Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Versus: 'The Troubled Stateside' v. 'Is Dead'

[Versus pits two of an artist’s classic albums against each other even if they’re stylistically different, because that “you can’t compare apples and oranges” bullshit is for people without balls, spines, or all those other things that separate us from the villainous jellyfish.]

If my cousin hadn’t died just a few days prior, Crime in Stereo’s dissolution would have been the worst thing to happen to me this August. As is, I haven’t had much time to process the break-up, what with all the shit going on around me. So here’s a belated attempt to memorialize them. They were one of my favorite contemporary hardcore bands. Each of their last three records is a scrapbook of where I was in life during their respective release dates. Nate Adams and I still text each other “Drugwolf forever.” And man could they bring it live. The shows got a little hit-or-miss near the end of the band’s run – the songs kept getting more and more technical – but when they were on, Crime in Stereo delivered some of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. If nothing else, their low priced merch inspired Eric Crack and I to coin the phrase “Deal in Stereo.”

With all due respek to this year’s I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone, the two CiS albums worth debating over are The Troubled Stateside, which represents the band’s hardcore pinnacle, and Is Dead, which marked a sharp turn into more atmospheric post-hardcore/alternative rock territory. Old school versus new school. Stateside was my introduction to the band, and it’s unquestionably the best release from their traditional hardcore years. The guitars crunch, the drums obliterate, the hooks are huge. There’s a reason why just about every CiS show from the last four years ended with “I, Stateside.” That song is so amazing and carries such a strong note of finality. And it’s not the only “hit” – “Bicycles for Afghanistant,” “Sudan,” and “Abre Los Ojos” all confident, catchy rockers. “Gravity/Grace,” meanwhile, is a powerful ballad about abuse. But overall, this is one rockin’ collection.

Which is why, when writing about it at least, I feel like I should Stateside as the superior album. I mean, these songs are amazing and they killed live. I can’t say that about the Is Dead material. It took a while for CiS to master that material – I remember them hitting wrong effects pedals when they first started debuting new songs when I saw them play Villanova University. And frontman Kristian Hallbert flubbed a ton of notes when CiS opened for H2O at the Trocadero back in 2008, a full year after Is Dead’s release.

But I still pick Is Dead as the best Crime in Stereo record. It’s so perfect that it took its creators years to actually master it. Guitarists Alex Dunne and Gary Cioni continually developed their playing style, and while you can hear them tinkering with sonics on Stateside songs like “I, Stateside,” it’s on Is Dead that they became this behemoth. That said, the band was just as defined during this period by Hallbert’s huge voice.

Thanks to Is Dead, Stateside actually sounds a little empty to me now. It’s not as well produced, which I get, but the guitars just aren’t as fulfilling. Dead can get pretty atmospheric at times, but it still rocks. It garnered a lot of comparisons to Brand New’s sonic evolution at the time, which is fair, but I’ve always preferred to rank them with Thursday. They don’t sound alike, but both acts took hardcore and tried pushing its boundaries by incorporating elements of shoegaze, goth, electronica, etc. They applied moody elements to a muscular genre to create something brooding and alive. I put on Is Dead and I hear a record few have equaled.

Of course, I love both records. Shit, I’m wearing a Crime in Stereo shirt right now as I type this sentence. But if I had to pick the band’s all-time greatest release, the one record by which they should be judged and remembered, it’s Is Dead. Because of the way Hallbert screams on “Small Skeletal.” Because of the giant continuous hook that is “Choke” in its entirety. Because it’s just really fucking good.


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