Secondborn - Symbols
It would appear, despite the best efforts of real musicians and music lovers everywhere, that butt punk is here to stay. I had a friend of a friend in the 90s who told me she used to babysit the members of Green Day when they were just little whiny stoners-in-training. Knowing what I know now about their hand in ushering in the first wave of adult whiny stoners, I would have asked why she didn’t drown them in the bathtub for the good of humanity. Oh, were it that I had a time machine.
What followed here in the U.S. was an influx of whiny, tattooed pseudo-punks from rich neighborhoods crooning in high-pitched voices about their grumpy dads or the fact that they didn’t have a Mercedes. Good Charlotte, Sum 41 and, the most heinous punk abomination ever, Blink-182. In the early 2000s, it got to the point in America that no one except their mildly rebellious teenybopper fans recognized the difference between all these bands. They just became an amalgam of rich, white whininess, like a big wad of tattooed chewing gum which had long ago lost its flavour. I hope Johnny Rotten spits on each one of them personally, but they’d probably take it as a compliment (if they know who Johnny Rotten is). I believe similar phenomena were happening simultaneously in European countries, yes?
So, you might say as a jaded older punk, reviewing new butt punk is not my most cherished task. As a consummate professional, however, and as a professional who is resigned to the fact that butt punk (or mall punk, as some call it) is, indeed, here to stay, I can try to evaluate new butt punk band, Secondborn more or less dispassionately. If you like this style of music, I hope you find my evaluation fair and reasonable despite my afore-claimed dislike of the genre.
Secondborn are from Lafayette, Louisiana, and “Symbols,” to be released later this month, is their second EP. “A Call to Arms” was released in 2013 and was meant to be a one-time recording project between the group’s members, but I guess they liked the butt rock they produced so much that they decided a second EP was necessary (sorry, jaded punk crept in there again). The band sounds, as close as I can tell, like a cross between Rise Against or Muse and one of the many and sundry American butt punk bands I just mentioned – pick one.
The first single off of “Symbols” is called “When Lions Dream,” and it contains some very clean guitar work from Patrick Trumps and Stefan Hawkins, as well as a pretty complex drum track from Lee Gauthreaux. In the case of this song, the only butt punk that comes into the equation is from vocalist Daniel Pinner. Aside from that and a pretty unnecessary synth track, “When Lions Dream” is a technically pretty solid song.
Daniel Pinner’s pedestrian and generally non-musical vocals are, unfortunately, a recurring problem on “Symbols.” They’re not on par with the rest of the band members’ skills, and this to me is a main factor in lowering their stock. I don’t like to single out band members, but if you listen to the quality of all the other elements of Secondborn’s music compared to the quality and musicality of Pinner’s vox, it becomes very apparent where the disconnect is.
That said, there are other tracks on “Symbols” which match his raspy el punko magnifico vocals style-wise. The album opener, “Say Love” is much more butt punk-adjacent, so Pinner’s voice and the style of music fit together a little better; in this case it’s just a question of quality. I think this song is the best on the EP just because the vocal and music styles are as congruent as they’re going to get. Pinner also is able to adopt a more emotive quality to his vocals when he’s actually singing and not scream-singing. It’s possible that I may detect a bit of auto-tune on “Say Love,” however, as well as on the next song, “Secrets.” If this is the case, chuck every positive thing I just said.
In “Say Love” those oddly-placed synthesizers show up again, but in “Secrets” the keys take on a more prominent role. Though this track is a bit of genre over-reach for Secondborn (I think they really, really want to be Rise Against), at least the synths make a little more sense here. As for the rest of the album, a quick assessment is all that’s needed here. “Wolves and Hounds” sounds exactly like when Blink-182 tried to go emo but with better guitars, and “In Winter” is an attempt at a production-heavy rock epic. The EP then ends with a re-edit of a song from “A Call to Arms” called “Kings Blood.” It is not better than the original, and with its added face-pucking synths, it leads me to believe that emo pop rock is the direction Secondborn aim to take in the future. They haven’t yet found a good place for this new element in their sound, but they’re sure trying.
It’s clear with “Symbols” that Secondborn are still experimenting with their style. For comparison, check out “A Call to Arms,” the EP that was supposed to be a one-shot deal. The band are trying to work in more electronic elements and draw a new sound out of their original alt/punky style to take it more emo/electro/pop/rock in nature. I do recognize their individual talents on a technical level and I think, with the exception of Pinner, that they are actually quite a bit better than their butt punk forbears. I think “Say Love” is destined for pop chart fame in the U.S. and maybe even in England, so if they’re going for quick stardom, it seems they may have already found a formula. No matter what style they pick, however, I will not be a fan due to the pop nature of their music in general and due to the fact that I am not a tween who hangs out in malls.
Jun 05 2015
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Writer and contributor on Brutal Resonance
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