La Dispute – ‘Panorama’

By Andy Joice

La Dispute are a difficult band to categorise into one genre. Within every track there’s elements of post-hardcore, blues, scream and of course, spoken word. Despite that, it’s easy to recognise them. It’s a sound that’s immediately distinctive – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to create. Because ‘Panorama’ was definitely a struggle.

Initially starting the recording process with drummer Bradley Vander Lugt, who was living in Australia, the band would send all parts to each other back and forth over the internet. Vander Lugt eventually flew to Michigan, spending three months in the studio with the band. After spending two months writing and recording in separate rooms, the band finally decided to throw away the seven completed songs and start fresh.

While recording began in November 2017,  it wasn’t until August 2018 that front man and perfectionist Jordan Dreyer had managed to finish writing lyrics and recording the vocals. At points, Dreyer would write and rewrite lines in one room, scribbling several notebooks worth of lyrics while producer Will Yip (Turnstile, Tigers Jaw, Quicksand) slept on a couch in the control room. It’s that dedication to push themselves that makes them one of the most fascinating and artistic post-hardcore bands in the scene.

There are similarities with both ‘Wildlife’ and ‘Rooms Of A House’, namely the ambitious and highly personal stories.  Be they fiction or non-fiction, Dreyer has a knack for emotive storytelling. Expansive and evocative stories populate the record, told both from his own perspective and the perspective of others. Similar to 2011’s ‘Wildlife’, ‘Panorama’ follows the emotional atmosphere of a specific location, the stories that unfold there and the connection between its inhabitants.

The record opens with the instrumental ‘Rose Quartz’ before rolling into ‘Fulton Street I’, a slow building epic that layers melodies over an atmospheric soundscape. ‘Rhodonite And Grief’ offers a lighter, tender song, peppered with brass. It’s the sort of track to use to introduce the band to someone who assumes they only scream and shout. The use of trumpets offers a counter to the bleak lyrics, creating a joyous juxtaposition between content and melody.

There’s a feel of minimalism throughout the album. Predominately at a slower tempo throughout, it doesn’t feel cluttered by unnecessary riffs or codas. Everything is deliberate. A case of less is more throughout ‘Panorama’, ‘In Northern Michigan’ is built around a simple melody, a quiet drum beat and little else.

While the louder swells of drums and screams are among some of La Disputes finest moments, the quieter moments are haunting, with Dreyer barely breathing the lyrics over delicate guitars and it’s the bands ability to bounce between these two styles effortlessly, without breaking the songs that keep the listener engaged.

While the lyrical prowess of Dreyer is a prominent selling point of La Dispute, removing the lyrics from ‘Panorama’ would still leave the record in a totally believable instrumental album, appropriate for soundtracking any indie film. Perhaps the only minor issue is the inability to hear all the words. Whilst this isn’t the fault of the band, it does make some lyrics difficult to pick up and could do with a slightly cleaner mix. It’s a shame really. For a vocalist as poetic as Dreyer, someone who can transition between strained screaming to fragile whispers, the impact is sometimes lost.

With that aside, there is a definite evolution on the record, both sonically and lyrically.  Always pushing the experimental, La Dispute have created an album that produces a newer, more delicate sound that doesn’t compromise their post-hardcore pedigree.

ANDY JOICE

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