Four years ago, I served on the committee for an annual charity concert held at my high school. A friend and I were in charge of finding the best talent for the show, so we contacted several local bands from the Kansas City area where we lived. We heard back from a handful who were interested, eventually choosing a few to fill the lineup. About a month before the show, however, I woke up one morning to news that shocked me. One of the bands picked for the show, Mason City, could no longer play the show, as they had just experienced a major tragedy: one of their members had committed suicide. Now it’s 2016 and Mason City is Hazing, a pop-punk quintet who drenches their sound in early 2000’s emo goodness – flange and all. The pain resulting from the loss of one of their own echoes throughout their debut release, Disconsolate, and its diary-like lyrical distress matches older emo acts as well as other recent InVogue Records signees.
Such a description of distress should be obvious from the title of the record alone. Hazing calls themselves “the saddest boys in Kansas City”, a statement that aligns with Disconsolate’s expressed difficulty to move on, no matter if it’s from the death of a friend, a breakup, or other hardships. Both “Ghost Runner At Home” and “Shepard’s Tone” bring out raw emotions through vocal cries and downcast lines about anger and loneliness. The former reminds of self-titled-era Blink-182 with its reverberating guitars and big chorus. The latter, laden with textures that cement its despondence, uses a range of center and backing vocals to tell someone to “go away” – perhaps not the most original of messages, but one that at least comes off as honest. These two songs showcase a direct, in-your-face songwriting approach. Disconsolate throws in a few curveballs, however, thanks to two interlude tracks, a few structural change-ups, and an array of guitar effects and strumming techniques. The instrumentalists prove to be the biggest bright spots, complementing the soft production’s melancholic aim with relentless energy and moody execution.
The scattered shifts help keep the band from completely losing themselves in nostalgia, as they wear the influence of bands like Finch and Taking Back Sunday heavily on their sleeves. Even with that, the emulation of other bands is perhaps the record’s biggest downfall. Hazing shows signs of seeking out their own unique sound from a plethora of favorites without quite hitting the mark yet. “Fisher King” meshes Brand New and Yellowcard to form a somber punk-meets-pop affair, complete with gang vocals and atmospheric guitar chords. Many tracks hint at modern punk as well, with the heavy riffs and vocal vexation of “Tumbler” and “Devour Me” showing similarities to scene heavyweights The Story So Far. Much of the time, Disconsolate seems either caught in 2003, 2007, or 2011; sometimes, it’s all three at once. Hazing sometimes struggles to balance the line between inspiration and impersonation, and since this is only their rookie release, a bit more stirring of the emo/punk stew they’ve been cooking up should make their sound more filling.
Fortunately, the thick, dark vibes captured on the album are enough that some listeners will be able to hang on past the banality and find comfort nonetheless. It’s a common aspect of many InVogue artists, from Being As An Ocean to Hotel Books, to build connections through poetic and artistic sincerity, and that’s where Hazing is on par with its peers. The pain expressed on the record has a tangibility to it. It would be easy to throw the lyricism to the side as shallow and uncreative, and songs like the blatantly self-deprecating interlude “Introvert” (“Stupid lines I thought were clever / Fill the notebooks on my shelf”) don’t add much perspective to the genre’s confessional ideology. Rather, they come off as simply relatable — and sometimes that’s enough. “Shelter Two” expands into indie rock/post-rock territory; it brings somber emotions to the forefront, with frontman Ed Spaunhorst adding life to the experiences in which the record is rooted (“Connor, I miss you”, he says of his lost friend in one of the record’s heaviest moments). It eats at your bones the way Jimmy Eat World often does, and it assures you’ll feel something. Though it would’ve been a much more climactic finish, the piano-led closer “Brain Damage” resolves the album fittingly by summing up its overarching pain and leaving unanswered questions.
The setbacks on Hazing’s first album are obvious: a sound that doesn’t exactly stick out from the pack of current and former emo/punk artists, lyrics that often come off as stuck in themselves rather than being mature and thorough in their examinations, and vocals that lean toward the whiny side. But these problems also stem from the band’s attempts at making the darkest, most sentimental effort possible. For the most part, too, they manage to succeed in crafting an album that nods to its elders in the way it once made Hazing’s members feel less alone. Thus, Disconsolate fits its name. While being extremely sad, it’s still a triumphant story of locals rising from the ashes of loss, in the process also providing a solid emo framework to build off of next time around.
Emo/Pop-Punk | InVogue Records