Wars – ‘ALMOST NOTHING NEARLY EVERYTHING’

By Ian Kenworthy

Ham and pineapple. Sweet and sour. Combining two things that shouldn’t work together and create something marvellous. Wars know this as they’re all about contrast. Since releasing their debut EP almost ten years ago, they’ve amassed a solid catalogue of songs and that one thing has been constant. Using harsh vocals and clean singing mixed with hard-rock riffs, they’ve become very much a mainstream screamo band; think Alexisonfire although they err closer to The Blackout or We Are The Ocean, and their new EP ‘Almost Nothing Nearly Everything’ is kicking off what they’re referring to as ‘new era’. It’s certainly a contrast to their previous work, but probably not in the way you think. The results are… interesting.

The best way to describe the EP is back-to-back singles. ‘Low’ is blistering, opening with a slick riff, powerful screams and an incredibly effective hook, while ‘Feel It All’ is built around a huge chorus and an outro riff that could strip paint. While all four songs are straightforward big-hitters, and it’s perhaps reductive, and slightly unfair, to call them ‘generic’, they’re great examples of how much fun these types of songs can be.

On broad terms, the talk of a ‘new era’ means following wider trends and defaulting to a synth-laced, over-processed sound which is disappointing. However, the arrangements are varied and interesting which helps it feel fresh, particularly the hypnotically layered ‘I’m With You’ or the way the guitars are intertwined with synths on ‘Low’ to create a throbbing sound that sits closer to pop music than rock. ‘Satellite’ inverts this idea and uses a repeating clean vocal to create a wonderfully druggy portrait.

Yet, a spectre haunts the EP; the production. You can’t separate the songs from it. Yes, they’re trying to thicken their four-piece sound, but they’ve made choices that are baffling. Put simply, a really great sound shouldn’t make you repeatedly check your headphones, then track down the widely-released single versions – on a variety of platforms – to be sure it should sound like it does.

Three things stand out. Firstly, Lee Tysall’s drums sound great, but they crowd out everything else. This also applies when he’s replaced by a loop on ‘Satellite’. Secondly, the way Sam Barnard’s clean vocals are so electronically blurred it’s like they’re being sung by a blancmange. On the one hand this creates, a blended, blurred feel, on the other it gets lost in the mush of strings and synths. It’s particularly strange as the stripped-down clean passage on ‘Low’ proves that it’s a choice. Thirdly, the different instruments shift so bizarrely in the mix you can’t tell what it’s supposed to achieve. Sometimes the strings are too loud, sometimes the riffs drop into gloop, the heavy bits feel flaccid, the druggy bits seem muted and it’s nothing if not haphazard. Yet, while these supremely odd choices should make it hard to recommend, it’s all so fascinating it’s hard to resist.

 ‘Almost Nothing Nearly Everything’ is all about contrast. It’s fun, inspired and infuriating in equal measure.

IAN KENWORTHY

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