As if the two separate genres of emo and straight-ahead, Middle America rock weren’t enough to endure on their own, along comes an album providing a blend of the two that no one asked for. For people who think Taking Back Sunday needs more bombast and Hinder needs more self-pity comes good news in the form of Kodiak, the debut full-length from Colorado-based Signal to Noise.
The members of Signal to Noise probably fancy their band as closer to emo, and surely they employ such screamo hallmarks as chugging guitars and the back-up vocalist who shouts with pained conviction. More than a couple songs telegraph a lead-in to a dramatic climax with an elongated, emo-requisite drum roll ending with crash cymbal.
But lead singer Tristan Shaffer’s delivery — a raspy, bellowing growl (or is that a growling bellow?) — imbues the songs with a hue that’s more heartland rock than heart-on-your-sleeve emo. Many of the lyrics are soggy and maudlin, full of folksy, life-affirming vagaries like “The best is yet to come” (from “Song of the Future from the Past”). And he pleads for “whatever it takes to save me” on “To the Bitter End (I’ll Be With You).”
One of few memorable tracks is “The Weather Machine,” but even it gets devalued by a sing-along, pub-rock-style chorus; by the time the words “beer” and “whiskey” are mentioned, followed by a dedication “to good times and good friends,” I’m looking for a stein to swing. I’m sure there is an instance of the word “friends” being used in a rock song that doesn’t come off as corny, but I can’t think of it. (Yes, you’re guilty too, Ringo.)
Another somewhat catchy song, “The Wolves,” aside from guitar work lacking in invention, succumbs to a different pitfall by repeatedly relying on violent imagery (another emo attribute that they can cross off their list), causing all this wallowing to get tedious. The song repeats variations of the line “break my arms and set me on my way”; another song repeats the line “the radiation burns the skin.” I would hate to be this guy’s HMO.
I’m not sure what you need to do to distinguish yourself as a screamo band at this stage in the game, with the sun setting on the Warped Tour and Alternative Press-driven word-of-mouth, but I can hardly argue that aping mainstream “active rock” feels like a step in the right direction. It looks as though the guys in Signal to Noise are going to need to break away from the grips of two moribund genres to succeed, which may require more than just a little help from their friends.