By Ryan Cox
Baltimore-based pop punk group At Face Value’s newest endeavor has fully cemented them into the contemporary emo-revival scene. Packed with dramatic breakdowns and memorable hooks, Clouds Are My Neighbors emphasizes modern pop stylings without completely sacrificing instrumental complexity. The album is a cleanly-produced salute to genre pioneers such as All Time Low and A Day to Remember (they both start with A?) that tap into the part of you that never wants to grow up.
At first glance, this newer release reveals little to the listener. The album cover almost suggests an electronic sound with the glitched-out figure in the middle. Zooming in closer reveals a bird’s-eye view of an urban cityscape embedded within the effect overlaying the man’s neck pillowed silhouette. It’s a really cool cover design; I hope they end up doing physical releases since the scaled-down version we see on Spotify doesn’t really do it justice. After pressing play, you begin to get a feel for what the group is really about: hooks and breakdowns à la Sum 41.
The band is very in sync on this record; every instrument gets a chance to shine at least once which makes the listening experience more personal. The vocals are expressive, soaring high above the rest of the mix and taking the listener along with them for the journey. The thunderous drums keep the tracks lively and energetic and make for an impressively consistent performance. “Distress Signal” really showcases the band at its peak.
Lyrically, we get a dynamic range of themes across the record with equally varying degrees of success. The lyrics are hedonistic at times, relishing those summer nights spent with friends drinking away your problems. Sometimes, they’re longing and passionate, reflecting on the regret of losing someone you once loved. Other times, the themes are inconsistent with what the rest of the band is playing. The track “Analysis Paralysis” exemplifies this. The song is about the woes of social anxiety and rumination over past mistakes, but the instrumental’s poppy progression and upbeat tempo masks this sort of theme. However, other songs contain genuinely insightful observations, such as “Walk Away.” The vocalist’s dejection about the end of the relationship is skillfully mirrored by the rest of the band.
The more punk-centric songs follow a pattern of tension-and-release, writing melodies and verses around a powerful and kinetic hook. Though it works especially well on songs like “Swim” and “Three Days,” others feel as though they are padding time until they reach the breakdown. This paradoxically makes that explosive hook feel less deserved and undermines its intensity. While the destination of the song is always important, it is the journey there that makes it rewarding. If this was better acknowledged, I feel there would be more memorable moments, as there are many tracks that left little to no impression.
It is apparent that the group is eager to wear its influences loud and proud. The recurring love-musings through a high pass filter and twinkly guitar riffs adhere strongly to the scene with which they identify. Though it makes a strong statement about their creative intentions, their performance feels restrained as a result. With such skilled musicianship, you’d want some room for experimentation so you can see what they are truly capable of. Sadly, there isn’t really any creative flare. At one point, I thought the beeping in the beginning of “I’ll Wake Up on the Otherside” would become a part of the track’s rhythm as the drums began to synchronize with it, but I was left disappointed when the sample cut out as the verse hit. Not many liberties are taken, and what you’re left with is a polished, carefully rehearsed tribute to a bygone era.
At its best, Clouds Are My Neighbors instills the same rebellious attitude that pop punk bands of the late-00’s did. At its worst, it leaves us unaffected and wanting more. Overall, not a bad album, but I definitely blinked at least 182 times while listening.
Songs that made it into my playlist:
- Walk Away
Songs that made me grimace:
- Analysis Paralysis
- Pulling Teeth