Since the release of 2013’s What You Don’t See, The Story So Far has certainly skyrocketed in popularity. Back-to-back summers on Warped Tour, notable face-time on The Wonder Years’ Fall 2014 tour, and a pair of small acoustic-focused releases to tide fans overs until the next full-length have made up the bulk of their last two years. Now that they are far removed from their sophomore record, the band is introducing their latest self-titled effort to the world. Unfortunately what was expected to be another milestone on a path of success is instead a misstep that lacks the band’s earlier cohesiveness, which leaves the band’s rise to the top in jeopardy.
Opener “Smile” rides in on feedback and percussion before eventually morphing into what should come to be expected from the band at the beginning of their records. It doesn’t take long to spot the separation in progression between Parker Cannon and the band behind him, in fact it takes about 60 seconds and it is an awful reoccurring theme throughout the album. Cannon’s reduced range from previous tracks such as “Stifled”, “Empty Space” and “High Regard” is widely apparent, and it honestly becomes a painful annoyance after hearing a consistent tone hit at the end of almost every line for nearly every verse, bridge, and chorus.
With the vocals throughout the record in such a state, most tracks aren’t able to escape that prevalence in the mix and break free to stand out on their own. “Heavy Gloom” starts off great with bassist Kalen Capener leading the group in with a chunky groove, an uncommon and welcome occurrence, but the song loses its steam when Cannon continuously sets himself up to showcase more of a dynamic range throughout the chorus and chooses to oversimplify it instead. Even “Mock”, which has some of the grooviest instrumentals on the album, becomes oversaturated with vocals to the point that it feels like a retread of material from two or three years ago.
The beginning of the record’s second half isn’t promising either, as “How You Are” proves itself to be the weakest of the bunch, opting to combine the instrumental and vocal melodies rather than experiment with them. But from there the group manages to make a resurgence in momentum as lead single “Nerve”, an example of them at their best, is followed by “Phantom”, an excellent change in tempo that is different than anything they have ever done – blending their Bay Area surfer style with shoegaze-y reverb for a stunning effect. Closer “Stalemate” follows the trend of experimentation by tossing some subtle southern twang into the mix, which is a simple layer that goes a long way in an album full of similarity.
By its end, The Story So Far’s self-titled foray is not a complete let down. When the band behind Parker Cannon is able to shine, they don’t mess around. While pop-punk is typically considered the same across the board, the instrumentation of this record experiments where it can to spice things up and that helps give more value to the full product. But overall, it all comes down to how bogged down almost every track is by the vocals. Whereas past material would complement the instrumentals and vocals, here there is a clear separation between the two in terms of production and quality. And with records still to come this year from bands such as State Champs and Neck Deep, the band’s future as a top-tier pop-punk act has become anything but certain.