If the Black Angels proved anything earlier this year with their masterpiece album Death Song, it’s that new rock music can still be effective, if it’s able to convey a mood which is somehow congruent to life in America in 2017. New project Inviting Light by Canadian Dirty Nil compadres The Flatliners seems at first to plot out this exact thing: a tense, seedy and dirty motif of boisterous but hesitant, arhythmic guitar strands. Somewhat disappointingly, Inviting Light soon devolves into a punk album very much in the vein of Beach Slang or Titus Andronicus (or The Dirty Nil, for that matter), but one with enough kinetic energy to warrant a full listen, Chris Cresswell’s compelling, inflection-filled yowl a draw in its own right as well.
By “Hang My Head” we’ve moved from punk to power pop, ironically with an absurd screaming vocal belting out the words “Yeah I’ll hang my head / For this legacy of embarrassment”, begging the question of why, if they have the impetus to change things, they’re going with a musical style of punk rock which by this point is so old, especially with the recent punk revival of Iceage, Plague Vendor and the bands I mentioned before. In bars, this music plays as Minor Threat-informed pointless sweat-swapping very much calling to mind Fu**ed up (also from Canada).
Also exactly like The Dirty Nil, Flatliners take it down a notch for track four, trading quirky pop though for Kevin Cadogan-style whirligig guitar riffs, subtly flanking the song’s key phrasing points. Actually I feel like I just got jettisoned straight back to the late ‘90s: this song is indeed very much out of the playbook of Third Eye Blind or maybe Goldfinger, its penchant for avoiding overly poppy ploys like strings and cheesy choruses very much a feather in its cap. I must say that this song does a good job of almost like infusing some new life INTO the late ‘90s, like if the Stone Temple Pilots had been mellower and less misanthropic (slacker-style song title “Indoors” does anything but hinder their effort to enact this development: I wonder if it’s actually an old song they’re now finally releasing).
“Human Party Trick,” sadly, is basically more palm-mute punk rock wheel spinning, Cresswell tending unfortunately toward the realm of overacting, with a fake provincial accent (sort of like how for a while every rapper in the world was imitating Drake’s “dirty” drawl). “Unconditional Love” (da** these titles can be deceiving) comes in slow and grunge-y (I think this may be the one Canadian band in history influenced by the Stone Temple Pilots), stamping down a deliberate, riffy but ethereal verse before exploding into a climactic chorus buoyed nicely by drummer Paul Ramirez’ hearty, thumping cymbal hits, placed perfectly going into it. Indeed, if this song were called “Plush pt. 2,” I wouldn’t even scratch my head a bit, but as any Brendan O’Brien fan knows (which I’ve hopefully brainwashed you into sufficiently being by this point by blogging on this site), this is a good thing.
“Burn out again” plays as more of an opener of side b than it does a followup to “Unconditional Love,” hence in a sense earmarking “Love” as an ideal side-closeur. Along these lines, the song is actually about running out of ideas: “I burn out again / Run out of words to put in my head”, and I don’t think any of us should pretend like Cresswell’s plaint here is unique to him: this music is PLAYABLE, but it’s playable within this age of technology in which we live, catering to brief attention spans and an aversion to excessive exploration. This being said, it is genuine, if a bit favoring of the retro or tribute area (in this case, as I said, to late-‘90s alternative). Luckily for Cresswell, his band mate comes in and croons out some well-played woo-woo background vocals, sending the song off into the night in style.
By “Infinite Wisdom” we’re back to Fu**ed-up harkening punk, which undoubtedly seems to be the band’s comfort zone. From here on out, the most intriguing song left is “Chamelon Skin,” sounding very much out of the STP – “Army Ants” playbook (which intriguingly is the most popular STP song on Spotify, and which also intriguingly went on to lead to the intro to Rage against the Machine’s “Born of a Broken Man.” What I hear going on here is something similar to on AFI’s “Sing the Sorrow” — the track positioned penultimately taking down the volume not so much as a ballad, as it’s not the most DRAMATIC point on the album (that would probably go to side a closeur “Unconditional Love,” but rather just a sort of invincible, but real, ode to staggering, undeniable melancholy. Then, The Flatliners aren’t quite as memorable or forceful as the Smashing Pumpkins, although to be sure, one can’t help but wonder how much of that would be just the result of relative lack of natural quirk.