There isn’t much variety when it comes to post-hardcore these days. More often than not, new and up-and-coming bands tend to mark their sound along the similar lines of those before them – whether it be the more frantic (almost metalcore) heavy side or the more melodic and closer to alternative rock and pop punk side. To see a band or two shed that stigma and create a sound unique to the genre is always a beautiful thing, and two years ago, California’s A Lot Like Birds broke onto the scene with a sound that turned heads and scratched itches of those yearning for a change with their full-length, Conversation Piece. At the time, singer Kurt Travis (formerly of Dance Gavin Dance) was still relatively new to the group and hadn’t provided too much to the songwriting for Conversation Piece. Two years later, Travis is well-melded into the songwriting and the band has signed to Equal Vision Records and written a new concept album titled No Place – a twist on the line “there’s no place like home.”
No Place begins with the intro track, “In Trances,” which people might recognize as the track from the teaser that was released for the album about a month ago. A spoken-word piece with bell chimes that one would recognize as the church bell jingle setting the melody, it really drew me in almost welcoming before having a static and angry dropout leading into the second track, “No Nature.” This track is what many would expect from those who had listened to Conversation Piece, but there are subtle differences in the songwriting that make the song stick out in a way – most notably how Kurt Travis’ vocals seem to feel much more natural this time around. The dialogue effect between Kurt Travis and Cory Lockwood is some of the best I’ve ever heard; the two go back and forth in an argumentative fashion almost reminding me of The Number 12 Looks Like You.
It is with the third track, “No Nurture,” that I got a good idea of what kind of beast I was getting into. It's a six-minute, slow and reflective piece with Travis offering harmonic cleans and Lockwood having a fantastic spoken-word section. Lyrically, the band has had quite an edge, but with this concept, Lockwood’s spoken word parts have taken a huge step forward, gripping the listener with every word spoken. Considering the transition from the last track, I could feel that the album was definitely going to be one of those that can’t be listened to in segments, and I was on the edge of my seat as the second single, “Next to Ungodliness,” rolled around with a completely contrasting sound. Considering the song is basically about a bathroom, it becomes remarkably frantic and has one of the catchiest and technical choruses Travis has ever done – whether with A Lot Like Birds or not.
After another six-minute piece titled “Connector,” which is full of ambient themes and harmonies that had me mesmerized between the more energetic sections, I came to the second interlude of the album, “Myth of Lasting Sympathy.” To say this is Lockwood’s greatest segment in the album is an understatement, as the story being told is chilling along with his slowly escalating voice. As depressing as the subject matter can be, it truly grips you as it reaches its peak. After another slower track, we come to the first single, “Kuroi Ledge,” which I would definitely nominate for post-hardcore track of the year. I can only be reminded of Thursday’s A City by the Light Divided phase with this track, and another Lockwood spoken-word piece accompanied by Travis’ cleans creates another dialogue that keeps the listener’s attention and tugs at their heartstrings as Lockwood, once again, goes from just speaking to screaming gradually in a way that has neither grown predictable or boring. Most of all, though the song doesn’t have any remnant of a chorus, it still is remarkably catchy.
The last two tracks, “Recluse” and “Shaking of the Frame,” hold the most likeness to anything A Lot Like Birds has done in the past, but the album’s end doesn’t feel the same as one would think. It contradicts the album’s welcoming opening by giving the illusion of asking the listener to leave, in almost an angry sense; however, with that abrupt exit from No Place, it had left me wanting to visit the album again, and that is when I realized just what a truly well-done record this is. No Place lives up to its concept – a home that opens itself to you with welcoming arms – then takes you on an emotional ride through each of its rooms, making you question where you came from and where you are going with each passing track.
This album had fairly little hype about it before its release, but I can only assume that A Lot Like Birds will get quite a bit of attention for No Place. I highly recommend listening to the record from front to back in one go so you can take the time to feel your way around the musical “house” that it is. No Place is exactly what a masterpiece of a concept album should be: an experience and not just a bunch of songs with one theme. All the instruments do their part beautifully, setting the mood for the lyrical and vocal mastery that Travis and Lockwood provide to make this record a definite contender in any album of the year list.