By Jeff Feuerhaken
Long Island, NY’s Bayside has always been one of those Warped Tour-scene bands with a spot on my list of shame. The shame, of course, is all mine, in that I know I should be familiar with these guys, but I had just never sat down to listen to any of their albums. The only thing I really knew about the band, besides that a lot of people like them, is that their drummer, John “Beatz” Holohan, had died in tragic fashion when their van flipped in an auto accident some years back. This is all to say that I went into Vacancy, the new Bayside album, with a perfectly clean slate, like as a spring chicken, if you will. After several listens to the album, I feel I gotta apologize to the band for not allowing them onto my radar for so long, because there are many musical elements to the band that are right up my alley. There are admittedly some aspects I don’t love, but all in all, Vacancy is a solid album that definitely deserves a listen.
The music contained on the album rides that sweet spot of mid-tempo pop rockiness. Certain songs, such as “Enemy Lines” and “Maybe, Tennessee” incorporate a heavier groove element, and other songs, like “I’ve Been Dead All Day” and “Pretty Vacant” have undeniably poppy characteristics. I find that I respond better to the faster, heavier stuff, but maybe that’s just me. Musically, there’s a lot of variety represented on the album. The guitars are front and center, the tones are good, and there are even some surprisingly shreddy guitar solos by lead guitarist Jack O’Shea thrown in the pot for good measure. The bass (Nick Ghanbarian) and drums (Chris Guglielmo) are able to find interesting ways to complement otherwise simple song structures, bringing some of the songs from “decent” to “pretty damn good” status. The lyrics from singer/guitarist Anthony Raneri are both clever and poetic. It’s obvious from the lyrical content on Vacancy that dude has been struggling with some heavy girl problems. For the most part, the overall vibe of the album is downbeat and straight bummerness, but as in evidence by the album’s closer, “It’s Not As Depressing As It Sounds”, it may not be as depressing as it sounds. The lack of cohesion between the musical vibe and the lyrical content turned out to be an issue for me on this album. The music itself seemed at times to be a little too poppy and happy sounding to mesh with the darker themes explored in the lyrics. I know sometimes as a singer and guitarist, it can be hard to make these two aspects merge seamlessly, so I’ll give Mr. Raneri a pass here.
Sure, Bayside may not be for everyone. Perhaps they are more of an acquired taste, one of those bands that you enjoy more every time you listen to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if Vacancy started to show up more in my personal album rotation. However, the music, while tasteful and well-executed, may not be all that original. I caught a bit of a My Chemical Romance vibe with some of the chord progressions they used, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I must also admit that while I believe Raneri is a talented musician and songwriter, the timbre of his voice can clash with the more aggressive musical sections. There is an obvious clarity to his voice, but it sometimes sounds a little too clear. I definitely feel a little more rawness in the vocals would make for a more passionate and compelling listening experience, but of course this all comes down to personal taste. All that said, I’m glad to have finally put Bayside on my radar, and I will no doubt be following their musical career from here on out. Check out the album, but if you happen to stumble onto one of the music videos for either “Pretty Vacant” or “I’ve Been Dead All Day”, just know that those are two of the poppiest sounding songs on the album, and not necessarily representative of the album as a whole.