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3.75/5

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3/5

Bayside - Cult

Swooshgazer   (7 reviews)

Posted: 02/25/2014 | Comments: 2 | Rate:

For well over 10 years and six full length albums, Bayside has consistently pumped out a catalog of music that, for better or worse, could only be produced by Bayside. Their sound has become defined: soaring vocal melodies, an upbeat and driving rhythm section, and virtuoso-esque guitar work that at times could make even the most shred-heavy metal band blush. After a four record stint with Victory Records and a one album experiment with major label Wind-Up, Bayside has never faltered with their formula. This presents a conundrum of sorts for long time listeners: with a sound that hasn't' changed much over a decade, how well does their angst ridden approach still resonate with a fan base that now largely consists of college graduates and consumers who have already digested 5 records (along with an acoustic album and an EP of covers) worth of their music?

Bayside's answer is "Cult", a record that will most likely fall somewhere in the middle of the pack for diehard fans and offer only a handful of new tricks for casual listeners. The album is not quite a retread of any specific previous material but certainly not afraid of harkening back to the band's roots. Frontman Anthony Raneri, in an interview with absolutepunk.net, says "Cult" is meant to "summarize our music career" in lieu of a greatest hits record; "it's almost a discography without using any old songs".

As has been the case with almost every other Bayside record to date, the album starts with a bang. "Big Cheese" is an absolute lion's roar of a track, opening with one of the heaviest riffs the band has ever put to "tape". Clocking in at well under 3 minutes, the song is in and out as quickly as it begins, sounding a tad more "Hello Shitty" than "The Walking Wounded". From there, the band continues to tread old ground with "Time Has Come", a catchy tune that may get stuck in a few listener's heads but mostly sounds like a throwaway from the "Shudder" era.

"Hate Me" is vintage Bayside at their best. The song is as clever as its marketing campaign (the band enlisted a seemingly random group of fans to mime the song in a video released a few weeks before the album dropped), featuring a classic Jack O'Shea minor arrangement in the track's verses that perfectly compliments its gargantuan chorus. Lyrically speaking, the song doesn't exactly break new ground for the band in its loathing nature, but look for "Hate Me", along with lead single "Pigsty", to become staples of their live set.

The first half of "Cult" is standard issue Bayside, which proves difficult to compute for this reviewer. These songs are insanely catchy, as has been the case with almost everything else they've released, but the band does little to expand or take chances with this sound, leaving room for confusion as to whether these songs were released in 2014 or 2007. Slight nuances such as the 7/8 time signature in the bridge of "You're No Match" and the keyboard work in "Pigsty" do little to break up the monotony. Bayside have become absolute masters of their craft, but the bar has been raised so high that some of these songs sound phoned in. The flip side of this coin, unfortunately, is that this is still significantly better pop punk fare than any other band has or will release this year.

"Stuttering" seems to be the talking point of this record in both interviews and reviews, and for good reason. The song finds Raneri at his most reflective, tackling his role in today's "scene". "Who do I think I'm kidding, like I'm Robert fucking Smith?", he wonders aloud, perhaps rhetorically. It's a confounding question: do listeners really need Raneri to be miserable in order to relate to his songs? Furthermore, is it even possible for us to relate to him the way that we did when we were teenagers and young adults, wallowing along with him in the over the top sorrow of "Don't Call Me Peanut" or "Devotion and Desire"? "I'm stuttering, I never know what to say" Raneri claims, sounding more confident than he has in years.

The rest of "Cult" is a series of highlights and missteps that see the band unleashing some of its most inspired material to date coupled with some its most cringe worthy. "Bear With Me" may be the best track of the set, with Raneri absolutely wailing and testing the limits of his vocal range. The "ashes, ashes" prechorus is perhaps the records finest moment, as Raneri sings slightly out of key with the intensity of a 19 year old Alkaline Trio fan screaming "Radio" at the top of his lungs. Production wise, it's an interesting and rewarding choice: the record, as a complete piece, sounds wholly polished, but the lead vocals are allowed to sound natural. This is a refreshing change of pace, especially in light of some of the overly tuned vocals their peers have released in recent years.

"Objectivist on Fire" is perhaps the most blatant retread on the record. Listeners will immediately be reminded of the self titled record's "They Looked Like Strong Hands". The chorus features some particularly uninspired "whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh's" that do little to conceal what is perhaps the most boring hook of "Cult". The track decrescendos with a prevalent keyboard line that wouldn't of sounded out of place on Raneri's solo EP, but it isn't enough to save the track from mediocrity. "Something's Wrong" could be construed as the band's open letter to their fanbase. The song's lyrics lament the band's "generation" and, perhaps indirectly, their fanbase. "How did you ever get this way, putting lust above humanity and calling it okay?" Raneri asks, this time clearly not rhetorically. It's clearly an attack on misogynistic behavior, but once again he's preaching to the choir. Bayside fans are no longer Drive Thru Records starved teenagers or A Day to Remember tshirt adorning tweens. In the increasingly P.C world that is punk rock in the internet age, the song sounds rather contrived and almost downright unneccessary.

"Cult" concludes with "The Whitest Lie", which may be the most boring and predictable closer the band has offered to date. The song, for lack of a better turn of phrase, simply tries too hard. It's nearly headache inducing to contemplate why Bayside felt the need to utilize the "Dear Tragedy" style group vocals to close out the record, especially with such an unremarkable refrain. For that reason alone, the track may be a hit with fans, but it embodies the worst qualities of "Cult": there is almost nothing here that we haven't already heard before.

Bayside have outlived and out-succeeded the majority of their peers. They're clearly very comfortable in their skin and uninterested in going the route of drastically changing their sound, a la the Get Up Kids or Saves the Day (merely for example). The Bayside sound is one they will forever live and die by. The result, however, is that each subsequent release will forever be held to the high quality bar set by "Bayside" and "The Walking Wounded" instead of being judged by its own merits. Admittedly, this is probably unfair to the band, but it's the path they've chosen for themselves. Their fan base isn't getting younger, and most that listen to the band religiously are probably more interested in other genres of music at this point than checking out their Hopeless Records labelmates. There are a handful of standout tracks on "Cult" ("Bear With Me", "Stuttering", "Hate Me") that will likely become staples of their live set and another (unfortunately larger) group of tracks ("Time Has Come", "Transitive Property", "Something's Wrong", "The Whitest Lie") that most could probably live without. The end result, however, is yet another quality Bayside release that will neither alienate longtime fans nor do much to attract new ones. Raneri and Co. don't need to fear becoming "Robert fucking Smith" and The Cure; they're more likely to end up down the path of Matt Skiba and Alkaline Trio, releasing albums of varying quality that never stray too far from what gained them their initial notoriety. In this reviewer's humble opinion, there are certainly worse fates.

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Comments
Audio Engineer
202 Posts
29/M/NJ
I very much enjoy this review, and really like the new record. I preordered vinyl after absorbing "Big Cheese" a couple times.
I have no legs!
1 Posts
20/F/NA
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