~Tirhakah Love (@GoonTherapy)
For punk rockers in 2016, remaining relevant relies heavily on portraying a message of perpetual and universal angst. Social schisms on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, and class are abundant wastelands — where meaningful discourse bounces from one end of the political spectrum to the next but is ultimately made empty by presumably well-intentioned superficiality. Bands like Green Day and Cold War Kids approach disillusionment on a macro level, attempting to jettison a political revolution using alt-rock as a pedestal. The Departure, however, take the opposite approach. By personalizing cynicism on the EP, “Gateways,” the Salt Lake City band tastefully draw on the twin tinges of self-deprecation and inner conflict that can complicate the most basic human interactions and behaviors.
The EP is easy to digest at first. Its opening track, “For the Best,” is loose and light. The traditional chord progression and harmonizing electric guitars scream ‘punk for teens.’ Lead singer/guitarist Ryan Deblanc puts forth an unequivocally prepubescent concern, “No one knows me,” with a rather adult conclusion, “and I don’t let them.” Though Deblanc’s control on this track can sound vanilla, he shreds the guitar solo before popping back into a strumming harmony with Aidan McDonald’s break beat drum rolls. As the strings fade into silence, Deblanc and the guys mock their own naivete; right before the wah pedal waves our welcome into the next record.
Things get dark very quickly. “Incompetence,” begins with a brooding hum, tip-toeing on the lower registers of the pentatonic scale. Deblanc’s fingering 8th notes descend into thick whole notes held over an aggressive and broken drum pattern. Deblanc sounds as shattered as the snare, sourcing his malcontent to social conspiracy: “I’ll never find the truth because the world conspires.” This revelation conjures Deblanc death growl debut on the second chorus and mercilessly capitulates to a revving electric guitar solo that keeps the atmosphere fraught. Even when the biker gang themed solo projects a sense of urgency, Deblanc never gets too far outside of himself. In his undeniable desire to be in control, the vocalist sounds even more isolated, imbibing his inflection with mystical intrigue.
Mysticism and genteel finally copulate on the title track “Gateways.” Dylan Proesch sprinkles light high notes that dovetail gingerly with Leblanc’s hushed sorrow. The lyrics here are as straightforward as imagined: “Agony has a new face, it looks like me.” The band’s first real troubled song, the track leaves more questions than answers. “You’ll never know how deep my sorrow goes,” Leblanc explains. The thing is, we’d like to. Leblanc tries to get into detail, “I’m exactly what you think I am,” but it sounds like nothing more than the acceptance of a socialized characterization. That, of course, can be damaging, but it’s difficult to place the nature of that characterization.
There’s a piercing sadness in the “Gateways EP” that doesn’t become palpable until the middle of the title track. “Gateways”signals an emotive and discursive turn that places it among the pantheon of angsty alternative bands. Kinetic energy is compacted by synthesized piano keying and let free on a track like “Forget Everything” where Leblanc does his best Gerard Way impression. Little surprises litter the project, keeping the audience engaged. Auto-toned melancholy breaks the band out of traditional sonic patterns on “The Sea pt. II.” The inclusion is jarring but the band uses it rather effectively. Leblanc has a much more difficult time on his acoustic sets. “Lonely Eyes” is a welcome relief from the heavily-produced feel of the previous song but Leblanc’s syllabic emphasis on certain phrases is rhythmically off-putting. The same could be said about the last track, “Thoughts,” in which the singer’s vocal enjambment really muddle the final product. But these are all small, manageable problems.
Alternative and punk rockers will be encouraged by the Gateways simple traditionalism and elated by their distinctly personal subject matter. The album is a strong show from a band that is still figuring out how to make a universal balm out of their private melancholy.
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