With their third release, Troubled Coast seems to be finding its sound. After releasing a “full-length”, 2010’s 100 Miles from Home that clocked in at a lengthy 12 minutes, and an EP, Vagabonds, the San Francisco melodic-hardcore quintet set out to Castle Ultimate Studios in Oakland, CA to record Letters, which feels like a debut for the band as it’s their first truly full record and takes some liberties, straying away from the hardcore sound that dominated previous releases and adding in clean singing and more poetic lyrics.
An easy description of the band’s early releases would be if Jon Mess from Dance Gavin Dance was the singer for Thrice on The Illusion of Safety. On the previous two releases, singer Mike “Mile” Scornaienchi would shout himself hoarse in a style similar to Mess and George Pettit, while the band would play melodic hardcore at its best, comprised of thunderous drums from Tahm Altemus and a discord of guitars provided by guitarists Cory Bardwell and Brandon Wark. On Letters, with the first track, the band shows they have grown and have become much more technically proficient with their respective instruments.
The album begins with “Amends,” a primarily instrumental number. The first half of the track is comprised of militaristic drums, showing the growth of Altemus, who utilizes other aspects of his kit separate from the double-bass pedal that dominated previous releases. When the guitars come in, the thrashing of chords from previous albums is present, but it is accompanied by a dancing lead-riff, something that never seemed to occur previously, to great surprise. Scornaienchi comes in midway through the track, albeit briefly, to scream. His screams haven’t changed much since previous releases, with the deeper guttural shouts providing a contrast to the somewhat lighter guitars.
The second song, “Wolf Republic,” kicks right off with layered vocals, mixing clean vocals over screams. Scornaienchi’s clean voice sounds similar to Jesse Coppenbarger’s from Colour Revolt, with a very Americanized accent. It is nice to hear some clean vocals, showing the progression from previous work where they were absent. The bass playing from Randy “Caveman” Staat is notable as it carries the middle of the song. The way the band doesn’t focus on everyone playing at once, allowing members to shine on their own, is reminiscent of Colour Revolt, Thrice and Brand New.
“Breathing” begins with rather somber vocals, accompanied by an arpeggiating lead guitar line and restrained drumming from Altemus. Scornaienchi quickly begins shouting, finding a not-so-happy medium between his clean melodic singing and deep guttural screams. While his transition is most notable for the band, it is also recognizable that the band has grown out of the standard traditions for most bands in the genre, incorporating their own unique sound. In the chorus, Scornaienchi switches over to screams but it is in a style different to previous work in that he remains comprehensible. An interesting note is that as the heavy guitars and drums fade away, the track closes with the melody being played on piano, distinguishing them from many of the bland bands in the scene. The track is definitely one of the highlights of the album.
The album is definitely a showcase for the increased talents of the guitar duo of Bardwell and Wark, who play lead lines that were missing from previous releases, something that is evident on “Night Drives.” The track begins with a guitar intro. The vocals come in in a spoken-word style, again very similar to Colour Revolt, only to be contrasted with the screamed chorus. The way the band shifts styles effortlessly is extremely commendable.
Following “Night Drives” is the trio of heavy-hitters, “It’s Not Good For You,” “Drug Halo,” and “Feigned Belief,” which recall previous songs. The last of the trio features dual vocals, with the second either performed by a layered Scornaienchi or one of the other band members. The tracks are followed by the most restrained of all the songs on the release, “XX/XY.” The first minute is almost entirely comprised of Scornaienchi’s spoken word style clean singing, only to be briefly contrasted by a short period of screams before returning to the spoken word method.
Next is “Absent Father, Holy Ghost,” the longest track on the album, which begins with a quiet, instrumental prologue, before launching into the heavy song proper. Against Me! has a song on their first album, Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose, called “Scream It Until You’re Coughing Up Blood.” While I doubt there’s any connection, I’ve never heard a singer stick to such a mantra until I heard Scornaienchi, who repeatedly sounds like he is screaming himself with no regard to future damage. Unlike many screamers who utilize techniques to make it sound like they’re screaming when they truly are not, Scornaienchi legitimately sounds like he is screaming himself hoarse and it is remarkable to listen to. The song is quite an epic, with many different sounds. After the screaming portion, the band stops, slowing everything down, with Scornaienchi singing melodically. It is a rare acoustic moment, something that is never found in music like this, which is quite pleasing. Guest harmonica playing is provided by James Phillips, formerly of Final Fight. If I had to recommend one song by this band to anyone to get them hooked, it’d be “Absent Father, Holy Ghost.”
After the creeping “Me and My Shadow,” the wonderful album ends with the duo of “A Shallow Pace,” which propels heavily throughout the song until its piano-led ending, and “Love,” where Scornaienchi recalls the screams of previous releases, screaming chaotically until the end of the album. The lead guitar work on “Love” recalls that of Teppei Teranishi of Thrice fame.
With Letters, Troubled Coast has gone from a great post-hardcore band to a band that is not firmly set in one genre and can dominate any tag they are associated with. While few people know of this band right now, with Facebook fans under 700 as an indication, it would not surprise this writer a bit if they became one of the rising stars of the next few years.