August 28, 2018 Alkaline Trio – Is This Thing Cursed? (Album Review)
Fall brings with it images of cornfields and apples, ghosts and ghouls, and the religious need to adorn oneself head to toe in all things black. With that season just around the corner, it’s the perfect time for the return of the legendary Alkaline Trio, who are set to proudly deliver their first new music in five years: Is This Thing Cursed? arrives to digital on Friday, August 31, 2018, thanks to Epitaph Records. For vinyl lovers, do not fret: the LP version of the album is slated to arrive on October 19th, just in time for Halloween.
Anyone who loves Punk Rock should know the name Alkaline Trio. Formed in 1996 in Illinois, the threesome’s phenomenal 1998 debut, Goddamnit, immediately placed them on the musical map with their savvy take on gloomy sarcasm that broached on, dare it be said, Emo. Future albums, such as 2000’s Maybe I’ll Catch Fire and 2003’s Good Mourning just furthered the band’s cause, culminating in the release of eight full-length studio offerings over a span of fifteen years.
Of course, it would be remiss not to note that Vocalist/Guitarist Matt Skiba – who has had multiple side projects and several solo offerings – has spent the past three years touring and recording with Pop-Punk titans Blink-182, of which he is now an official member. Although, Alkaline Trio is where it all began, and their influence is a heavy one: just see how many of your current favorite Warped Tour musicians are rocking Alkaline Trio tattoos.
Returning to the scene they helped to craft, the lucky thirteen-track Is This Thing Cursed? sees Alkaline Trio – Vocalist/Guitarist Skiba, Vocalist/Bassist Dan Andriano, and Drummer Derek Grant – doing what they do best: blending luscious vocal harmonies, visual storytelling and solid musicianship that seems to always be peppered with a sarcastically gloomy bite.
Produced by Cameron Webb (NOFX, Silverstein), their ninth studio album sees the Trio subconsciously channeling their Maybe I’ll Catch Fire period. In fact, according to the band, the two albums could be siblings or, at the very least, loving cousins. Says Andriano: “The songwriting process is almost like what it was back in the day. We would just kind of write a song, be excited about it, then move on. We wrote in that spirit in the studio. I really feel like we made a record that the old school fans are going to dig.”
Exactly what the old-school fans ordered, Is This Thing Cursed? begins with a somber feel but builds into an ironically upbeat bop on the album’s title track, “Is This Thing Cursed?,” dusted with flecks of comedy interspersed throughout ponderances of bad juju. Meanwhile, Cold War-era metaphors permeate the core of “Blackbird,” a dark swing that sounds exactly as Alkaline Trio should – cursedly catchy.
Skiba sings us into the melodic melancholy of “Demon and Division,” where you can shake your head and clap-along to the gritty infectiousness. Then, they amp it up to a frenetic pace for the ironically upbeat “Little Help?,” a perfect sonic reminder of Warped Tours past and searching for some relief from the troubles of life. Next, Skiba leads the boys into the moody, down-tempo rocker “I Can’t Believe,” a straightforward admission of not seeing eye to eye with someone’s “black swan song.”
“If we should live forever like sweet vampires,” sings Skiba to the catchy sway of the aptly-titled “Sweet Vampires,” a characteristic Alkaline Trio anthem for darkly inclined lovers. Andriano picks up the lead vocal reins for the equally shining, upbeat swing of “Pale Blue Ribbon,” before they embrace lush visual imagery full of autumn nights, flames, and, of course, the ocean, on the moody sashay of “Goodbye Fire Island.” Here, Skiba and Andriano’s lusciously-layered harmonies set to the steady, unflinching beat of Grant’s drums are a perfect representation of all that is the genius of Alkaline Trio.
Crisp vocal thanks to Andriano begin the step into the catchy sing-along “Stay,” a delicate, down-tempo bop in the name of staying together for another day. Grant’s drumming steals the show on “Heart Attacks,” while, despite still sounding flawlessly harmonic, Andriano is wanting to freak out on the straightforward “Worn So Thin.” Then they go for infectiously characteristic on the sarcastic smile of the driving rocker “Throw Me To The Lions.” Ultimately, atmospherics and acoustics set the stage for the storytelling of “Krystalline,” a sweeping ballad that ends the collection on a perfectly stunning note that dissolves into something that eventually devolves into an ominously haunting fade-out.
Despite Is This Thing Cursed? being the band’s ninth studio offering, there is a consistency to the trio’s oeuvre of material – with Alkaline Trio, you always know what you are getting. Here, that is oft visual imagery emanating from the band’s lyrical storytelling, luscious vocal harmonies, gritty sarcastic wit, and an overall sense of velvety darkness. Some bands feel the need to go out into left-field territory the more albums they release, but there is a beauty in the consistency of Alkaline Trio’s sound. If you loved them then, you can still love them now – and that is just one of so many reasons to cherish this genius trio. For these reasons, CrypticRock give Alkaline Trio’s Is This Thing Cursed? 4.5 of 5 stars.