September 12, 2011

Album Review: Saves the Day's Daybreak

One of the biggest major label failures of the past decade came at the expense of emo-pop innovators Saves the Day and their criminally under-appreciated 2003 Dreamworks debut, In Reverie. Then known for simple pop punk chord progressions, catchy choruses and teenage angst-filled lyrics that made them darlings of the Vagrant roster, the release saw Chris Conley and company take a risky crack at mature songwriting and ultimately, flawless indie pop. On top of Conley's voice changing considerably after 2001's breakthrough Stay What You Are made them household names, Saves the Day's new sound didn't sit well with the large fanbase they acquired in recent years. In Reverie -- despite debuting at #27 on the Billboard charts (the band's highest charting to date) -- didn't turn them into a massive success by the suit and ties' definition. As Conley has recently gone on record to say, it was instantaneously deemed a flop by Dreamworks, which led to them being dropped soon after the label was absorbed by Interscope.

Since then, Saves the Day has endured a revolving door of lineups with each subsequent release and has struggled to sound comfortable in its own skin. 8 years later, the coming-of-age emo trailblazers attempt to rediscover themselves on Daybreak. The final piece in a trilogy of releases that begin with 2006's aggressive yet formidable step backward, Sound the Alarm and 2007's morose Under the Boards, Daybreak capstones a career of industry ups and downs for Chris Conley that finds its strength in the creative peaks the heart-on-his-sleeve songwriter became discouraged by during the post-In Reverie fallout.

Its audacious four-part, 11-minute-long opening title track is Conley's past-referencing lyrical admission to that ("The whole world is waiting, watching to see when you're going to fall. Ten thousand faces staring and your back is against the wall. Fucked up pass the point of fixing, so tell me what went wrong...") Balanced between the cool and collected indie rock heard in latter outputs and the upbeat pop punk attitude from early material, the four pieces collectively make "Daybreak" feel somewhat overwhelming to be taken in as a whole to start. Fortunately, more succinct hooks and introspective lyrics carry the pace for the album's remaining balance of soft-tempoed pop ("O," "Chameleon,") crunchy punk rockers ("Let It All Go," "Z,") and a gold mine of potential singles any fan of Saves the Day would be foolish to miss out on (the sunshine-soaked "1984" and "Living Without Love," the fiery "Deranged and Desparate" and the melancholy conclusion, "Undress Me.")

Daybreak isn't just Chris Conley's show alone, either. The addition of new guitarist Arun Bali and bassist Rodrigo Palma has the New Jersey-based emo pioneers sounding whole and familiar again, making AwkwardSound hope that the new blood is in it for the long haul for stability's sake. What's encouraging about Daybreak however is that at a point in their career where Saves the Day's former tourmates during the height of the early 2000s emo scene are staying afloat by grasping at straws, they're simply owning up to their failures, for better or for worse.

Saves the Day's Daybreak will be released September 13, 2011 on Razor & Tie Records.

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