Pianos Become The Teeth
The Lack Long After
Top Shelf Records
Content to not fix what isn’t broken, Pianos Become The Teeth have made only subtle refinements to their sound on their second LP, The Lack Long After. The stylistic hallmarks that defined the band’s debut LP Old Pride–layered guitars, soaring crescendos and anguished vocals–are all once again in place here, but with a greater level of polish than before. The Baltimore-based five-piece blends 90’s screamo with post-rock influences, dialing back the distortion on their guitars and deriving their heaviness from tense songwriting rather than relying on blunt aggression. Picture a more condensed version of Envy, and you have a rudimentary idea of what to expect.
Album opener “I’ll Be Damned” leads the proceedings with a brief semi-clean guitar intro before the rest of the band kicks in, barreling straight ahead through waves of interweaving guitars and bludgeoning percussion that locks into a solid half-time groove around the 2:16 mark. It trails off toward the end with desperate shouts over shimmering guitars that lead into the similarly structured “Good Times.” The band shows they know how to work a decent hook on “Such Confidence,” which builds on its opening chord progression until it evolves into a towering monster that’s both catchy and chaotic. The slow build of its follow-up “Liquid Courage” offers a needed rest at the album’s halfway point, deviating from the pattern followed by the rest of the record, slowly adding layers of melodies along a linear path from its sedated intro to its unsettling ending.
The most underrated weapon in Pianos Become The Teeth’s aural arsenal may be drummer Kevin Haik, who delivers a noteworthy performance. The tom-heavy intro to “Shared Bodies” and the frantic patterns he rifles through at the climax of “Such Confidence” have serious air drumming potential, but what is most impressive his is ability to remain completely in control of the rhythm section while quickly alternating between near math-metal complexity and simple cut time riffs. The variance of the beats he employs contributes immensely toward creating the sense of urgency that make this record as compelling as it is, rather than falling somewhat flat like too many of their peers.
The heaviest part of The Lack Long After however may be its lyric sheet, which painfully documents Durfey’s struggle with losing his father to multiple sclerosis. This is a devastating record, and Durfey’s words hit hard with an uncommon degree of unrestrained honesty. The dark yet almost optimistic sounding closing track “I’ll Get By” closes with an actual voicemail message from the vocalist’s mother saying “I hope you know how much he loved you, and I think you do,” lending the disc an almost uncomfortably real ending. Few hardcore albums manage to be as sincere and emotionally resonant as this one; it’s a depressing confrontation of loss and mortality that will give your heartstrings a workout while putting your own life into better perspective.
If there are any criticisms to be made about The Lack Long After, its that the majority of the tracks sound and feel a bit too similar. It would have been interesting to hear Pianos Become The Teeth explore their spacey instrumental side just slightly more, and a broader vocal delivery (rather than straight screaming from start to finish) could have reduced some of the record’s sense of repetition. However, those are small criticisms to make against what is otherwise a stunning example of well played modern screamo. This is an inspired and refreshing take on an arguably stale and overcrowded genre, and fans looking for something to put between the City of Caterpillar and This Will Destroy You records on their shelf will find a lot to like about this.