Retrospectively, most of our life takes place when we actually think that we are working towards a greater goal. While we think that, currently, we are working to get THAT job and everything that happens in the evenings after work is just a by-product, those evenings actually constitute our future memories. When Jordan Dryer was asked for inspiration concerning La Dispute’s latest release Panorama, he answered that most of the writing took place when driving from his (urban) place to the new place where he and his partner wanted to move. Along that road and during the rides, Dryer realized that many stories occurred at the side of the street. This is why Panorama takes a larger picture.
La Dispute are a quartet from Grand Rapids, Michigan and are well-known for their narrative Post-Hardcore music. Panorama marks the band’s fourth studio album, on which they took several steps in order to be coherent with elements that assemble the affiliation with the movement The Wave (together with bands such as Defeater or Touché Amoré). The first of these steps is signing to Epitaph Records, since La Dispute‘s previous albums were released via No Sleep Records or Better Living. Additionally, this album was produced by Will Yip (well-known for producing bands such as Blacklisted, Title Fight or Balance and Composure), which is another trait of bands of The Wave. There was a gap of five years between Panorama and their last release Rooms of the House, which was critically acclaimed due to its warm and catchy sound. On this album, the quartet attempts to combine the warm sounds from Rooms of the House with the rawness of their sophomore album Wildlife.
First of all and most importantly, the most salient positive aspect of this album (again) is the literary finesse of the lyrics. A major aspect of many The Wave releases, yet especially coining for La Dispute, is a literary concept throughout an entire album. Panorama deals with the story of two lovers that struggle with their love for each other. Solely reading through the lyrics already feels like being set right into the middle of a complex novel. One sequence of my listening processes always implies listening to the album while simultaneously reading its lyrics – and this clearly is a recommendation for people who want to get into this album. La Dispute again construct a moving story told through a narrator we can connect with at so many different spots.
This leads to another positive aspect that we can hear for example on “THERE YOU ARE (HIDING PLACE)”. Jordan Dryer‘s vocals on this album are absolutely on point – whether it is during spoken words or desperately shouting about personal grief. We as listeners are able to hear what our narrator feels while he tells us his story. When Dryer repeatedly shouts “in the same place for days” on the track mentioned above, my heart literally melted away. The desperation, the grief, the anger and self-hatred – everything beams from the words he utters during the songs.
The vocals as well as the instrumentation on the album also convey the attempt to combine the two predecessors of this release. On the one hand, we have Dryer calmly “singing” on “RHODONITE AND GRIEF”, whereas he loses control on “FOOTSTEPS AT THE POND”. The vocals are, however, not the only part that underlines the combination of warmth and gritty anger. Sterenberg‘s melodies and sounds on the guitar support the differentiation between harsh sounds that convey a Wildlife-ish atmosphere and warm melodies we instantly connect to Rooms of the House. Apart from the interconnection between those two albums, these elements also help conveying the emotions on Panorama. The narrator consistently struggles with the attempt to cope with grief and pain. The lyrics and song titles, though, frequently mention different esoteric subjects that are said to stimulate healing, such as rhodonite or rose quartz. Thus, the grief can be underlined by those parts that want to revive the Wildlife sounds, whereas the desired healing is conveyed by the warm ROTH-ish sounds.
When the first and one of the most beautiful tracks on the album, “FULTON STREET I”, finishes, it becomes quite evident that La Dispute want to play with the tension within their tracks. Listeners of their former album Rooms of the House were used to a lot of changes in tempo and playfulness with regards to tension rise, climax and catharsis. If you expect this to be the same on Panorama, you will be disappointed. On this album, the quintet switches from building up tension only within the tracks. There is no deficiency of ups and downs, though, but the length of the tension is stretched, now ranging throughout the entire album and not only from track to track. At the end of “FULTON STREET I” we feel left alone, because the tension that was built up suddenly stops. However, when “FULTON STREET II” begins, after a short intro, the energy is upheld right from the beginning. This happens several times on the album and shows that the band matured to a certain extent, since progression and tension now takes the full album into consideration and not only single tracks.
Right in the beginning, I mentioned that one of the major positive points on this album are the literary finesse and the fact that it can be experienced similar to reading a book. There is, however, a minor problem with this aspect. In the beginning, the parts during which Jordan Dryer begins talking feel embedded into the musical work we listen to. When getting deeper into the album, though, the listener is faced with a lot of text and – simultaneously – a lot of talking. It is of course no secret that the literacy of the album can only be constructed with a minimum of words. To me personally – this talking felt a little bit over the top – especially when arriving at the final track “YOU ASCENDANT”. The track itself fulfills a sensible purpose, since it tries to converge the stories we just heard, but on a sonical level, the music is slightly disregarded.
The album is a wonderful experience and the subtleness La Dispute demonstrated on this work is overwhelming. If you are into straightforward Post Hardcore, Panorama is probably not the album you are looking for. If you like to be able to listen to music that plays with those feeble, warm melodies in the background, you should definitely get into this album.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (★) ☆ ☆
light 8 / 10
As usual, we added the two favorite tracks to our Transcended Review Playlist