Picture being perched on top of a ski slope, blanketed with snow, looking down at a smooth ride ahead. You take off and feel the exhilarating rush of the wind as the path lies clear in front of you. Just as you are adjusting your goggles for a split second… BAM! You have just slammed into a tree. What does any of this have to do with the American Authors’s new album? Good question. This scenario is identical to what will happen after the second song of What We Live For ends. You begin listening, completely captivated, and then suddenly you’re given an unwanted surprise.
Zac Barnett, Matt Sanchez, Dave Rublin, and James Shelley truly lost their focus on this album in terms of congruency with musical elements. The opening title track is extremely energetic and original. The melody is fluently carried throughout and the song screams rhythm and excitement. Lyrics like “This is what I live for/ Baby you’re my open road/ You can take me any way the wind blows” advocate a ‘live life to the fullest’ attitude and contain surging energy and enthusiasm. “I’m Born to Run” is the second song on the album and it also has special characteristics which will keep you skiing down smoothly. The introductory tambourines, drums, and guitars initiate a desire to explore the world and forget about the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. The AA’s message of “I’m gonna live my life like I’m gonna die young/Like it’s never enough/ Like I’m born to run” emphasizes a free spirit vibe as well. Unfortunately, after enjoying this steady trip down the slope, (unbeknownst to you) comes the tree.
“Pride” is what the American Authors should not stress. Their first of many errors begins with this third song and it is a bummer. What starts with some overly synthesized echoing, transpires into a hippie/campfire hum with an out of place banjo carrying the main beat. The banjo certainly seems out of place because the particular style of singing is more soulful and a banjo usually is attributed to country or folk .Their message of ‘never giving up’ is a positive one to convey to all audiences, but their means of conveying this message was just not the right fit.
The fifth song, “Nothing Better” is far from the truth of its title. If you thought that you knew the definition of confusing, think again because it has been redefined. The rhythm alternates excessively which is irritating because this song also has elements of folk, pop, and a hint of rap. All of those genres require their own specific tempos and yet they are all thrown into one song. Now, that you’ve hit the tree at “Nothing Better”, the shock of the tree’s presence will really begin to kick in at “Go Big or Go Home”. This seventh song begins with a disfigured harmony of the sound “Aye”, and proceeds to consistently tack on elements of music that just shouldn’t be fused. For instance, there are “West Side Story” style claps and snaps, followed by a banjo. Once again, here are two completely different styles of music being jumbled together to create one mood .Why can’t this band just stick with elements that blend smoothly?
By this point in your skiing disaster, you’re confused where the tree came from and why “Pocket Full of Gold” is even more bewildering. First, this song begins with a ukulele styled instrument, but then proceeds to become a rock song. Second, its words “I’m a sinner and I don’t feel ashamed/ Life goes on and if I’m wrong/ I guess I’ll burn in flames” are sung in a pop tune but immediately following these lyrics, drums come in and alter the mood again. Hawaiian, rock, and pop genres in the first 54 seconds… why? It just doesn’t make sense to throw in all these elements when all they do is clash with each other on the melodies and vamps.
The American Authors actually have two more decent songs to cheer you up from the unwanted surprise of the tree. “Replaced” is an energetic piece layered with upbeat vocals and drumming that sounds like a healthy heartbeat. “No Love” is the final song that deserves praise because it can provide you with a touch of joy. Its three and a half minutes combine elements of guitars, a chiming keyboard, and background noise to make you feel like you are in a room of people trying to energize and give you hope. At the end of the day, however, What We Live For is reduced to an album with possibilities that were never capitalized on. Its songs contain elements that clash with each other, which smothers any possible opportunity for conveying emotional significance. Thus, this album earns a 4 because it just is not good enough to be perched on top of the slope.
Alternative l Island Records