In 2008, La Dispute proved that post-hardcore was not a genre that had become the debased lingua franca of the mall-walking millions, and that there was an arty, intellectual alternative to what horror Taking Back Sunday had wrought on the first decade of the 21st century, even if it touched on pretty much the same themes that that band did (breakups), if in a much more macabre fashion. In 2011, La Dispute showed that post-hardcore could once again reach the heights and depths of the genre’s Golden Age with bands like Drive Like Jehu and The Jesus Lizard by capturing the very essence of what makes the genre what it is: spontaneity and unpredictability. In 2014, La Dispute have apparently decided that they don’t really feel like doing that, and are content with stalling in the same artistic space that they created on their last album, ‘Wildlife.’ Well, maybe not stalling, but they certainly haven’t changed direction. In a number of ways, I suppose the band have progressed, tightening things up here, refining things there, but ultimately, while the jump from their debut to ‘Wildlife’ was dramatic and exciting, the transition from ‘Wildlife’ to ‘Rooms of the House’ feels more like a confused bunny hop.
Since Jordan Dweyer’s heavily wrought emotional landscapes are perhaps the defining characteristic of the band’s legacy, let’s start with where they succeed and where they fail on this album. ‘Wildlife’ was so poignant and intense because at some point in the years following their debut, Dweyer realized the world didn’t revolve around him, and took on a kind of Man-In-Black persona, offering scenic pictures of both the depressingly mundane and the heartbreakingly tragic, tackling such themes as cancer-stricken children and gang violence.
Here, though, it seems like Dweyer’s lyrics tend to be more introspective. While on ‘Wildlife,’ the lyrics presented you with the scene, raw and as it is, and let you draw your own conclusions about the emotional intensity (albeit with obviously dynamic vocals to help you along), on ‘Rooms,’ it’s essentially still a presentation of scenes, but the conclusions seem a bit more forgone. For instance, on “Scenes From Highways 1981-2009,” there’s a particular set of lines that stood out as being a bit more premeditated than anything on ‘Wildlife,’ reading; “I let the wheel go over center lines/Inside a place without time, a loop through history/Eye you in periphery now prone in the passenger seat/It’s a mystery the ways you can sleep.” It feels almost likes it’s a director’s commentary over the scene, rather than letting the scene speak for itself, and while the line probably wouldn’t seem out of place on ‘Wildlife,’ that may be part of the problem. We’ve seen what the band can do when they turn from inward reflection to outward observation, but more meditations on outward observations doesn’t seem all that innovative. Had they gone from these very visceral scenes of the human condition to less literal and perhaps even more stripped down emotional outbursts, then this album would probably pack more of a punch, but as it stands, it feels like ‘Wildlife – Now With More Melodrama!’And if there’s anything I don’t miss from their first album, it’s the melodrama.
Musically, there is still a ferocity that keeps this album from being merely average. On album highlight “For Mayor In Splitsville,” the song moves from upbeat melancholy that would feel at home on one of Braid’s later albums to plaintive chiming that seems almost like it could have been taken from American Football, to suddenly taking the listener from a kind of resigned contentedness to an uncomfortable anger, with Dweyer building up his delivery over time from a whisper to his characteristic scream, shouting “I’d rather run for mayor in Splitsville/than suffer your jokes again,” which is probably my favorite line on the whole album, expertly capturing resentment, bitterness, rage, and even humor, just when I had thought that all sense of sarcasm seemed to be beyond, or perhaps beneath, Mr. Dweyer.
While the album most certainly has its moments, and I would hesitate to call a disappointment, the album falls short of establishing La Dispute as any kind of torch-bearer for post-hardcore. While the legacy of ‘Wildlife’ still looms large both in the band’s career and in the context of the genre as a whole, if the band ever hope to attain the recognition of Brand New’s ‘The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me’ or Trail of Dead’s ‘Source Tags and Codes,’ their potential seems to have been firmly squandered.
Recommended Tracks: Scenes From Highways 1981-2009, For Mayor In Splitsville, Stay Happy There