Sometimes, it’s easy to get stuck in the trap of being exactly what other people want you to be. It’s easy to stay the same, to repeat the past, and to follow the same formula that’s gotten you to whatever point you’ve reached. Change is hard. Go Radio, most specifically Jason Lancaster, has a phenomenal record of blending catchy, upbeat pop-punk songs with beautiful, flowing balladry. For more than half a decade, this is the sort of balance he and they have perfected. Close The Distance breaks that trend. More adult contemporary pop than pop-punk, this record isn’t a total departure, but the progression is unmistakable; this is Go Radio, grown up. The lyrical quality and Lancaster’s unmistakable vocals are still in place, but the surrounding instrumental parts provide a new setting, giving this release its own character and a certain feel that’s destined for the airwaves.
Opener “I Won’t Lie” starts the record off perfectly, with the sort of flowing, illustrative, emotional lyrics Lancaster’s known for accompanied by huge, piano-driven instrumentation, group vocals, and the sleek production that serves to be one of Close The Distance‘s defining traits. The bridge strips the texture down while keeping everything moving before one final build that’s entire satisfying, and the chorus is catchy beyond belief. “Baltimore” features a distinctive guitar part made up of harmonics and is held down by a simple but perfectly fitting drum beat. This is another instance where Lancaster’s vocals shine, telling a passionate story, interspersing it with sweeping choruses. Lead single “Collide” is one of the most upbeat tracks on the record, from the rhythmic guitar part to the driving drums to the quick keyboard part in the chorus. This energy ties in well with the lyrics and vocal delivery, making for a great listen. On a midtempo, ballad-rich album, this is the song that bears the closest resemblance to the band’s past work.
Second single “Go To Hell” shows a mastery of songwriting abilities, finding a beautiful piano-based first verse giving way to a spiteful chorus, shifting tone and dynamic with a perfect sense of misdirection in both lyrical and melodic content. On top of being well-written in terms of structure, this is easily the best singalong track of the record, and should prove to become a staple of the band’s live show. Be sure to check out the piano version found on the iTunes deluxe edition of the album. “Lost And Found” reels things back in a bit, with a strong emphasis on piano and a reflective chorus. The ending of the first verse sticks out to me on every listen, with some really strong lyricism shining through. There are plenty of instances where Lancaster’s voice has room to shine, in part because a lot of the instrumental parts aren’t quite as well-defined, which is something that can unfortunately be said for a fair number of the songs on Close The Distance. The album’s title track delivers a message of hope through a dynamic vocal performance and better-defined instrumental parts, serving to encapsulate many of the album’s themes and trends at the center of the record.
“What If You Don’t” is Close The Distance‘s “Why I’m Home.” Consisting only of piano, strings, and endlessly entrancing vocals, this is an emotionally heavy song that pulls at everything you’ve got. If there’s one track that you’re going to listen to from the record, this is the one I’d recommend. It might not be representative of the rest of the album, but it is hands-down the best song of the bunch. “Things I Don’t See” brings the energy back up as the drums kick in and the track takes off. The guitar solo is a nice touch, and the chorus has an earnest nature about it. “The Ending” dials it back a bit once more, with atmospheric instrumentation throughout. Soaring vocals in the chorus make for a powerful shift from the more conversational verses. While this isn’t necessarily a song to listen to on its own, it fits very well in the scope of the album.
If I had to choose the next single from Close The Distance, “Over Me” would be an easy pick. This is the sort of song that could make Go Radio the next big success story to come out of the scene. Every part of this song is catchy without coming close to being over-the-top. Lancaster delivers a spirited performance, and the lyrics are powerful and inspirational. Maybe I think too much of the radio and/or its audience, but everyone should be listening to this song. Closer “Hear Me Out” is dense in terms of instrumentation, but minimalistic in almost every other sense. Perhaps it’s the production, but it seems like nothing really happens over the course of its almost five minute duration. Of everything on the record, this is my biggest disappointment. Every closer Lancaster’s penned, all the way back to Tales Told By Dead Friends, has been a definite highlight of whatever release it appears on. This one simply falls flat, both comparatively and objectively, which is a huge shame when taking into consideration how good the rest of the album is.
Going into this record, I expected it to be a contender for my album of the year, on the merits of the singles and my affinity for Jason Lancaster’s voice. Despite the changes in sound, Close The Distance follows through to meet a great deal of those expectations. From the constant stream of powerful lyrics and vocal performances to how certain instrumental parts are constructed to the way that the record feels completely unified, there’s a lot to love throughout. This album will be in heavy rotation for a long time to come. However, a mediocre closing track and a lack of dynamic and discrete instrumental parts at points stop Close The Distance from reaching its full potential. While the production serves to further the band’s vision and can be very successful, it contributes to these issues in an effort to make the songs bigger and smoother. Once again, these are minor issues, and it would take an incredible fall to stop this from making an appearance on my year-end lists, even if it doesn’t quite reach the top spot like its predecessor did last year. And, if you aren’t hearing at least one of these songs on the radio in the near future, either they got no push or the world really is ending this year. For the sake of everyone’s ears, I hope it’s the latter.