It’s become common for bands — specifically in the genres of punk and emo — to progress into more mellow, melodic territory as they get older. Not surprisingly, much of the reaction from fans and critics has been mixed. Though many argue that the newest records from Pianos Become the Teeth and Foxing include some of the best material of their careers, others find these artists’ stylistic shifts to turn them into bland, boring shells of their former selves. Add Gates to the list with their sophomore disc. A record that tones down the booming angst of the band’s debut, Parallel Lives shouldn’t be defined by that aspect but rather by its stretched songwriting, musical diversity, and sheer beauty.
Gates’ first Pure Noise Records full-length, Bloom & Breathe, was a monolith of a record. Sweeping post-rock sections and brawny choruses were aplenty on what ended up being one of the biggest surprises of 2014. It wasn’t surprising considering the band’s talent level and cohesion, as they had put out several EPs in the past and one of the members even had previous experience playing in Lydia. However, their meshing of elegance and muscle in the album’s 50-plus minutes immediately made them a genre heavyweight. Two years later, and in mellowing out on Parallel Lives, they’ve also abandoned much of the muscle. Unfortunately, those frustrated with such an approach are seeing right through what makes this LP great: its compactness, its elegance, and its maturity. A slow-burning concept album that plays around with the subtleties of the term, this release finds Gates taking their writing and structuring abilities to the next level.
“Forget” introduces the concept — one that details the intersections of lives as relationships evolve over time. Though lyricism has never been Gates’ strongest asset, vocalist Kevin Dye makes sure the lyrics come together for full impact, as stories are often more powerful when told across several songs rather than individually. In this case, it’s what makes Parallel Lives especially rewarding. Piano and atmospheric guitars combine with Dye’s vocals to create the sonic embodiment of longing in the first track. The soothing ambiance continues into “Habit”, with the group eventually ripping into straight instrumental combustion in the song’s second half.
“Eyes” and “Shiver” act as a dense one-two punch by contrasting darkness and light. The former sounds like new era Thrice, while the latter is much more upbeat as it shifts the thought of endings to returns. “Shiver” contains the record’s most chill-inducing moment when it kicks into its billowy, effects-laden finale, initiated by Dye’s screaming “You’re what I need!” Though the second half isn’t quite as memorable as the first half, it still provides tons of song-to-song variety and overall depth. “Empty Canvas” utilizes art metaphors to describe a relationship. In a way, the track parallels what the band has done with their own artistic creation to pin more dots on their board of thematic connectedness.
Despite “House & Home” and “Fade” being fairly barren from a musical standpoint, they freshen things up with highly introspective views and hypothetical takes on regret. While steady most of the time, ever-so-slight chord progressions and feedback bring a full swing of emotions to tracks as even-keeled as these two. Musical prowess is a lot more evident in “Left Behind”, as the impeccable timing of key modulations, as well as steep instrumental layering, pushes the song higher and higher until it reaches the album’s climax. The closer — and title track — works similar to the opener in that it sums up the album. The most poetic of its 11 offerings, “Parallel Lives” uses juxtaposition of near and far to describe human existence. It’s quite a lasting statement, too, that our lives depends so heavily on both the connections we make and the ones we break.
Dye says in “Habit” that “love only lingers if you let go,” and this is true in the way this record is meant to hit listeners. By letting go of all premonitions and giving it the time and space to sink in, Parallel Lives makes its strongest visceral connection. It’s hard to say whether it’s a better record than Bloom & Breathe strictly from the sum of its parts. However, the assembly of these parts and its full effect challenges their rookie release in every way, and that’s because the members challenged themselves to create something truly grand. Your feelings on the band’s progressions aside, in what it sets out to do and how it executes, Parallel Lives is astounding.
Post-Rock/Emo | Pure Noise Records