August 3, 2020 Slaves – To Better Days (Album Review)
Earworms and candid confessionals provide a toast To Better Days on Slaves’ latest, which is set to arrive on Friday, August 7, 2020, via SBG Records.
They have been billed as everything from Pop Rock to Post-Hardcore, and sure, Slaves has all of those elements. A very different band when they initially formed in 2014, with the infamous Jonny Craig at the helm, these Northern Californians have seen quite a few line-up changes throughout the past six years. But this has hardly slowed the talented quintet, who have released three albums to date: 2014’s Through Art We Are All Equals, 2015’s Routine Breathing, and 2018’s Beautiful Death. Dedicated to honing their craft and determined road dogs, they have shared stages with the likes of Hands Like Houses, Capture the Crown, Secrets, and many more.
For 2020, things are changing amongst Slaves—Guitarists Wes Richmond and Felipe Sanchez, Bassist Colin Vieira, Drummer Zack Baker, and new Vocalist Matt McAndrew. With the talented McAndrew, who was the runner-up on Season 7 of NBC’s The Voice, now on the frontman slot, the group is set to deliver their fourth full-length, To Better Days. Additionally, the band has made it clear that this will be their final album underneath their current moniker, as, in a show of respect for the Black Lives Matter movement, they intend to rechristen themselves in the very near future.
But for now the name Slaves remains as they unleash To Better Days. Produced by Awaken I Am’s Jimmy Alexander, the 13-song collection is full of keen personal insights, ones that are relatable and apt to befit many of the band’s listeners. As we all have a tendency to stand in our own way, to stay in relationships that are unfulfilling, and to create mental roadblocks to our own happiness, the album is a reminder that, though we are all human and flawed, there will always be brighter moments ahead if we stay the course.
The album opens to its namesake track, “To Better Days,” a one minute introduction that sets the mood for the arrival of “Prayers.” Fat bass and bold, electronic atmospherics anchor McAndrew’s smooth, R&B-dusted vocals as the band explores a situation where one lover is struggling with identity, chasing stars, and covering their tracks with lies. As it comes to a close, Bassist Vieira is still shining bright when they dive into “Witch Hunt.” It may only be the album’s third track, but it is chock full of undeniable hooks, melodies to die for, and enough grit to keep Slaves firmly planted amid other stellar, heavy bands with bigger than life Pop sensibilities, such as The Word Alive and Issues.
But if “Witch Hunt” appeared to have fabulous layers, wait for “Talk to a Friend.” An intriguing look at self-harm, the line “I wouldn’t talk to a friend the way I talk to myself” is an observation about how we are often our own worst enemies. It’s an infectious track, one that hits hard with its candid honesty. It’s also big on advice that psychologists love to give, reminding us that we must treat ourselves as we would our beloved friends. Next, they break from this to inject a sultry element into the frustrated “Eye Opener,” where true love is blind so the guys are going to have to use their instincts.
“Bury A Lie” is not a Senses Fail cover, as that is “Buried A Lie,” but instead sees the quintet meandering through melancholic melodies. Dissecting a relationship full of lies and pain, one that only leaves you sleepless and recycling the same excuses, the haunting offering paves the way for “Heavier.” The band’s Pop sensibilities reach their apex here as McAndrew leads his bandmates through a glittering look at the struggle to move on from past mistakes, and quit the cycle of self-blame. It’s an impressive track that hits hard emotionally, and also provides the collection with its title (“Now I’m a slave to better days”).
Delicate acoustics and McAndrew’s powerhouse vocals open the saccharine sweetness of “Footprints” before they pick it back up for another rocking earworm with “Cursed.” Big, bold sonics provide the backbone of “Wasting My Youth,” which delves into the idea of remaining long past the expiration date of a situation and then berating yourself with bottled up frustration. Under the weight of this duress, “Clean Again” begins with a sigh as the band confess that they have already said what they need to say in this succinct, quasi-interlude.
As they approach the final stretch, Richmond and Sanchez’s guitars lead the charge into “Secrets,” and set the tone for the epic finale, “Like I Do.” Here, acoustics and piano provide the opening notes of a song that sees its author intentionally drowning in sorrow, because there’s a fear of who he/she will become when they are no longer defined by their pain. A truly satisfying conclusion, it pretty much summarizes the struggles of the entirety of To Better Days: the idea that each of us often stands in our own way, be it in relationships or self-evolution.
Again, throughout To Better Days the themes of mental health, self harm (physical and mental), and, ultimately, self-awareness, are prevalent. With nearly every single song presenting itself as an earworm, it’s hard to deny the infectious nature of Slaves’ sound or the open-heart honesty in their words. And sure, they’re not rewriting the book on songwriting, but this is certainly a palatable collection full of sincere frustration with life and self. Still there is a focus on betterment and reaching toward hope that makes To Better Days a shining light in 2020, and it definitely doesn’t hurt that Vieira’s bass never stops hitting so scrumptiously hard! For this, Cryptic Rock gives Slaves’ latest 4.5 of 5 stars.