For those familiar with earnest Midwest post-hardcore of the last decade, the Life and Times deliver just what’s expected: a heavy load of tightly packed rhythms, crushing guitar, and yearning vocals. But not much more. Ex-Shiner frontman Allen Epley teams with Someday I’s John Meredith on bass and the String and Return’s Mike Myers on drums to craft a sound that doesn’t achieve the promise of its DNA.
Suburban Hymns foregoes Shiner’s math rock complexities and restrains Someday I’s punk aggression while employing the String and Return’s dreamy patience only on select occasions. The album hits like a blunt object – a sense of force and weight is there, but the nature of the weapon is unclear.
Yet it has its moments: the bass solo in “Skateland,” the arching guitar lines of “My Last Hostage” (mov), Epley’s excellent vocals in “Coat of Arms” (mp3). “Thrill Ride” recalls Sunny Day Real Estate with a slow-building start that releases into a compelling crescendo and than fades off into silence. In “Muscle Cars,” the Life and Times finally lock into a good rhythm. It’s one of the few times they sound like the new band they are rather than three weary studio musicians banging out an album. Hallmarks of their genre like minor key tension, chiming guitars, and frequent drum fills are so rampant they appear forced.
While Epley may appreciate the chance to play something a little more straightforward than his work with Shiner, he must know that Suburban Hymns‘ novelty is probably lost on most of its audience before the first song is done. After 40 minutes, it shapes up as a heavy, nondescript rock album that is certainly listenable but doesn’t offer anything to hold on to. Math rock, no. But great background music for doing math homework.