Sunday, May 22, 2011

Album Review: Fireworks - Gospel

2009 and 2010 marked the introduction to the newest wave of pop-punk. The Swellers began to redeem Fueled By Ramen with their first record on the label, Man Overboard and Transit released excellent debut full lengths that consequently got them signed to Rise Records, and The Wonder Years became somewhat of a cult icon due to the release of The Upsides. However, fans of this new era of pop-punk worried that these debuts would be difficult to top. Though Fireworks was an often forgotten name on the list of upcoming pop-punk acts, they are the first to show that they could follow up a strong debut with an outstanding sophomore effort. Gospel is stronger than All I Have To Offer Is My Own Confusion in every single musical aspect, and will no doubt launch Fireworks to the head of the pop-punk class.

The improvements in Gospel are extremely noticeable right away. The entire record has a much fuller sound, courtesy of producer Brian McTernan (This Time Next Year, Balance and Composure). McTernan's production is excellent throughout the entire record, strengthening the sound of the record while avoiding overproduction. The production may be attributed to improving the sound of singer David Mackinder's vocals, but there is definitely natural improvement as well. "Life Is Killing Me", one of the standouts of the record, features Mackinder's strongest vocal performance to date as he obviously pushes his voice to its peak ability.

Opener "Arrows" is another standout, containing beautiful harmonies similar to those heard on The Graduate's latest album (another McTernan product), as well as an explosive chorus. "Arrows" is also the first sighting of the band's willingness to move outside the conventional pop-punk song, as The Graduate comparisons also arise in the opening ambient guitars. "I Was Born In The Dark" displays the band's new found technicality in yet another fashion, as multiple time and key changes are used. These changes are somewhat disorienting at first listen, and disrupts the flow of the track. The transitions aren't as terrible as they could have been, though Fireworks does struggle.

Luckily, that is one of only a few times that the band actually misses a step. The lyrics in the chorus of the aforementioned "I Was Born In The Dark" reflect the album's theistic title, as Mackinder chants "I stopped searching for the holy ghost 'cause I'm in Hell." "Teeth" easily destroys Owl City's "Dental Care" in the battle of mouthcare related tracks, as this track actually has a discernible meaning. It's also a track like Fireworks has never created before, as it's a mid-tempo, keys led track that almost completely removes all signs of pop-punk from the band's vocabulary. "Oh, Why Can't We Start Old And Get Younger" and "I Am The Challenger" also turn the flamethrower on the Fireworks manual, as a punk infused groovy pop song a la Maroon 5 and a slow, folky acoustic track (respectively) are added into the band's bag of tricks.

But Fireworks hasn't gone off on a totally new direction. Out of all the strong tracks on the album, the driving "Summer" blows everything else away. Similar to "Detroit" from All I Have To Offer Is My Own Confusion as an overall strong song with an infectious chorus, it is the best track that Fireworks has ever released to this point. Many bands would be crucified for mentioning their own band name (even in the unrelated way that Fireworks has) in a chorus, but it fits perfectly into what should be the anthem of this coming summer.

Simply put, Fireworks has progressed. They went from being middle of the pack with their debut to soaring past almost all of their mates with Gospel. Before the recording of this album, they seemed likely to fizzle within the next album or two, but instead Fireworks are getting ready to blast off. Transit, The Wonder Years, and Man Overboard have all shown sparks of this growth, but haven't put it together in a complete follow up album just yet. Fireworks are the first to the punch with Gospel, and now they have set the bar higher than anyone could have imagined.

Projected Score - 9.0/10

1. Arrows
2. I Was Born In The Dark
3. X’s On Trees
4. We’re Still Pioneers
5. Teeth
6. Oh, Why Can’t We Start Old and Get Younger?
7. Summer
8. Life Is Killing Me
9. I Am The Challenger
10. Paintings Of Paul Revere
11. I Locked My Time Capsule
12. The Wild Bunch

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