Rushmore Academy - If the Cigarette Smoke Doesn't Kill You, the Hairspray Will
Record Label: Independent
Release Date: May 28, 2005
I used to listen exclusively to pop-punk. I blame my sister, cousins, and mainstream radio for getting me hooked on MxPx, New Found Glory, and Blink 182. Later on when I was in high school, I continued my predestined love affair with pop-punk. I listened to bands like Fall Out Boy and Motion City Soundtrack. But then something happened. I heard "Readyfuels" by Anberlin. I heard "Reinventing Your Exit" by Underoath. I started listening to every other band on Tooth and Nail Records that wasn't pop-punk (okay, I sneaked in a few Hawk Nelson listens every now and then). My taste in music grew more and more diverse, and while I still enjoyed pop-punk, my taste for writing and playing grew diverse as well, and I started leaning more towards jamming straight up rock and roll.
I know what you're thinking. What the heck does this have to do with anything? Isn't this supposed to be a review of some stupid band from St. Louis that broke up a while ago? Well the previous lengthy paragraph is relevant for the following reason. In my head at the time, rock and pop-punk were at separate ends of the spectrum. Pop-punk was fun, playful, and cheap. However rock was fast, intense, and emotional. There was no middle ground to me. No band in my head did a great balance between the two. No band could match the emotional buildup on any final track by Anberlin and also do a fun poppy number (except of course, Anberlin). But then Rushmore Academy released an album called If the Cigarette Smoke Doesn't Kill You, the Hairspray Will. And it became not only one of my favorite releases by a St. Louis band, but one of my favorite albums.
The album starts off with the title track, which acts as a deceiving intro. The slow, soulful chords and singing of Steve Neske really takes your heartbeat down a notch and puts you in a calm state. Neske sounds so quiet; it's almost as if he's singing to himself. As the track starts to end, you hear the space shuttle launch samples start to get louder as Neske's voice and guitar quiet down. By the time the track ends, you'll feel like you've achieved what Buddhists hope for each day. But the peace is soon disrupted by the loud, anthemic staccato chords of "Close Your Eyes and Say Goodnight". After no more than 30 seconds you are introduced to the type of drumming that is maintained on the album: intricate and never boring. Steve delivers poignant Fall Out Boy-esque lyrics while maintaining his high octave, slightly annoying Bryce Avary vocals. Lyrics such as "I'll be front row at your wake/ trying to get it all on tape/ Tell your mom I said 'Hi' " would be laughable if he didn't deliver them so well.
The next track, "The Saddest Four Chords You'll Ever Hear", sounds more like the happiest, slow four chords you'll ever hear, though it's a bit too abrupt after the fast paced previous number. After some time you'll think that you're listening to a slow dance song from your 8th grade dance, but then Rushmore Academy switches it up by transitioning from a light, slow chorus, to a somber almost menacing bridge. The build up here is actually quite a treat, which leads to Craig Jenkins taking the lead with some synth playing that maintains this new tone. The band often substitutes lead guitar licks for synth parts, however it never gets annoyingly overdone.
Since every other instrument got their 15 seconds, it only seemed fair to start "This Is What You Wanted" with a crazy bass line. From the beginning you know that this is not a sugar-sweet pop-punk track. In fact it's downright menacing with its fast gang vocals, hard-hitting minor chords, and theatrical synth lines. The bridge build-up sounds like the soundtrack to any movie scene where the hero is pissed off and about to seek justice against the villain. Ya, it's that intense.
Luckily, Rushmore treats us to saccharine, fluffy pop-punk fun with the next track, "Iíll Try Not to Breath", before a short acapella interlude and then their finale, "The End is Here". The track begins with a simple piano intro, before exploding with energy as Steve sings "I've got your 6-6-6 right here." If every instrument was already operating at the max level of 10 during this record, they kick it up to 11 here. It has the angst of the fourth track, but a little less theatricality, which makes it a more kick-ass rock song. It's especially satisfying to see the band change the key so many times and incorporate lines from all of the previous songs, a la "What a Catch, Donnie", except they did it 3 years before Fall Out Boy. The song has everything: hard hitting guitar riffs, intricate bass lines, sweeping synths, and drumming that is pure ear candy. The band starts the song at 4 on the energy meter, amp it up to 11 right away and finish off at 15.
The thing that makes If the Cigarette Smoke Doesn't Kill You, the Hairspray Will great is the five unique sounding tracks, which flow together
incredibly well and form a fairly cohesive album. The only thing the album really suffers from, is shortness, which makes for transitions between each song abrupt and slightly awkward. However, Rushmore Academy was successful at combining the best elements from different genres, such as rock and pop-punk, to make a wonderful debut album.
This is the first review out of five that I'm doing of St. Louis bands I listened to in high school that I thought were the best St. Louis had to offer the music scene. I still listen to these bands (not recently though cause my iTunes crashed and I lost a bunch of music). If you want to know why I started this series, check out my blog here: http://www.absolutepunk.net/journal....412 &e=287502. And stay tuned for review number 4!