Reflecting on: The Academy Is… – Almost Here

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During 2015, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies. Enjoy!

You could quite easily call 2005 the year of Fueled by Ramen. Although the indie label was no stranger to success stories (see: Jimmy Eat World), the mid-aughts served as a gold mine. In 2005, Fueled by Ramen saw the meteoric rise of Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco, along with breakthrough records for soon-to-be-stars Gym Class Heroes and Paramore.

For all of the fame and platinum albums garnered by the aforementioned acts, there were a few Fueled by Ramen bands that came ever-so-close to the limelight, only to watch it fade away. Perhaps no band in the label’s history encapsulates “what could have been” better than The Academy Is….

Hailing from Chicago, just like their contemporaries in Fall Out Boy, The Academy Is… hit the scene with their debut album Almost Here after stirring some buzz with an eponymous EP one year prior. Almost Here is a non-stop whirlwind of glossy emo pop that could easily stand alongside any release this scene has witnessed. Not only was the album a near-perfect debut, it was also the best album the band would release during their startlingly brief career.

But before we get to the bad news, let’s just take a few moments and remember why Almost Here was so damn good. As a matter of fact, go ahead and stop reading and put the record on. I’ll wait. The album clocks in just over a half hour and is driven non-stop by the sleek guitars of A.J. LaTrace and Mike Carden. James Paul Wisner handled the production duties for Almost Here, and you can feel his signature polish on every track.

Michael DelPrincipe (drums) and Adam Siska (bass) round out the instrumentals, and each member plays a key role. No instrument overshadows another and each gets their chance to shine. It’s a credit to Wisner, per usual, that the mix feels so clean and full of life. Almost Here is a rockin’ record, but it’s impossible to deny how easy these songs go down.

For as talented as every member of this band proved to be on this debut, the album, and truly, The Academy Is… itself, belonged to William Beckett. It’s fully possible that no frontman in this scene has ever possessed as much swagger as Beckett does on Almost Here. His smooth, confident delivery seethes from every corner of the record. Alex Davies of BBC once described Beckett as a cross between Adam Lazzara and Prince – and he wasn’t wrong.

When Beckett opens the album with the gently delivered lines of, “Attention, attention / May I have all your eyes and ears to the front of the room / If only, if only for one second” we’re all put on notice. What follows is a band making the most of every opportunity. Every chorus, every breakdown, every swirling climax is handled with care. These are songs you can replay relentlessly, but Beckett’s knack for constructing a clever line makes the experience that much more enjoyable.

His lyrics meander from lost love to lasting friendships to a steadfast belief that he’s on the verge. When he snarls the lines of, “Oh Mr. Magazine, I never wrote one single thing for you / And your so-called music scene / You don’t mean a thing to me” on “Black Mamba”, you can hear his defiant confidence in every word. Beckett’s turn of phrase just adds to his repertoire. Consider “Slow Down”, which finds the band delivering one of the most dance-able instrumental bridges in recent memory, only to be eclipsed by Beckett, who effortlessly drops his legendary croon of, “I’m not saying that I’m not breaking some hearts tonight, girl”.

In a decade defined by razor-sharp tongues lashing against heartless former lovers, Beckett delivered a catalogue of one-liners on just his debut. On “Skeptics and True Believers” he opens with, “Don’t be so scared, we will not lead / You on like you’ve been doing for weeks” followed later by, “Someone, somewhere said some things that may have sparked some sympathy / But don’t believe, don’t believe a word you’ve heard”.

For all of its momentary guile, Almost Here is a surprisingly uplifting and forward-looking record. The album is loaded with singles, from the peppy “Checkmarks” to the high-flying “Season”. For every biting remark, there’s a complimentary brush of the shoulder and encouragement to carry on. “Hold your head high, heavy heart”, Beckett sings on “The Phrase That Pays”. The album comes to a close with his triumphant repeated declaration of, “Our time is almost, our time is almost here!”

Despite its artistic successes, Almost Here flew largely under the radar, overshadowed by the band’s contemporaries. Though the band would go on to receive moderate MTV rotation and meager radio play in following years, their follow-ups (Santi and Fast Times at Barrington High) failed to capture the spark of their debut. Sadly, the band always appeared a step or two behind their label mates. Their disbandment in 2011 after a few years of relative inactivity seemed depressingly unsurprising.

In hindsight, Almost Here is more focused than From Under the Cork Tree and more technically sound than A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. It helped pave the way for bands like Mayday Parade and All Time Low. After 10 years, it still stands as one of the greatest and most original emo/pop punk records to release amidst a decade of lookalikes. Even if The Academy Is… failed to burn out bright, there’s no denying that they captured the most thrilling kind of lightning in a bottle in 2005. And we’re all the better for it.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

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