Quick, think of Silverstein. Did you throw up in your mouth a little? I used to be in exactly the same place, but hear me out – they actually don’t suck all the time. No really, just read this.
It’s 2013 and it has been a long 10 years since Silverstein hit the scene with their début album, When Broken Is Easily Fixed. I can still vividly remember when I first heard their (and I use this term loosely) hit, ‘Smashed Into Pieces.’ I was less than impressed with the effort, to say the least, and I came away with the feeling that they were a stale version of Thrice, Finch, and Thursday. In retrospect, their reputation was done no favors by my grouping of them together with Hawthorne Heights, since I first heard that song on a comp from Victory Records that also featured ‘Ohio is for Lovers’ by the aforementioned swoop-haired band. From that moment forth, for the next 7 or 8 years, I really couldn’t have paid less attention to whatever it was that Silverstein was doing.
That all changed last year, when they released their album Short Songs. The title was apt, with the record featuring 22 songs (11 originals and 11 covers) that were each less than a minute and a half long. The concept piqued my interest but what really pushed me towards giving them a second chance was an interview they did on one of my favorite podcasts, 100 Words or Less. In the interview, bassist Bill Hamilton (I think…) mentioned that Grade was a huge influence on them and their sound. That really surprised me, as I had always lumped the band in with all the crappy post-hardcore bands of the mid ’00s that just ripped off the styles that other (better) bands had created before them, but here they were, listing a legit hardcore band as a major influence. From there I went on to check out Short Songs and absolutely loved it. Then I moved backwards to their previous full length, The Rescue, which also turned out to be a stellar effort. Talk about blowing it. I have still yet to return to their first three albums, but I will be doing so shortly – especially after listening to their latest work, a concept album called This is How the Wind Shifts. It has a fairly simple but elegant concept – it tells 7 different stories, with two differing outcomes for each, resulting in a total of 14 tracks. The concept pulls things together in an interesting way, but really the key to this album’s success is strong music.
This is How the Wind Shifts starts off with one of its most aggressive tracks in ‘Stand Amid the Roar,’ a flashy but tightly wound post-hardcore cut. Of course, the song showcases the band’s usual use of intermingled screaming and clean vocals, but it is the use and timing of this back and forth that makes this song (and Silverstein in general, I’m finding) stand out. Rather than just screaming the verses and singing the choruses like so many other bands from their time and place in the post-hardcore scene, Silverstein relies on screaming throughout the majority of the track, only adding in clean vocals in appropriate but interesting places that make the flow sound emotive and spontaneous.
Something else worth noting is the calibre of the guitar riffs and their back and forth interplay with the rhythm section. This is clearly apparent on the follow up track, ‘On Brave Mountains We Conquer,’ which features a more melodic side of the band while remaining in their high-octane mode. Not only are the melodies catchy as hell, but the quality of the cohesion between the guitars and the rhythm section is off the charts. Part of this cohesion is surely due to the crisp production style used, but even the greatest of Pro-Tools wizardry couldn’t fake chemistry like this – it comes from years of playing and writing music together.
Speaking of production, This is How the Wind Shifts is definitely on the glossy side, which usually turns a guy like me off, but for some reason it just works for Silverstein. Everything sounds extremely crisp and spot on, making the time shifts and the stop and go moments pop even more. The vocal melodies absolutely soar, often working alongside the guitar leads to create some of the strongest melodies I have heard in and out of their genre. Sound like hyperbole? Take one listen to ‘A Better Place’ and you’ll know that there is no exaggeration in that statement. It also doesn’t hurt that the lyrics are pretty heart-wrenching, switching back and forth between a love story and the hard times that come with losing a significant other. The soaring melodies here help to create an appropriate build for a vicious breakdown that closes out the song in momentous fashion.
Silverstein begins the second half of the album by throwing the listener a curve-ball with ‘In a Place of Solace.’ Sounding like something off an album by The Bled, ‘In a Place of Solace’ is surprising to say the least. In fact, it sounds very akin to some of the slower tracks from Underoath’s Lost in the Sound of Separation (i.e. ‘Emergency Broadcast :: The End is Near’) which is seemingly new territory for Silverstein. The risk pays off, as the track is a clear stand out on the album, if for no other reason than that it sounds completely different from every other song on the album.
While this record is home to plenty of intensity, it is not without its upbeat moments. The poppy ‘California’ is the perfect follow up to the powerful ‘In Silent Seas We Drown,’ as it provides an interesting juxtaposition of sounds. Poppy might be a somewhat misleading description though, as the song has more in common with Anberlin than it does Weezer or Jimmy Eat World, but it is certainly a lighter style than what comes before and after it, offering the listener a somewhat more dynamic experience.
Another interesting aspect of the album is its use of segue tracks. ‘This Is How,’ ‘The Wind Shifts,’ ‘Arrivals,’ and to some extent ‘Departures,’ fit into this category, and while I am typically not a big fan of segue tracks, they really do help the flow of this album. Plus it is worth mentioning that the band recorded ‘This Is How’ and ‘The Wind Shifts’ in such a way that when they are played simultaneously, they create a third “secret” song. It all sounds a little bit Darkside of the Moon with The Wizard of Oz-esque, but DAMN, how cool is that? I miss the days when bands used to put that kind of effort into their work.
This late in their career, Silverstein aren’t trying to fool anyone. They know who they are and what they do well. Catchy, well written choruses, a tight rhythm section, and heavy guitars that bring plenty of crunch to compliment the screams when needed. The production is kept glossy (maybe too glossy at times) but it works for the most part. The wheel is hardly being reinvented here, but sometimes I think that’s okay. Sometimes, at least for this guy, it is enough to simply do what you do really well. And that is definitely the case for This is How the Wind Shifts.
GRADE: For those who like their post-hardcore glossy and well-crafted.