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Album Review REWRITE: AstoriaSwellowDude98 Mini-Description: In my thirteenth and a half album review, I take a relook at Marianas Trench's latest effort and give it the acclaim it so righteously deserves.
Best Songs: "Astoria", "Dearly Departed", "Wildfire", "One Love", "End Of An Era", "Forget Me Not", "Who Do You Love", "While We're Young", "Yesterday", all five repreives
Worst Song: "Shut Up And Kiss Me"
Back when I was still getting my sea legs on albums, I reviewed Astoria by Marianas Trench, an album that then and now I find to be pop rock perfection. However, that review was absolutely atrocious. I had whatever I even had the slightest issue with in the worst songs (that was four songs), I went into no detail, and I decided to give two different ratings for some reason. That review seriously did not do the album justice, and the band deserved better.
So here it is.
If you're a Canadian, you know Marianas Trench. If you're an American like me...probably not. They're a pop-punk band from Canada who have continually shifted towards pop music in their over a decade of music. And that's only made their music stronger! Their biggest hit internationally is a song called Pop 101. On the surface, it sounds like a song specifically making fun of pop music, throwing in as many pop music tropes as one could possibly hope to. I-IV-VI-IV chord progression (that isn't even correct Ramsay lol), a four-on-the-floor beat, thirds-harmonies, an incredibly sticky chorus using phrases like "shots and then we lose control or baby baby baby baby baby", trap percussion, Mumford and Sons-y banjos, gang vocals, pitch-shifting, sing-talking, a cash-in rap verse by a nobody, a breakdown that sounds almost identical to Nicki Minaj's Starships, and an outro where Josh Ramsay calls out his own name in a filter of autotune.
So...is it trying to say that pop music is as awful as people make it out to be? Well, actually, quite the contrary! Pop 101 is actually a representation of how it ISN'T easy to create a pop song that has such enjoyable qualities. All elements in the song are still solid enough to stand out on their own. And Marianas Trench are self-aware enough to not only laugh at the genre for partaking in these clichés, but also acceptingly laugh at themselves for willingly partaking in the genre. They are well-aware that if pop music really was that simple, every pop act would be able to have catchy, memorable songs, which if you've seen the charts for the last four years, clearly isn't the case.
So you could say I had high expectations going into this album. What did I get?
Yeah, in case you're really, really daft to what you just read, Astoria is amazing. A smartly written, beautiful display of pop at its absolute best, it really deserved to break through to America. And there's so many things to love here.
I mean, the instrumentation and production is some of the best I've heard on any album ever, and it's probably the least good thing about this. An important thing to note is that this is Marianas Trench's least rock-oriented album to date, and yet somehow it's their best in sound. I don't think I've ever heard a pop album (other than Blurryface by twenty-øne piløts) that was able to have percussion with enough power and energy to be present and sound great, but just enough restraint to let the bass harmonies blend with the grand guitars, ghastly strings, orchestral sections, and synth melodies with a ton of groove, but without overshadowing any of it. And it sounds gorgeous, from the 80s synthpop-inspired funkfest Burning Up, the heavy downpour of synth and drums on One Love, the harmonies in the grooves of Who Do You Love that has one of the best hooks of this decade so far, arguably the best crescendo of the 2010s in Wildfire, the absolutely heartbreaking pianos that drive Forget Me Not, the somehow tearjerking ukulele and thin strings on Dearly Departed, the sheer force of auxiliary percussion on This Means War and Yesterday, and all five of the grandeur instrumental interludes (August Burns Red had me slapping my knee just off the title) only add to the presentation.
I mean, the closer End Of An Era and especially the opener the title track have so many great moments on those alone. The title track (easily the best song here) starts off in a wide array of several different piano melodies with frantic strings to back them, until the grand orchestra of electric guitar comes down on the whole song, until it breaks into being driven by a brittle, fuzzy synth that breaks again into a rather simplistic percussion groove before the guitars return in full force in an experience that's almost cinematic. End Of An Era, while not quite as amazing, is yet another tour de force, starting off very quiet and lowkey with nothing but harmonizations, until the clinking auxiliary melody comes in and anchors the song until the tempo slows again and the strings keep switching in volume until the song gets quiet again, before the song explodes in an orchestral crescendo and some of the best riffs of MTrench's career, before ending off on a near silent note, it's yet another experience that takes you further into what Marianas Trench are really made of.
Now, I'm not saying that every single instrumental moment works. I feel like in comparison to Burning Up, I feel like Shut Up And Kiss Me was a little bit too stiff-sounding, probably because of the vocal line and the less groove-heavy beat. Additionally, despite the ominous tension of the verses and the explosion on the chorus of While We're Young (especially on the second chorus where it actually sounds like a bomb going off), I feel like the clicky hi-hats had no place with that synth cascade on the back half of the chorus. Even then, both songs are still amazing songs!
This album's biggest strength is easily Josh Ramsay himself. I'll admit, at first listen, I wasn't blown away by his singing. I was a bit turned off by his very melisma-heavy high-pitched voice, and didn't like his screaming towards the end of his songs too much. However, after about seven more listens, it clicked for me entirely. Ramsay is capable of showing so much emotional range on each song, it's almost jarring. He can play smooth and cool like on Burning Up or Yesterday, he can play it shaky and heartfelt like on One Love, he can dip into his lowkey lower range in the more emotional moments like on While We're Young or Wildfire (at least until the two songs explode on the choruses, the latter being probably the highlight of his vocal performances along with Dearly Departed and Forget Me Not.
As we have to talk about the lyrics, it's important to note that Astoria is a concept album, about itself (another similarity to Blurryface). Astoria represents everything Ramsay has built in his career, and that he has to let it go in order to move on with his life. But with the title track, he admits that he's not ready for it. As he says in Yesterday, there's only so much time that he has left until tomorrow, when he has to give up on Astoria. He ends up breaking up with this girl, until she returns to him in Wildfire, however he's unsure if she really wants him. Along the way, he deals with his mother's Lewy Body Dementia disorder on the absolutely crushing Forget Me Not, a song that even cut through to me.
However, This Means War, Burning Up, and Shut Up And Kiss Me, which would be highlights on most albums, suffer from natural selection. The very smooth and bubbly nature of these songs don't really tie in with Astoria as much as they could.
But when it comes to the arc of Astoria, two songs hit me in particular. The first is Dearly Departed, and it's purely because of that bridge. You know that bridge. The one where Josh calls out, connects, and says farewell to every song he's ever written about this girl. I've not been a Marianas Trench fan for particularly long, but it even throws a ton of bricks at me. The other one is End Of An Era, where Ramsay utters these words to close out the song:
"If we shadows have offended
I hope your heart can still be mended
I hope you know that I don't blame you my dear friend
Always will love you still
But Astoria must end"
Man, what a closer.
I really have to thank Spectrum Pulse for introducing me to this album. It's an epic to behold really, a concept album with a ton of flare and personality, without a single lacking melody, and a plain-spoken arc that's so heartfelt you can't help but love it, an album that I fell in love with on first listen and have continuously since. This is getting a very, VERY strong 9/10 and my highest recommendations. This is WonkeyDude98, and I swear the review I foreshadowed on the SremmLife 2 review is coming next.
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