality with the band eventually slipping into recycled riff territory (i.e. track 9, "Ride The Snake," steals from the pre-chorus parts of track 3, "Good Luck," rather haplessly).

When We Break may not provide a full, 100% set of greatness, but if fans of the band's first effort can deal with an inconsistency in the LP they'll be sure to find an album full of traits greatly refined for this turn at bat.

Prevent The World

Prevent The World