There are just some bands and records that whizzes by once awhile and I never really am able to grasp it fully when I happen to catch in at the right time. As Marianas Trench sets on their fourth record in just a little over a decade, we truly see how defining and spectacular the crescendos are when they fall. And my God, do they fall with a romping thunderstorm.
The Umbrella Statement that is Pop
To be fair and honest, Canadian pop band Marianas Trench never really caught my ear in recent years, and although they did earn themselves a Grammy nod, I never really did seek out their music for whatever reason it was. After listening to their two intended singles, Pop 101 and Here's to the Zeroes, which ultimately didn't make the cut for their latest release Astoria, I decided to delve in and find out just what I was missing all along.
Turns out, I was missing a lot. There's been a few years where the pop genre just didn't mesh and sit well with others. Obviously the genre has become almost an umbrella statement for bands and artists alike where we've seen pop punk staples become pop-centric and elusive to the terminology altogether. Hell, Fall Out Boy tried to Save Rock and Roll but 70 percent of the album was geared towards pop audiences for the most part whereas their recent release, American Beauty / American Psycho, had a lot more spark and groove to it under the same specific genre. Yes, Pete Wentz did clarify that the album wasn't tightly associated to rock and roll but a term for free and wild as expressed in their song Young Volcanoes.
So, why am I saying all this? Fairly simple. As we've seen Lorde in recent years carve success with Pure Heroine and Royals, it's a safe example to say that people want fresh ideas and inputs. Especially so when the genre is laden-filled with repetitions of the same vocal cords, drums, inspiration and lackluster production to fill in a void for the mediocre and oftentimes lethargic singers that prove no worth whatsoever. It was why Lorde garnered so much attention. Pure Heroine and Royals specifically were a breath of fresh air in the pop genre that had sounds that were too close to differ. Lorde's lyrics strikes as thought-provoking signals rather than being drowned in over-boiled production and messy creaking hooks that are as terrible as Sugar by Maroon 5.
Well, enough about a sort-of ramble with the pop genre and let's get on with the artist at hand, Marianas Trench.
Pop 101 with Devastating Results
While other Canadian pop-rock and pop-punk artists are toying with the genre to mixed results and oftentimes crashing on to shore (Simple Plan), Marianas Trench has not only grown in prominence but has truly been a tour de force since their debut album Fix Me back in 2006. Admittedly I did got back into their previous releases and found myself sticking with Masterpiece Theatre. Such aplomb and resonance that the band pushed the envelope when it came to the pop-rock genre, along with a follow-up release back in 2011 with Ever After to positive reviews as well. It was without doubt that I was giddy with expectations for Astoria, their fourth studio album.
Marianas Trench wastes no time in displaying their composition talents in songwriting with their first track, Astoria, that subtly feels a lot like Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody to a rapturous embrace. Largely so, as the album takes many different influences back from the 80's and with such vigor and invigoration that the band produces that is just simply astounding. There really isn't a single bad song considering most songs that standout emerge with spectacular crescendos lead fantastically by the vocal talent that is front-man Josh Ramsay. With what he had dealt following his relationship problems, you could feel the rushing and the emotion being poured out on to tracks like Who Do You Love, Dearly Departed and One Love among few alongside falsetto-powerhouses on Burning Up that allows Josh to really pull the strings backed by the driving guitars and drums rumbling in the background.
Not only is Josh's vocals strong, but the songwriting, which I don't really discuss when it comes to pop, really shows the swagger and confidence on display to sharp, kicking effect. Wildfire, Who Do You Love and This Means War discuss love in more than just relationship terms, while Dearly Departed and While We're Young talks about "what could have been, my dearly departed" and "this should be the time of our lives". The narration for the album that is inter-cut with transitional songs like Never Say Die and Hospital Bells provides a calm end and beginning to the tracks before and after it, lending a rest before starting again. While the track-list goes up to 17 songs in total, some of the interludes could've easily been removed to provide a better flow of the album. Not that the length is in jeopardy, especially when the album has over 50 minutes of insane pop hook melodies and heart-wrenching ballads that are more than enough for everybody to savor and indulge in, but the interludes do nothing in between tracks and really could've been replaced with produced songs. I'd be pretty happy with over an hour of Marianas Trench to contend with after what a ride this album had been.
The production roars into life and kicks into gear to superb harmony, especially with the album's first and last track, Astoria and End Of An Era. Trickling drums, the groovy guitars, the undertone of the piano embellishes the tracks further, expanding into twisting melodies and harmonious hooks that sticks and never lets go. The wild and free nature of the instruments spreads over like butter over the album, with compelling interest and energetic, unique sounds that takes on a different approach with every track; Dearly Departed has the staccato guitars, the funky trance as well with Burning Up and the poignant drums and cymbals on Yesterday. So many tracks on the album deserve duly mention considering they really hammer home the production aspect being done right to an impeccable degree (This Means War, Shut Up And Kiss Me).
End of Astoria
While Marianas Trench deserves applause for every inch of perfect detail being drilled into the album, there really isn't all that much of disappointment. Maybe a couple of tracks could've done with better production but even on the more somber tracks, they drive the emotional tones notably well.
If there ever was a word for Astoria to sum up my review, it'd be incredible. The vocals, production, composition, songwriting all come together in magnificent moments that my review feels as if I'm giving the album a disservice by not delving deeper. The album is not only a must-listen, it is a must-own for all pop fanatics alike. Marianas Trench is what we've been longing for, and it is worth the goddamn wait.
Essential: Astoria, Who Do You Love, End Of An Era
Favourite Tracks: Shut Up And Kiss Me, Dearly Departed, Yesterday
Least Favourite Tracks: -
Benny Ong: Just your regular guy who likes soccer more than most people, and also a little downtime is pretty nice.