Ever since their inception in 2012, Issues have marched to the beat of their own drum. Call it metalcore if you have to, but Issues’ brand of rock draws from a variety of influences that don’t necessarily make sense on paper. Nevertheless, the band’s concoction of R&B, soul, nu metal, pop and whatever else sounds good in the moment have vaulted Issues near the top of the scene mountain at the arrival of their sophomore release.
When reviewing the band’s self-titled debut, I addressed Issues’ need to commit to a sonic identity in order to avoid being a flash-in-the-pan gimmick. In my estimation, the band was at their best when leaning either heavy or light – everything in between seemed to muddy the waters.
So it should come as no surprise that Issues’ new album, Headspace, is more varied than ever. It’s also going to be a huge hit.
Instead of whittling down to one particular thread to follow, Headspace is a melting pot of instruments and influence. At times, Issues is creating some of the most accessible music you’ll hear from this scene. At others, they’re pushing themselves as far down the metalcore rabbit hole as their abilities will allow. Most of the time, though, Headspace is trying something completely new, resulting in wide range of outcomes.
When Issues is at their best on this release, they’re allowing their pop persuasions to guide the way. “COMA” opens with the signature guitar crunch the band often relies on, but sheds nearly all pretense by the track’s massive chorus. Here, Michael Bohn drops his screams in favor of a gritty sung delivery that serves as the perfect volley for Tyler Carter to bring down the house. With a dose of passion, Carter crafts his best chorus to date, singing, “I want to be all you think about / Anything and everything you dream about / As if I had it all figured out / I want to be the one you can’t breathe without”.
“Home Soon” follows a similar suit with some of the band’s poppiest instrumentals so far. Carter’s vocal transitions to falsetto and back are otherworldly and pair perfectly with Bohn’s own pendulum swings from light screams to cleans. “Hero” and “Someone Who Does” also find a new, smoother flow for a band that has relied a bit too heavily on coarse guitar riffs to carry the band’s transitions in the past.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Blue Wall”, the heaviest song Issues have ever written, feels misplaced and comes across as forced aggression. Still, the band deserve credit for tackling a topic like police brutality head on, with Bohn sounding pleasantly passionate while screaming, “Empty your clips on the victim / And then you look the other way”. You might argue that the song’s angry demeanor fits the subject matter, but it’s this Jekyll and Hyde routine that makes you wonder if one of these sides of Issues wouldn’t be better served as a side project.
Unlike the band’s debut, though, Issues seem to find an acceptable middle ground with much more efficiency. “Lost-n-Found (On a Roll)” comes across as a pleasing Underoath tribute with Carter and Bohn’s back and forth vocals atop rolling guitars. “Yung & Dum” manages to add a dash of country influence to the band’s mix without coming across as cheesy (for the most part). Still, Bohn’s screams feel out of place on a track that features a fiddle.
Where the band falters the most on this release are tracks that re-hash old tricks. “Rank Rider” and “Flojo” sound like b-sides from Issues, failing to latch onto the unique progression that makes most of Headspace a step in the right direction. Here, our attentions are distracted by awkward guitar riffs and record scratches that make the songs sound hollow. Thankfully, these in-betweeners are becoming fewer and further between.
Things end on a high note when Headspace closes with another new trick. A spacey and stimulating interlude leads into “Slow Me Down”, the best example of where the band could excel going forward. Laced with perfect programming elements and emotive keys, Bohn and Carter have never sounded better as a duo. Bohn’s explosive clean vocals on the track’s pre-chorus make you wonder if Issues should drop the screaming altogether, even before Carter blesses the chorus with syrupy vocal runs as he belts out, “Slow me down / I’m burning out of control / So far from heaven now”.
The individual talents of Issues, along with their willingness to experiment without bucking current trends, make Headspace a satisfactory step forward. Even with its flaws, the album is still effortlessly catchy, even when addressing deeper subject matter. Issues continue to be a fascinating outlier, refusing to cave to their detractors’ demands or fall in line with the crowd. It’s all just noise to a band that’s happy to keep making their own.
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.