War All The Time
It seems that this gem missed being reviewed by Ink 19 in 2003, so I figured I’d try to do it justice in the new year. In my humble opinion, War All The Time was the best album of 2003, period. I thought that their previous release, Full Collapse, would never be topped, and would stand as a prototype for what “emo” should be in the new decade. I stand corrected, as War All The Time is the album to emulate for the up-and-coming. America has been waiting for a “Radiohead” to call their own, and Thursday is it (if you will remember, Radiohead was a rather hard and driving band on their first couple of albums, before getting artsy with O.K. Computer). Thursday, at current day, are a post-hardcore “emo” group, yet War All The Time shows a much more brave Thursday. The point at hand, though, is why War All The Time is the best album of 2003, and the reasons are many.
First off, song craft. These guys are incredible. Even the toughest songs on War All The Time come off as catchy and singable (see “Division St.,” “For The Workplace, Drowning” and “M. Shepard”). The contrast between the longing, cathartic verses and the triumphant and grandiose choruses is both stark and completely fascinating. The songs are easy to follow, yet they have the awkward structure reminiscent of emo precursors Mineral and Sunny Day Real Estate.
Second, the instrumentation and production values here are stunning. The guitars have a warm, distorted quality that isn’t overbearing, yet it’s not quite wussed out either. The tone they use on their guitars is unique to the band, and is instantly recognizable. The drums are very big and powerful, with every single tick and thud coming through as if J. Robbins (of Jawbox fame) had recorded them. The kick drum is thundering, but it doesn’t punch a hole in your chest, and doesn’t overwhelm. Geoff Rickly’s voice is warm, inviting, longing and “emotional” in delivery, and he’s becoming quite the darling of the indie rock world, thanks mostly to his syrupy voice.
What’s most amazing about War All The Time is that the transition to a major label was made without losing much of their intensity of edge. I’ll be the first to admit that there isn’t a “I Am the Killer” on this album, but that’s okay; I’ll gladly sacrifice some of the background screaming of Full Collapse for the quality songcraft of War All The Time. There is still quite a bit of the background screaming on War All The Time, but it is fairly filtered out by the end of the album (the album’s first song, “For The Workplace,” is also its most violent and aggressive). The sound of the major label Thursday is basically the same as the Victory Records Thursday, which is refreshing, given what has happened to other emo stalwarts upon their major label debuts.
Another aspect of War All The Time, which should, in theory, suck, is the paino ballad. “This Song Brought to You By A Falling Bomb” is a slow, piano driven song that interrupts the rocking of the album. Yet, its placement on the album (before the driving “Steps Ascending,” and after the wandering, dreamy and rockin’ “Asleep in the Chapel”) makes it seem not only natural, but it becomes essential to the album, as a whole. Another trick that this song plays is that it makes the hard songs sound even harder, in comparison.
“Tomorrow I’ll Be You” and “Marches and Maneuvers” are two of the coolest post-punk songs ever written, as they both destroy and hook at the same time. The choruses, which are strong and steamrolling get stuck instantly in the observant listener’s head, while the overall feel of the songs force a rock fist high into the air.
When I think of last year’s great albums, this album is the first to pop into my head. It’s been out for months, and it still doesn’t sound old. I thought the Cave In album might be my favorite of the year for a while, but I got kind of tired of it after a month or so. War All The Time is “emo” done correctly, and while others will try to copy it, they will undoubtedly fail. 2003 was Thursday’s year.