After 2011’s Hell is What You Make it and the explosion of lead single “Blackout”, it appeared that Breathe Carolina were on the brink of stardom. Having abandoned their early electronica/screamo sound in favor of straight-up synth-laced pop, the duo landed a major record deal with Columbia and were primed for a crossover.
By 2013, Breathe Carolina had already walked away from the label due to an apparent disagreement over creative control. Later in the year, founding member Kyle Evan left the band, leaving David Schmitt as the sole original member.
Now, nearly three years after their near-breakthrough, Breathe Carolina (now comprised of Schmitt and a new backing band) are back to their original home of Fearless Records and have released Savages, a peculiar follow-up, to be sure.
Savages prides itself in its EDM influences, but at its core, it’s a summer pop record with a few oddly placed curveballs. At its best, the album begs for radio play with its infectious dance-pop sound. “Bang it Out” is case-in-point – a fittingly shameless, slightly sultry dance track that features none other than mindless pop poster children, Karmin.
It’s these moments that allow the listener to roll down the window, turn up the stereo and let the pulsing synth, womping bassline and catchy hook sing the sounds of summer. For better or worse, this is where Breathe Carolina excels and is the sole reason for their near-mainstream breakthrough.
However, with every dose of sugar provided by Savages, there’s a heavy-handed helping of sobering salt. On “Sellouts”, Schmitt decides to take issue with fans who long for the “good ol’ days”, going full metalcore with the help of Asking Alexandria screamer Danny Worsnop. There’s a clear sneer implied as Schmitt sings “You’re fascinated with the old me / And I bet you hate it when we don’t scream / You’re stuck in the past and I’m not looking back”.
We get the irony. The reasons requiring this indiscreet moment remain unclear, but one thing’s for certain – David Schmitt and the rest of Breathe Carolina don’t care what you or some major label executive think. They’re going to do whatever they want, thank you very much.
That’s all good and well and perfectly within an artist’s right. But why muddy the clean water for the sake of sarcasm or statement? The truth is, so much of Savages is right within Breathe Carolina’s wheelhouse that any good swing could produce a hit. Opener “Bury Me” is catchy as hell, while “Shots Fired” weaves a slower beat without losing any movement. “Shadows” is a refreshingly dark and painful track juxtaposed by its pulsing tempo.
Others songs sound lazy and uninspired. “Chasing Hearts” relies far too much on the vocals and R&B vibe of Tyler Carter. The album’s title track flashes moments of promise before becoming too convoluted, often sounding more engaging during the brief music-only interludes. Other tracks flirt with a pleasing dance-pop vibe before retreating from accessibility, seemingly for the sake of experimentation.
If Schmitt’s statement on Savages is that he doesn’t feel a need to please anyone but himself, he may have done just that. All in all, the album has a few bright spots that highlight the group’s affinity for crafting catchy pop songs while remaining stubbornly unwilling to embrace that very knack.
That is to say, Savages sounds very much like a Breathe Carolina album. Pick out a few of the bangers and skip the rest. As long as the group chooses to keep eager listeners at an arm’s distance, this is likely the best we’ll get.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.