Waking Ashland - Composure
Release Date: May 10, 2005
Record Label: Tooth & Nail
Waking Ashland surprised just about everyone in the emo/pop scene with their debut EP I Am For You, a showcase of remarkably mature and well executed, emotional piano rock songs. While the EP didn't re-define piano rock or anything like that, most people simply appreciated Waking Ashland's ability to craft solid pop songs and play them with passion. Composure, Waking Ashland's debut full length, is pretty much a continuation of their EP, but benefits from even more sophisticated songwriting and better, more refined production.
Unlike most other bands in the scene which incorporate piano (with the exception of Something Corporate, Straylight Run, and just a few others), Waking Ashland has chosen to center their songs around the instrument, rather than relegate it to a backup role. The vocals are also of significant importance, carrying the melodies which make this album what it is. Jonathan Jones' voice is strong and clear, and he makes great use of his range (such as in the chorus of "I Am For You" and the second verse of "Same Problem"). The guitars on the album seem to frequently support the piano's lead lines with rung out chords, and often help to drive the choruses. While guitars don't really play a prominent or ambitious role on this CD, there are a few notable moments: the intro of "I Am For You" is a really cool riff with a stereo delay effect, and while the solos in "October Skies"and "Let Go" are in no way mind-blowing, they're very refreshing to hear. The bass playing is extremely simple--I'm not sure if I ever heard it playing something other than root notes. However, it does its job and that's pretty much what's called for in this genre. The drumming is also very simple, but I'm not sure it'd fit the music if it were any other way.
The album starts off with "Shades of Grey," a rather odd choice for an opener because it's just a piano and vocals for the most part (it becomes a full band song a little over halfway through), but I think they may have decided to use it just because they didn't want to start the album off with "I Am For You," as they did on their EP. However, "I Am For You" is the second track and as I mentioned, it starts off with a really neat riff, has a ridiculously catchy, sugary chorus, and is simply a fun song to listen to. It's a little over-dramatic in the beginning when the piano strikes the chords and the effects kick in, but whatever. My favorite song on the album,"Edinger," has a bit of a darker undertone, but it too is also poppy. Other than those two songs, I don' really have any other favorites--they're pretty much all good, solid, pop songs.
Some of the riffs on the CD are too stale and worn for my liking, such as the piano intro of "Edinger," which is very reminiscent of the guitar riff from "Perfection Through Silence" by Finch, and the guitar lead in "Long Shot" is very similar to Senses Fail's intro to "Bite to Break Skin". Keep in mind that I am in no way saying that Waking Ashland sounds like Senses Fail, just that those riffs are pretty similar. Also, it's not just Senses Fail that uses the riff--Copeland uses it in the interlude after the first chorus of "Testing the Strong Ones," Cartel uses it in the bridge of "Luckie St," along with countless other bands.
Waking Ashland could use a little help in the lyrics department, that's for sure. While not ridiculously atrocious, some of the lyrics are too cliche: "I crossed the desert to be with you / I miss you, I miss you / I heard the rumors all were true / I need you, I need you" ("Rumors"), and "Autumn brings a song I sing so desperately / These shattered dreams from broken wings of love" ("October Skies") just don' mean much to me. It's not too hard to find other examples of lyrics like these, but since I don't really pay too much attention to words when I listen to music, I don't really care that much. I just hope that they can step it up lyrically for their next album.
The production on the CD is pretty damn good, courtesy of Lou Giordano. Sometimes I feel like the piano isn't as bright or up-front sounding as it could be, but it sounds pretty good for the most part. I really like the electric guitar tone on the album: not too much distortion, and very smooth. The acoustic guitars, however, sound horrific (just listen to "October Skies"or "Hands on Deck"). They sound as if they were recorded direct in, rather than mic'ed. Perhaps they were mic'ed, but they sound way too digital and unnatural. I'm really disappointed with that. However, the bass is very full and warm, and the drums sound really nice and pristine, though I'd maybe like to hear the snare a little bit louder. Overall though, I think they got great tones and the mix is really good.
Waking Ashland doesn' really do anything new on Composur, but they write such good pop songs that it's hard to ignore this CD. Though over-dramatic at times and perhaps cliche, pick up Composure if you're a fan of piano driven pop rock such as Something Corporate or Ben Folds.