Few records have entranced me as much as The American Scene’s 2012 masterpiece Safe For Now. Seemingly out of nowhere, the band crafted one of that year’s best albums, compelled me to listen on repeat, and turned a casual fan into something more ravenous. Filled to the brim with potent lyrics and wonderfully interlocking instrumental parts, Safe For Now executed everything at the highest level and made sure that you knew it. Unlike its predecessor, Haze doesn’t become an immediate obsession – it’s more subtle than that. This time around, the band takes its strongest elements and filters them down with more subdued lines, a fair amount of repetition, and tighter, hook-driven choruses to show a different side of what The American Scene is.
Atmospheric and catchy in a way none of the band’s previous work is, the album lives up to its name. It draws you in and sticks with you once it’s finished. Sam Pura’s production continues to allow the band to evolve and execute, with all parties working together to find a cohesive aesthetic that borrows from the past and breaks new ground for the future. Quick guitar lines scatter across most songs like little bursts of electricity, while the perfectly organic rhythm section rolls underneath and Matt Vincent’s voice finds home somewhere in between. It’s a denser, more layered approach to the group’s songwriting abilities, and the result is a undeniably thicker sound.
If you’ve heard the pre-release tracks from Haze and found yourself underwhelmed, know that you’re not alone there. Genius breeds high expectations, and this is a band that set its bar very high. However, just as a single bite of a meal doesn’t fully satisfy or give an accurate depiction of the whole plate, you can’t hear one song from this record and truly appreciate it. The band finds its greatest success in establishing an atmosphere, letting you get lost in that moment, and allowing you to find truly enthralling details hidden beneath and between the deceptively tight construction of each song. You need to sink into the whole record to appreciate its profile and strengths.
For example, “Royal Blue” features the album’s most memorable chorus, and its infectious juxtaposed “I was cool” and “I was cruel” will bounce around your head for hours after listening. However, it’s the song’s bridge that finds the band really dialing into something wonderful. It’s dark, moody, and everything you could ever hope to hear from Vincent’s voice. The emotion he puts forward toward the middle of “4th And Broadway” is another great example of this quality. It draws your ear in close and pulls your heart from your chest. It’s got the same damp drawl that made Safe For Now’s “Untitled” so painfully wonderful, but the different setting numbs that feeling down, only letting it mature with each further listen. Neither of these moments would be nearly as effective if they weren’t sandwiched between the more polished sections that make up the top half of Haze. Some might criticize the record for sticking too close to a particular form over the course of the first handful of songs, and it might take some effort for the album to truly pay off, but it’s certainly worth that effort when it does.
“Over To You” is probably the closest Haze gets to the band’s older material, blending the older instrumental aesthetic and some of the record’s best lyrics with this album’s penchant for repetition and hooky motives. Again, it’s the breaks from form that make this record brilliant. When Vincent gets lower in his register, it just feels right, and it’s the sort of deviation that gives Haze its most distinctive character. Similarly, “Drone” channels Safe For Now, but finds its – and maybe the whole album’s – most crucial moment when everything cuts out just before the chorus. The band might be playing within certain bounds for most of the record, but it only serves to make the exceptions to its rules all the more powerful. Tracks like “Dark Creak” and “Brume” show that quality on a more macro level, finding strength in minimal variations of tone and dynamic over the course of whole compositions, instead of sections within a single song.
Although it’s easy to focus on how Matt Vincent’s voice is so crucial to how this band comes across, it’s important to note that it’s not always the best or most interesting part of any given song. Charles Vincent drives “What I Could Gather” from behind his kit, changing the way each part of the song comes across with each new pattern, while the guitar lines on “White Widow” truly steal the show there. If anything, Vincent’s voice works more to color each song than to pull your full attention toward what he’s saying at any given moment. There are certainly points where you’ll become attached to a line or vocal melody, but The American Scene works as a complete unit, and that’s true on Haze more than anywhere else in the group’s prior work.
When I first heard Haze in its entirety, I knew that my nervousness concerning the record could be set aside, or at least partially so. Even if it was going to be a minor letdown, it was still very good. For all that’s to be criticized with respect to the overuse of repetition, both in terms of individual lines and in general songwriting techniques, there’s even more to be enjoyed by the way the details and deviation within each song leave room for exploration with each listen. Haze doesn’t quite reach the heights of Safe For Now, or even those of Heavy Head, the record the Vincent brothers put out earlier this year as part of Pure Noise Records supergroup Elder Brother. What this album does do, however, is further cement The American Scene as one of the most creative and interesting acts in music today. It makes “favorite band” a reasonable thing to call this group. And, if you give it a chance, it just might surprise you with how good it really is.