In a line of surprising signings by the Rise family, A Loss for Words has no doubt been on the tips of tongues eagerly awaiting their debut No Sanctuary. While their Motown covers record showed a band able to respectfully handle classics without losing their own sound, this record easily proves the promise and talent the band has been hinting at for years. No Sanctuary finds AL4W in their finest form yet, as the Boston outfit takes their pop-punk sound to new heights with strong songwriting and melodies that are hard to shake off.
From the opening buzz of “Honeymoon Eyes,” a gritty punk-rock number with punching guitars and an edge that hearkens thoughts of Bayside, this record encompasses an almost sickening sugariness in terms of bright melodies and driving rhythms. Balancing the distortion-driven bouncers against melody-slathered numbers is a strength, as the pace and feel of this disc benefit from the shifts in timbre within AL4W’s pop-punk leanings. “Pirouette” promises simple and smooth melodies at its start, shedding its somewhat lush leanings for a driving chorus chock full of flowing guitar lines and powerful drumming, a small case version of No Sanctuary’s large scale back-and-forth. Right on that track’s heels, “Raining Excuses” pulls back the reins a bit, jamming an off-beat guitar attack to back Matt Arsenault’s soaring vocal lines through the ridiculously catchy verses and huge chorus. Though not as gritty as you’ll hear in passages of this album, it provides a bright light to showcase the band’s apparent knack for catchy, yet powerful pop-rock.
Not to lose themselves in pop-leaning arrangements, A Loss for Words gives us plenty of upbeat grit to bounce around to. “JMR” is stage-dive ready a few seconds in, as Arsenault’s line of ‘By the time that you read this, I’ll be touching down halfway across the world’ leads the charge of buzzsaw guitars and blistering drums, letting up only to make way for the huge yet slightly misguided chorus. “The Lost Cause I Used to Be” is pretty poppy too, but a punching guitar rhythm during the verses and a ridiculously catchy chorus points us into an apexing bridge with a smooth, yet not overly complicated guitar solo to boot – making this one of the standout tracks. Yet, none of these tracks can really hold up to the kick-in-the-face nature of the album’s title track. Anchored by a wall of crunch and kick drums, its raspy vocals and uptempo feel make it a slight sore thumb, albeit a welcome change of pace to the lighter fare featured through a decent portion of the album.
The only real miscue on the album lies in the ballad track “Jetsetter.” With all the right pieces – a somber guitar line, passionate vocals and laid back drumming – the track has the pieces to be good. Alas, it feels predictable in its presentation of a huge chorus and mellow then loud verses. If you’re going to go the ballad route, you have to do something to stand out, and this track just doesn’t cut it. And sure, there are some other weak points, namely a simply run-of-the-mill “Finite,” but there’s enough variety to keep your toes tapping and your voice singing along after a few listens.
Vocally, Arsenault has a smooth voice that has its pros and cons fitting in with No Sanctuary. While his lines are certainly appealing from front to back, they have a slight tendency to feel a little too familiar as the record goes on. It’s certainly not a one-dimensional affair though, as tracks like “JMR” and “Raining Excuses” prove he can hang with whatever the band is kicking out musically. Lyrically, there’s a good deal of boy-girl stuff going on, but it is done in a way that doesn’t come across as cheesy or whiny. While many other bands seem to inject moments of social and political commentary into their repertoire, A Loss for Words seems content in staying personal with their lyrics (“The Lost Cause I Used to Be,” “The Hammers Fall”) without getting overly consumed by the relationship stuff.
In what could honestly be considered a contender for best entry in pop-punk or pop-rock this year, No Sanctuary doesn’t hold back from pouring out relatable, honest and catchy tracks that prove to be the best thing we’ve heard from A Loss for Words.