The American Scene – By Way of Introduction (album)

By Way of Introduction coverAlthough I’m still a long way from really understanding the way that psychology and geography are often linked in terms of the creative output of certain areas of the US, I still like to think I have a decent ability to guess where US bands playing certain styles of music hail from. In the case of The American Scene, with its thematic focus on distance as something that separates people, its bittersweet exploration of love lost, and its mid-pace melodic emo rock, I was convinced that the band must hail from somewhere in the American Midwest. But nope. I was wrong. They’re from California.

That I guessed wrong has no bearing on this review or record; I only wanted to mention it because geography, at least in terms of distance, seems so relevant to this record. And as far as lovelorn breakup records go it’s a solid example of the kind of rocky, oh-so-faintly tinged by the echo of emo, mid-paced pop-punk that might once have found a home on Drive Thru Records – think The Starting Line or Jimmy Eat World, the latter of whom seem a particular influence at times, both in some of the licks deployed by the band’s three guitarists and in some of the more extravagant vocal lines from singer Matthew Vincent.

For a break-up record it’s strangely warm and pleasant, though I suppose this is the musical equivalent of comfort movies and ice cream (if the sort who prefers to suffer in company) or nostalgic drinking and heavy thinking (if the sort who prefers to suffer alone). It’s nostalgic rather than angry, an album that essentially endeavours to personify the old adage that distance makes the heart grow fonder.

The songs are quite classically written, by which I mean to say that you’re looking at a fairly standard rock song structure to them, right down to lyrical techniques like repeated words at the end of lines to lend them greater emphasis. No bad thing, of course, because familiarity produces comfort, and as I’ve already established this is essentially a comfort album.

This is further underscored by the narrative that develops over the course of the nine songs present: from the titular opening song’s “Our time is spent / It’s everywhere I’ve been / My beginning and my end” we pass through ‘Last Chopper Out of Saigon’s “I think I’m almost fine for the first time in a long time / I’m finding out why none of this made sense when I was on my back” and culminate with ‘A Million Miles in the Making’, a song which returns to the relationship and examines it with the benefits that time and distance offer. There are no pat, neat wrapped-up endings, which lends this authenticity as a story of lived experience.

All in all, By Way of Introduction is a nicely-written, record and performed album that remains true to its central theme, and evidently provided some sense of catharsis for its author – and will hopefully provide the same for many listeners. For me, it hasn’t come along at the time it would have to in order to provide the same, so as it is I can only describe it as a competent and pleasant listening experience which at times charms with its heartfelt and simple honesty, and at others times can evoke gentle cringes where it strays into sappiness.

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