In the time since Sleeping With Sirens put out its last full-length, the group has spent time on Warped Tour, released a fantastic acoustic EP, and quickly become one of the biggest bands in the scene. With good reason, Feel was high on my list of most-anticipated releases for this year. In the weeks leading up to the album’s street date, Rise Records released a handful of tracks; my excitement lessened. Luckily, those songs were not the best to be found on the album. Unfortunately, they were also not the worst. While this record finds the band exploring new sounds, the overall product comes a little half-baked. Despite the band’s talents as individual musicians, lackluster songwriting, moderately poor production, and repetitive structures and themes make Feel one of the biggest disappointments of the first half of 2013.
“Feel” makes for a good title track for a few reasons. It’s unapologetic in its representation of new sonic elements, it shows off Kellin Quinn’s voice pretty well, and it never really goes anywhere. There’s a sense of building that goes from the start of each verse and extends through each iteration of the chorus, but there’s never the satisfaction of any sort of climax, which is kind of a shame considering that there is nothing truly wrong with this track outside of its structure. There’s a level of security to be found in the fact that the elements of the song sound good. The instrumentation makes for a lot of space and gives “Feel” a certain anthemic quality, with some nice drum parts and vocalizations filling that space. However, the safety of having something that sounds good on a basic level leads to a lack of any sort of true spark. It’d be one thing if the song followed through its build to the next track without coming to its own close, but when the strings die down, there’s no true continuation. While “Here We Go” certainly takes off like the opener leads you to hope it will, some sort of proper transition would have benefited both “Feel” and the album as a whole. The guitar parts on “Here We Go” provide a good deal of variety and creativity, and its more aggressive drive combines with its atmospheric qualities very well. Full of interesting bits in the background, this song finds its greatest strength in the details.
“Free Now” follows in the vein of If You Were A Movie, This Would Be Your Soundtrack‘s “Roger Rabbit,” though it falls short of its predecessor’s quality. There are plenty of well-written sonic elements throughout, but moderately repetitive lyrics take away from the power of strong melodies and an impressively catchy guitar part. It’s easy to get behind the positive messages the song holds, but it’s almost easier to be distracted by lines like “this world is the way it is, it’s how we raise our kids” to the point that it’s hard to take the rest of the track seriously. It’s the same issue I had with the “imagine that!” line on Let’s Cheers To This‘s “If You Can’t Hang,” and it’s perhaps more frustrating in the setting of this more mature track. “Alone” picks back up on the energy of “Here We Go,” but continues the trend of instrumentally toned-down verses. The second verse has an infectiously rhythmic vocal melody, while MGK‘s tone and flow make up for mediocre lyrics and allows for his guest spot to provide a good contrast to Quinn’s vocals. On the whole, this is one of the strongest tracks on the record’s first half.
Opening with “woahs” similar to those that begin “Alone,” “I’ll Take You There” feels like it starts off from the middle of the song, in the way that a lot of b-sides do. While this song has one of the weakest choruses on Feel, there are some interesting percussive elements in the verses and bridge, and the buildup to the third chorus is one of my favorite portions on the album. Unfortunately, Shaley Bourget’s powerful voice doesn’t shine through in the way it usually does, most likely the result of poor production. With a different mix, this song might be one of the record’s best; as it is, it’s a bit forgettable. “The Best There Ever Was” has a contagious riff that brings to mind some of guitarist Jack Fowler’s work on his former band Broadway‘s album Kingdoms. While the theme of thinking you’re better than everyone else gets a little tiring, this song is just catchy enough to make up for its lyrical shortcomings. The crunchy guest vocals from Attila‘s Fronz add a unique texture to the album, but are certainly more of an acquired taste than anything else you’re going to hear on Feel. “Low” is the archetypal lead single: upbeat, catchy, and maybe the closest thing to the band’s past work on the album. While my first listen left me a bit underwhelmed, this song has grown on me over time, and the strength of the verses and overall tone of the track has overcome my initial distaste for Quinn’s vocalizations to leave this as one of the record’s strongest points.
Sometimes, non-musical elements like phone calls can be a nice touch on a song. “Congratulations” is not one of those instances. That said, in spite the unnecessary 40 seconds of dialogue, the voicemail message and lyrics playing into the aforementioned “better than everyone else” theme of the album, and the excessive showing off Quinn does at the end of the track, this song is one of the more memorable ones in a way that isn’t entirely negative. The instrumental elements are solid, and the vocals sound great, even if the lyrical content is far from inspired. It’s hard to deny that Quinn and Memphis May Fire‘s Matty Mullins are two of the best singers in the current scene, and they certainly know how to craft melodies very well. With better lyrics, this song would be among the best in Sleeping With Sirens’s catalog. As-is, it doesn’t come close. “Déjà Vu” continues the trend of vapid lyrics, this time in the vein of the sort of sex-fueled songwriting Nickelback might put out. The drumming on this song is top-notch, but that’s just about the only redeeming quality it has. Musically, “These Things I’ve Done” is classic Sleeping With Sirens, though with a chorus that is more deliberate and in line with the progression they’ve reached on the rest of this album. While it’s easy to picture this song becoming a live fixture, it’s not quite dynamic or interesting enough to stand out as a strong point on the record.
Piano-led “Sorry” is among the brightest points on Feel, bringing together the themes of overcoming past mistakes and being a better person with strong songwriting to make for one of the only complete packages the record has to offer. Somewhat in the vein of With Ears To See And Eyes To Hear‘s “Let Love Bleed Red” and Let’s Cheers To This‘s “All My Heart,” “Sorry” provides a unique moment that, juxtaposed with the rest of the record, is refreshing as it showcases the band’s talents in a different light. “Satellites” closes the album on a high note, taking a structure similar to the album opener and creating something that feels directed, powerful, and inspiring. Quinn’s vocals shine and the music suits the lyrics perfectly. The only negative to be found is that the track fades out to close the record, stopping both the song and the album from achieving any sense of completion. It feels lazy and poorly thought out, and it’s the sort of thing that generally serves as a signal that there was less effort put into the record as a whole. It’s a shame that it had to happen with such a great song.
Early estimates for sales of Feel indicate huge first-week numbers – most likely the highest in Rise Records history – and, as a fan, I’m really excited that Sleeping With Sirens has developed that following in just four years on the basis of two strong albums and a great live show. Further, the fact that they were willing to take some risks and tinker with that established sound on this new record is laudable. It would have been easy to crank out another ten songs that sound exactly the same and cash in. However, the steps towards a more mature sound lose some of their power when there’s no follow-through on the songwriting. Many of the tracks here seem as though they’re missing something. The production is a bit lackluster, and the lyricism on many tracks is simply subpar. I’d be hard-pressed to pick two or three songs on this album I’d want to listen to on their own, and it’s not because there’s a great wealth of strong ones to choose from. If I wasn’t previously a fan of Sleeping With Sirens, I don’t think Feel would change that. While Kellin Quinn is a very talented vocalist who has the luxury of singing alongside a group of very talented instrumentalists, it’s hard to feel like those talents are being realized to their full potential. I hope that the successful debut of Feel affords the band time to craft the best album it is capable of, rather than an attempt to duplicate this one. They are driving the scene; let’s just hope they don’t fall asleep at the helm.