Soundbender’s debut full-length, Victory Mile, is not a summery affair. From its stark white packaging to its somber themes, this is a disc better suited to holing up under a blanket than sunbathing on the beach. Though it was released near the summer solstice, I’d say September 22 would have been more appropriate, with its talk of being “Haunted,” approaching “Twilight,” even a bit of “Bittersweet.”
Primary songwriter and frontman Jesse Thulin is a serious fellow, it would seem. Not only has he managed to handle recording and mixing duties on what is a very contemporary-sounding album, he’s also penned tunes of introspection and regret that may travel in the realm of the cliché from time to time, but manage to seem earnest and don’t quite get to the point of maudlin.
The rest of the band is more than just along for the ride, though. In fact, the album’s opener and first single, “Release,” is just as down-in-the-mouth, but penned by guitarist and backup vocalist Drew Gladu. Over stinging and aggressive guitars, not overly distorted, he finds he’s “in too deep now/Don’t know how long I can last/I can feel my body crumble/I need to find a door.” In large part, there is a solid embrace of melody, much like Stars Look Down or Lost on Liftoff on the local front, though Soundbender don’t tend to emphasize the backing vocals in the chorus, instead employing a screamo backing that does sound genuinely disturbed, but feels like a band trying to be heavier than they really are.
|Victory Mile | Released by Soundbender | at the Big Easy, in Portland | Aug 18|
Maybe it’s some of that touchy-feely primal scream therapy or something: “I’ll welcome this release.” I can hear the musical psychologist in my head: “Let it out guys, just let it out.”
In case you were worried this was suicidal talk, however, we’re reassured they’re not quite ready to off themselves with “I Still Breathe.” As the production grows shinier and the melody more emphasized, Thulin worries “it’s gone too far/I’m losing all of my control/Where’s the grip, the grip I used to hold?” These guys are just barely hanging in there, we’re meant to understand. Is it because they’re from Bangor?
Nah, couldn’t be. They’ve got a genuine anguish going on, but where some bands might give you specific wrongs they’ve suffered, Soundbender are “Haunted” by things more esoteric, “terrified that we’re wrong/And all the lessons that we’ve learned/And all the bridges that we’ve burned/Will haunt us forever.”
Nine of the 10 tracks are pretty similar, with halting rhythms from the guitar, often reaching quickly for a high squeal, and Thulin’s fairly naked emotion on the vocals. Most variation comes in whether we get the backing screams or not. The band don’t need them at all, and maybe it’s the old man in me that wonders: Is there a listener who’s like, “Sweet, now they’re screaming at me like I just stuck something sharp in their eye!”?