With the recent release of the new Issues album Headspace, I think now is as good a time as any to contend with something that’s sat with me for years. In 2014, our beloved creator Jimmy posted a review for their self-titled debut. I encourage you to read his full thoughts on the album, but if you want the long story short, he wasn’t a fan of it due to bad production choices, banal lyrics and lack of strong songwriting. He gave it a 1.5/5, even going so far as to accuse the record of being “cringe-inducing.” Jimmy’s review has haunted me on and off ever since he posted it, as the record was my 2014 album of the year, so I think it’s time that I got into Issues’ corner to defend its honor by addressing some of Jimmy’s gripes while throwing in my own points of positivity.
Before continuing, I want to point to a quote from the closing portion of Jimmy’s review. He said, “This is music that was seemingly created for the sole purpose of being trendy and commercially friendly among Rise Records’ post-hardcore fanbase, and it will surely succeed in spades.” I’m pointing this out to preface a concept that runs all throughout this In Defense Of, which is sincerity. To me, the main thing that sets Issues apart from their peers is that they’re sincere in making this type of music. The music would do well with the Rise audience, but it does so without feeling like it’s pandering to a market. There is a feeling of legitimacy that surrounds the music, immediately leading me to understand that it comes from a pure place. If you want a very strong example of the type of feeling the members put into the music, listen to the emotion at the beginning of this rework of the last song on the self-titled, called ‘Disappear’. Vocalist Tyler Carter can’t even get through the first part of the song without having to pause to compose himself. That’s the type of sincerity that the band and this album convey to the listener.
On the surface, this record is a perfect storm of things that “discerning” listeners have been warned to be wary of: Nu-Metal and Rise Records. I can understand having apprehension in approaching this album and even not appreciating certain aspects of it once you give it a shot, but at it’s core, the songs on this album carry a strong, unique identity. Issues accomplishes this through utilizing all the genres they touch on with an remarkably high level of dexterity. They take their influences and incorporate them meaningfully instead of haphazardly tossing them into the the blender-o’-songs and hoping they make make sense, Now, does this make the music seem stylistically all over the place? Yes, it can. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t jarring to go from nu-metal vocals and metalcore chugs to R&B interludes. However, if you can roll with the punches, this record will take you on a ride that is loaded with passionate performances, compelling hooks and monumental moments from start to finish. These aspects are so strong that I believe they overcome some of the records supposed shortcomings.
The lyrics may not be for everyone, but the performances behind them shouldn’t be dismissed so readily. Tyler Carter’s vocals sound dangerously on point here, using multiple vocal layers and infusing elements of pop, gospel, R&B and soul for a deadly combination that’s also incredibly sweet on the ears. Michael Bohn’s screams are varied and intelligible, making him the perfect fit to handle any and all rapping sections that may come along. On top of being technically proficient, there is also an energy and honesty in these vocal performances that surely cannot be drastically hindered by the words the music flows through. As a side note, always remember that nu-metal was not always the strongest genre lyrically, but the flows, delivery and interaction with the music still kept listeners interested.
As far as hooks go, this record is uncompromising. If there isn’t a captivating series of chugs going on, there’s a synth line that’s catching you. If there isn’t a vocal line that you have stuck in your head, you’re paying attention to a hard-hitting drum pattern. Sometimes a song can have multiple hooks that work in tandem to completely absorb you, using layering in a way that makes it so there is always something to keep you interested. Songs that do this effectively are ‘Sad Ghost’, ‘Stingray Affliction’ and ‘Personality Cult’ Every song has something to appreciate, which keeps the record solid from top to bottom.
It’s also not afraid to take different sounds/moods and combine them to make instantly memorable moments. In ‘Stingray Affliction’, the metalcore sections switch off with the poppy R&B sections, up until the last thirty seconds where they collide to make this massive wall of sound kicked off by a crashing wave of clipping guitars. Another one of these moments occurs in the finale of the album ‘Disappear (Remember When)’, which sees a gospel choir come in for the last two minutes of the song to end the album on a satisfying and awe-inspiring note. It’s an album closer that stuck with me long after the last notes rang out and I still think it’s one of the best ones I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing.
Jimmy’s judgement of this album is still just as valuable as anything I said here, I just thought that I should stand up for what I believe to be a solid record. It has a special place in my heart and deserves a fair shot at being appreciated. If you don’t like it, it’s more than understandable and you have every right to hold that opinion. The only thing I can hope to accomplish is convincing you to at least check out a song and give Issues the time of day. I can finally rest easy knowing that I’ve said my piece, which now leaves me free time to spin this album another couple hundred times.