There’s a level of excitement that surrounds a new release from All Time Low that most bands will never see. Each of their albums becomes an event for the pop punk community, whether that be for better or worse. Where the issue lies is that a core group of their fans (myself included) can’t stop hoping for the same connection to an album like So Wrong, It’s Right, even as the band matures and grows artistically. Even though they’ve delivered time and time again, writing some of the best songs in the genre in the process, there is still a level of disappointment that follows them from record to record.
Future Hearts is the best record All Time Low have written since So Wrong, It’s Right. It is the culmination of the best elements of their last releases finally put together to create their most concise record in years. It is an album that, like Harry Potter, has aged itself with the fans from throughout their career instead of appeasing the appetites of teenagers just wanting something to sing along to. The sacrifice though, is a lack of power songs that will forever define them the way that “Dear Maria, Count Me In” or the best songs from Nothing Personal did.
Future Hearts sounds like a sister album to Dirty Work, or rather it’s what Dirty Work should have been. The songs lean to the edge of alternative rock and hone on anthemic choruses and radio-ready pop warfare. The sophistication of the writing coupled with the production make it sound much more mature than the album probably deserves.
This is also the ATL with the least amount of New Found Glory-esque popping guitar melodies, opting instead for melody driven by vocals backed with rushing guitars and heavy percussion(“Kids In the Dark”), which at times hampers the sound. It’s a testament to each members’ musicianship; from focusing so heavily on vocals, each instrument still pushes through brightly.
Jack Barakat and Alex Gaskarth play some heavy guitar parts that shifts from raging power chords to melodic acoustic based ballads (“Kicking and Screaming”, “Cinderblock Garden”). Zack Merrick’s bass bolsters the guitars heavily, keeping them from feeling flat at times and sharking just beneath the surface. Rian Dawson’s percussion is arguably the second most relied on instrument after Gaskarth’s vocals. The drums are powerful, heavy and moving.
Gaskarth’s vocals are standard fare at this point; he’s an amazing singer with remarkable range. He makes full use of it throughout the record, and provides small background snippets during songs just before launching into the chorus. Gang vocals are dropped generously throughout the record. However, for relying on Gaskarth’s vocals so heavily, he sounds slightly muted and uninspired compared to what we know he’s capable of. Still, he’s wickedly impressive. More impressive though are how well he melds with the guest vocalists Mark Hoppus and Joel Madden.
One of the catch twenty-twos of the album is the lyricism. There are clichés aplenty to hamper any growth thematically, as it’s impossible to count how many “in the dark” phrases are splayed throughout. It pays off as it attempts to slant a ‘grown up’ vibe to themes of heartbreak and drunken mistakes, as well as reflecting on youth as a disjointed and possibly even broken concept of freedom. On the opener, “Satellite”, Gaskarth sings, “Wishing on a star that’s just a satellite / Driving in a car with broken tail-lights / Growing up with eyes glued shut”.
However, the legendarily catchy lyricism is alive and well over all, such as during “Tidal Waves” as Alex sings serenely, “I earned my place with the tidal waves / I can’t escape this feeling that something ain’t right / I called my name as I crashed the gates / Still I can’t escape this feeling that something ain’t right / Why don’t you think before you speak? / Cause you don’t know me at all”.
Future Hearts isn’t perfect, but it’s the reason why we wait so anxiously for each new album from All Time Low. They are so far and above where they should be as musicians for a band that seemed to fill the party-punk void left after Blink-182 disappeared. It’s easy to write them off as just another pop-punk band, but that would undercut the ever growing talent and patches to older efforts.
by Kyle Schultz