Better Than Grey - No Way Back
Better Than Grey is one of the first foreign bands I have had the opportunity to review, which undoubtedly showcases a different side of music not frequently inhabiting the ears of individuals from the United States (where I am located). While I am very familiar with music from other countries, thanks in part to my interest in underground black metal and post-rock music; Better Than Grey showcases a much more pop friendly form of music that I am not overly acquainted with from outside of my own country. From Bulgeria, Better Than Grey is currently comprised of musicians Justin Case (vocals), Eddie (Bass), FranX (Guitar), Fiorelo (Guitar) and MonX (Drums). Their debut release No Way Back was released through Antstreet Records on January 27th, and showcases pop punk musical stylings that are similar in nature to mainstream bands like Fall Out Boy, All-American Rejects, A Day to Remember, and My Chemical Romance. With this biographical information in mind, I will be examining Better Than Grey's album No Way Back in more detail below.
The first element of No Way Back that stands out in my mind is the production quality. Pop punk music often requires great production value in order to maintain an atmosphere that is enjoyable and approachable to your average listener. The tracks on this album remind me heavily of Better Than Grey's popular contemporaries, from Fall Out Boy to a variety of other acts. Interestingly enough, my experience with this style of music is pretty hefty; as I grew up loving pop punk music to the point that I even have seen quite a few of the bands in concert over the years that they are influenced by. As such, comparing the production quality of this album to other major artists in this style of music is fairly simple; and on the whole I felt this album could easily fit into a CD collection of anyone who enjoys pop punk music and the afforementioned mainstream influences.
Aside from the overall production quality, each individual instrument is recorded very well and mixed into the music equally well. There are a variety of guitar tones and effects to be found on this album, from the standard expected distorted/overdriven guitars; to some more experimental elements for this genre including guitars with a sort of flanger effect on a few tracks really makes the music easy to approach and enjoy, but also incorporates elements that will make the album more appealing than other bands within this genre. I can find nothing to particularly criticize with respect to the sound of this album.
COMPOSITION AND INSTRUMENTATION:
On the topic of composition, pop punk music has a tendency to do very little with regards to musical exploration. Better Than Grey has a fairly standard approach to song writing, though this is not something I would call a particular flaw with their music. Listeners enjoy the catchiness of pop punk music, and as such developing fairly basic song structures and very involved and catchy choruses is very important to this style of music. My major critiques on this front would stem from comparing the genre of pop punk to other musical genres, such as classical music; which in all honesty is not a fair comparison, and as a result it should be wholly avoided. With that said, if you are listening to Better Than Grey, you should be aware that their music is targeted towards an audience of people that is very interested in the pop punk genre. The songs contained on No Way Back are wholely very enjoyable for what they are, though I cannot deny that on the latter half of the album the tracks do begin to lag in some areas primarily because of their song structures.
With the actual song structure aside, I must say I was much more impressed by the instrumentation on this album; especially with regards to how the musicians in this band are able to create different atmospheres on each individual tracks, even though they primarily use standard punk rock instruments such as guitars, bass, and drums. For example, the guitar rhythms are varied and not wholely dependent on straight 8th notes as can often be the case in this genre. The lead guitar sections especially stood out to me, both in terms of the melodies they provide to these tracks; but also in terms of the phrasing which reminded me heavily of the progressive rock band Coheed and Cambria. On the topic of lead guitars, it would be wrong to overlook the interesting guitar solos that occur on a few of these tracks that really add to the music in ways that many pop punk bands seem to avoid. Not often in the poppy song writing of pop punk music is there a place made for some experimentation and instrumental soloing.
Of final note is the incorporation of some additional instruments and programming, such as synths, pianos, and orchestral segments to add much more instrumental diversity to this release. Standout tracks with these instrumental properties in mind include "The Impossible Freedom of My Childhood" for it's great blend of clean and distorted guitars, as well as for the incorporation of synthetic orchetration in the choral sections. The track "Yeah Yeah Yeah" also stands out for it's unique intro, which features a piano; as well as it's bone crushing rhythm guitar section; which reminds me heavily of A Day to Remember's more recent releases. The final track on this album, aptly titled "Untitled," stands out for the excellent melodic guitar solo; as well as the pacing which leads to a fantastic musical crescendo to end the album No Way Back on a very strong note.
VOCALS AND LYRICS:
The vocals on No Way Back are some of the most impressive ones I have heard in this genre, though they may not be for everyone. The lead vocalist Justin Case has a great vocal range, and draws many comparisons from my mind with Fall Out Boy's vocalist Patrick Stump. However, Justin also has a very foreign accent; which can at times be relatively thick causing the deciphering of words to be mildly difficult. Fortunately, this is not a major problem on most of these tracks; and in all honesty it adds to the music in such a way that it makes it unique to my Americanized ears. If Better Than Grey is looking to produce music that will appeal to a mainstream market, particularly one more central to the United States, then with a unique (but easily accessible) fronting vocalist like Justin they should have no problem with this. In addition to the lead vocals, several of the other band members also lend some backing vocals on occasion; and really add to the diversity of sounds on this album.
If you are a major fan of the pop punk genre, or the afforementioned mainstream bands in this genre, you will probably have very little problem getting into this album by Better Than Grey. The lyrics are in some respects rather standard fare for for pop punk music, however they never tread into water that makes the music "corny" in any manner. I can easily imagine these lyrics leading many people in a concert setting, and more importantly motivating them to dance and sing along. The vocals and lyrics ultimately work together in such a fashion that is just perfect for the musical style.
After listening to this entire album a handful of times, I must say I am highly impressed. This is not a sentiment I tend to express towards pop punk bands, especially over the course of a full album of music. More often than not, mainstream bands produce a few good tracks (usually released as singles); however the remainder of their tracks tend to be either fillers or just plain uninteresting. While I felt No Way Back did have a few moments that were a little lackluster when compared to other tracks on this album, I have to admit that hollistically I believe all of these tracks are thoroughly enjoyable; perhaps even more so if you are very interested in this musical genre.
To give a rating to this album, I would just have to say this: if you already love pop punk music, then I highly recommend that you purchase this album. I feel that you will significantly enjoy this album. If you enjoy mainstream and pop music in general, then you will also fall into this category. If you are not keen on these musical genres, then I would at least recommend that you check a few of their tracks out and make a decision for yourself.
Below is a music video for their track "The Most Stupid Way to Tell Somebody That You Don't Like Them."
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:
Better Than Grey Official Website
Better Than Grey Facebook
You can purchase their debut album No Way Back on Amazon and iTunes as well!