Just about a week before Paramore’s fifth studio album After Laughter came out on Friday 12th May, another incredibly highly anticipated record – for about 17 years, to be precise – found its way to the world: in•ter a•li•a by El Paso, TX-based emo/post-hardcore legends At the Drive In. For multiple times during practically the past two weeks I’ve been so close to fall to temptation of turning that release into my next branded ARM instalment, yet for once I decided I would rather challenge myself whilst at the same time keep any potential sources of fandom and obsession intervention at an historical minimum. That’s why I eventually rather opted for the Hayley Williams-fronted pop-punk trio’s last and freshly released LP, which to be fair didn’t come without substantial media talk and hype for itself either. Nonetheless, before we go any further down that route, I’d still highly solicit you all to immerse yourselves in a deep listening experience of At the Drive In’s latest effort, but please do make sure – even if you’re not an hysterical audiophile – you wear proper headphone equipment or blast those tunes out of decent speakers. No, I don’t mean your regular MacBook internally built-in ones. Decent speakers I mean. You’ll thank me later.
One of the most interesting aspects about Paramore’s After Laughter, released under Warner-owned label Fueled by Ramen and co-produced by guitarist Taylor York and longtime collaborator Justin Meldal-Johnsen, is perhaps that it came to be after a lengthy period during which the band actually threatened fans (and themselves) to break up for good. However, such crisis momentum was then luckily resolved by a non-negligible line-up change – bassist Jeremy Davis out, drummer and founding member Zac Farro in – and a substantial twist in sound and overall vibe, as mightily and unapologetically displayed by the Memphis Group-influenced album artwork (cfr. below).
Moreover, After Laughter follows the vastly successful and Grammy-winning self-titled album released back in 2013, which came along with huge hit singles “Still Into You” and “Ain’t It Fun“, and obviously set a very high precedent bar in the band’s artistic past. Yet, when on 19th April After Laughter’s new lead single “Hard Times” was released, it soon became clear how there was no need whatsoever to keep holding on to past trophies as there was meaty new substance to speak and get excited about again. The track widely showcases Paramore’s heavy leaning to new musical directions, specifically embracing a spongy-disco 80s sound with imposing synths and new-wavy atmospheres. This feeling got further reinforced by the album’s second single, titled “Told You So“, released just two weeks later and presenting more rhythmic and melodic references to past musical decades but also drawing discrete elements off their self-titled mood here and there.
A fascinating attribute that both songs possess, and which immediately reminded me of some of my favourite tracks such as Taking Back Sunday‘s “Stood A Chance” or The Cure’s “The Last Day of Summer“, is what sometimes call happy sad, that is, those musical arrangements where the instrumental composition and the lyrics find themselves in fundamental juxtaposition to each other, usually with the former denoting harmonious, positive, and upbeat feelings only to be dismantled by the devastation and desperation of the words sung on top of them. To me, doubtlessly one of the most beautiful and powerful aspects of music.
Generally, in fact, the whole 12-track album actually tackles rather dark and sombre themes, especially on a lyrical level, whereby cuts such as “Forgiveness” (“You hurt me bad this time, no coming back / And I cried ’till I couldn’t cry, another heart attack”), “26” (“Reality will break your heart / Survival will not be the hardest part / It’s keeping all your hopes alive / When all the rest of you has died / So let it break your heart”), and incredibly beautiful closer “Tell Me How” (You keep me up with your silence / Take me down with your quiet / Of all the weapons you fight with / Your silence is the most violent) make an effort of pairing the obscurity of their lyrical content with their overall sound. On a number of other tracks, on the other hand, such as potential fan-favourite “Rose-Colored Boy”, the vibrant and electric “Pool” as well as personal favourite and arguably best moment of the whole record “Grudges”, the music and the melodic instrumentation result way more upbeat and colourful, in spite of their lyrical content. This trademark songwriting formula seems to be working quite well for Paramore along the entirety of After Laughter, at least judging by the strict cohesiveness of each listen and the smooth song transitions to be found on the tracklist.
There are however some weak moments too, fronted by the messy and at times irritating “Caught in the Middle” and especially the eleventh song on the record, “No Friend”, basically a useless repeating guitared arpeggio loop led by an edgy drum beat and almost inaudible voice recordings, which actually turned out to be of mewithoutYou‘s Aaron Weiss, a friend of the band. It’s seriously hard to understand what kind of statement Paramore were trying to make by including this track into the final packaging, given its lack of structure or rather purpose, if not discouraging the listeners to quit their auditive experience right before the highest and finest moment on the whole LP, the aforementioned piano ballad “Tell Me How”. “No Friend” does indeed represent a shameful inclusion looking back at the whole release, not least because if follows what is potentially one of the catchiest songs on After Laughter and yet another testament to the band’s more or less hidden tributes to 80s synth-wave productions, “Idle Worship”. A hurdle-less transition between the latter and curtain caller “Tell Me How” would definitely have landed the record to higher appreciations, as far as yours truly is concerned. Yet, there’s no need to create scapegoats at all, as After Laughter can stand very firmly and convincingly still on its own, where the good and exciting bits go cast a shadow onto the weaker ones presenting a more than decent overall output. In this very case though, Paramore seem to perhaps have taken the act of casting shadows a bit too literally.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
2017, Atlantic Recording Corporation