La Dispute is one of the most polarizing bands in the post-hardcore scene. Its brand of extremely emotional spoken word vocal delivery from frontman Jordan Dreyer has given the band a cult-like following while also being different enough to turn off many casual listeners who might think the almost overly expressive music is “cringey.”
With the Michigan group jumping to Epitaph Records for its first LP since 2014, “Panorama,” will the band try to appeal to a wider audience than before?
Not really, but fans of the band will certainly get a kick out of the group’s latest record, released on March 23, 2019.
The album’s strongest moments happen within the first 10 minutes. After a haunting and atmospheric intro track, “ROSE QUARTZ,” the album goes into “FULTON STREET I,” the first single off the record. It’s a masterfully crafted and dark track about a drive between two towns in Michigan. The drive is masked in tragedy, with the opening lyrics of “Found a body at the rest stop, buried in the woods beneath” setting the tone for the song and the album as a whole.
“FULTON STREET I” beautifully combines the softer and heavier side of La Dispute in one track. Will Yip’s (Turnover, Citizen, Title Fight) production really shines here, making every drum hit from Brad Vander Lugt and every bass note from Adam Vass seem like the most important notes the band has ever played. The song’s slow build to a screamed crescendo of “I never put flowers by the street” shows the complex emotion Dreyer is dealing with on “FULTON STREET I,” in which he's considering the perspective and potential response of a friend who's never dealt with tragedy.
The heaviness continues in “FULTON STREET II.” Instead of building up to a crescendo, the song picks right up where its predecessor left off. This song has some of Dreyer’s more traditional delivery — his emphatic screaming of lines like “I will be the one who chases you out into the snow” would fit in well on a Touché Amoré song.
The instrumentals on this song all sound huge. Chad Sterenberg and Corey Stroffolino’s guitars could be ripped straight from an arena rock record. The breakdown near the middle of the song deserves to be played as loud as possible, with every part turned up to 11. The intensity of the production and performances make this one of the best moments of La Dispute’s musical career.
While the rest of “Panorama” never hits the highs of the first 10 minutes, it’s still a solid album cover to cover.
“RHODONITE AND GRIEF” shows off a more jangly side of the band, with Vass’ swirling bass line providing the backbone to the jazz-inspired drum riffing and Dreyer’s spoken, almost hip-hop influenced delivery.
“ANXIETY PANORAMA” is just as forceful as “FULTON STREET II,” really putting the hardcore in post-hardcore with its punk-influenced chorus.
“IN NORTHERN MICHIGAN” is the opposite, as the subdued track focuses on softer guitar licks with the percussion and bass being the primary focus in the mix. Unfortunately, this leads to Dreyer’s vocals being buried and hard to hear, an odd choice considering his lyrics and vocal delivery are the band’s biggest selling point.
The same also happens in “VIEW FROM OUR BEDROOM WINDOW” and “THERE YOU ARE (HIDING PLACE),” which takes some of the impact away from the songs, even though “THERE YOU ARE (HIDING PLACE)” has one of the best song structures on the entire album. When the guitars perfectly line up with Dreyer’s delivery of “And in the summer, we'll get a new home, I'll get a new start, I'll get to be” is one of the best hardcore moments of the year and will certainly be a song that audiences will scream back to the band at shows.
“Panorama” ends with the seven-minute “YOU ASCENDANT,” which is the closest to straight up poetry La Dispute gets on the record. Lines like “Pale white bone in brush, all things to dust return but you keep on heading westward quick down Fulton Street, as if a thing beyond compelled you walk now there,” call back to the overall themes of the record like grief, loss and death.
It’s a song that demands to be listened to attentively, or else the majors points will fly way over the listener’s head. “YOU ASCENDANT” wonders about the possibility of an afterlife or nothingness or the fate to permanently relieve one's own memories. The song ends similarly to “FULTON STREET I,” with Dreyer screaming “I will be everything you need.” It’s a good narrative bookend to the 40-minute record, making it a full and complete experience.
“Panorama” is a great album, but it won’t win over people turned off by La Dispute’s trademark characteristics. While it never quite reaches the highs of its opening few tracks, “Panorama” is still one of the most complete post-hardcore records to come out in a long time.