A critical, but fair review of Alexisonfire - Old Crows / Young Cardinals


22 Jun 2009, 20:53

I don't wanna waste much time on introductory remarks, but for all who haven't followed the discussions in the AOF shoutbox lately, I decided to wait for my first listen of the entire album until my pre-order copy arrived, which was basically today. So here it is:

General remarks on the album

Given that I had not had much expectations left for Old Crows / Young Cardinals after having heard 3 songs off that album before the official release, namely Young Cardinals, No Rest and Born And Raised, I must admit I was kinda critical on my first listen. However, I gave it like 5 more spins today and I think as of yet this review will be quite objective, i.e. critical, but fair.

In general, I have to say Old Crows / Young Cardinals is a good album. The drumming is way better than on Crisis, even though the general songwriting tendencies from Crisis have been continued. Dallas crystal-clear vocals are as emotional as ever and intelligently placed as a whole. What Alexisonfire fans will immediately recognize though is the change in George's vocal style. It's more hardcore-punk-ish than on their previous albums and it definitely doesn't sound like screaming anymore. More like some weirdo, drunk hardcore kid yelling at a band behind you at a show. This might be a matter of taste, but I don't like it.

For me, one cool thing about Alexisonfire has always been, that both, Dallas Green and George Petitt were way above average in what they were doing, i.e. singing and screaming respectively. It seems to me like a forced progress/change now, that George doesn't scream anymore (he stated in an interview he wanted to put the knife in screamo - even though that is the wrong label for their kind of music). Now, probably influenced by his re-discovered love for punk-hardcore bands like Fucked Up, he decided to move away from screaming, just to not be part in an overcrowded scene of screaming (don't fight with me about tags - AOF are not classical post-hardcore and have never been) singers. I think, even if he kept screaming, Alexisonfire would have stood out in that scene, so it's sad for me, that George quit what he was so good at and replaced it with passionless, mediocre yelling. Definitely not my cup of tea.

Furthermore, I must add that a lot of the chord-work seems forced in my ears. A lot of the more unusual chord changes just don't flow as smoothly and often they are combined with melody-changes that just invoke the impression of "we have to get from key X to key Y now, which wouldn't usually work smoothly...so let's just switch chords and sing a melody into it". This can be done way better, and I don't know if a lot of people share my opinion, but it's what I felt when listening to them a couple of times. They just seem unnatural and not smoothly packed to me, and thus forced.

Now, let me get to a song-by-song-review:

Old Crows
George said in an interview that they wrote this song in a really short time, while they were in the studio already. And I can definitely hear that. This song seems sooooo uninspired and lame. Effortless, passionless and pretty defensive to put a song with a line like "We are not the kids we used to be" as an opener. I consider this as being addressed to older Alexisonfire fans who often blame the band for having changed too much. This addressing might have been effective if the song were good, but it's not and so this statement just seems ridiculous. Weak opener (and I can already see them opening their shows with that -.-). The drumming is fun though. 3/10

Young Cardinals
When I first heard this song, I was kinda disappointed. But I must admit, the more I listen to it, the more I like it. It's bouncy in the chorus, the hook is good and it's definitely a lead-single song on the album. The interlude also seems okay to me, despite pretty unnatural chord-movements - which do not feel as forced here as in other places. I think this is also pretty much the only song of the album where George's vocals kind of fit for me. 7.5/10

Sons of Privilege
I read a lot of positive feedback on this song, so I was kinda excited about it. However, I feel that it's nothing special. For me, it's just too punky and it has nothing that stays in my head - even after 5 spins. After the 4th time, I felt as if the Chorus might be a grower, but writing the review now, I don't even remember it. Also, this song was the one, I felt the most forced chord-progressions in, especially in the chorus. Maybe that's why it's not really catchy. One of the weakest songs on the album for me. 2/10

Born And Raised
Given, that I knew this song before listening to the whole CD, there was not much surprise left. I think this is a good song with a good chorus and good verses. The pre-chorus however is better than the Chorus, I think. Nevertheless, I feel this song to be most closely connected to Crisis (album). Every time I listen to it, I feel that this song could also have ended up on Crisis. Feels a little like a leftover and thus doesn't really fit the overall progression on the album. Solid song though. 6/10

No Rest
I also knew that song before the release. I'll keep it short. This song is plain boredom for me. Most likely to be skipped every time I hear it. I never was a fan of the rather punky songs by AOF (e.g. White Devil, Drunks, Lovers, Sinners, Saints), but those at least grabbed me at some part. This song just bores me. 1/10

The Northern
After having read the first review on the album, I had the highest expectations of all songs off this album with this song. It was described as really eclectic and atmospheric kind of Pink Floyd-ish. Well, it's not THAT eclectic, but it's good. I don't really care about the Christian lyrics, since it said in the booklet that it was inspired by a Christian praise hymn and since my experience has taught me that a lot of Christian music is way more passionate and ambitious than "regular music" (even though I think religion does not generally influence the quality of music). The song itself is kinda monotonous at first, but opens up beautifully in the end and shows some really emotional praise ending. 7/10

Midnight Regulations
Bam!! Here's my personal favourite of the record (it has taken me quite a while to get there uh?). The chorus hook is probably one of the best Alexisonfire have ever written. There's so much passion and emotion in it and to hear Dallas on the verge of "screaming" kind of made my heart jump a little. Here you feel the honesty in the music that has made AOF so attractive to a lot of people. The verses fall a little flat against this amazing hook, but I have to say it doesn't harm the song too much. And even the gang-shouts at the end do not take away any of the amazingness of this song. 9.5/10

Emerald Street
After such an amazing song, I thought it'd be hard for the next song to really keep me going. But Emerald Street just does that. It continues the great work in Midnight Regulations. The hook is also just beautiful and almost as passionate as the one before. Overall, the song might be a little weaker than Midnight Regulations, but it definitely doesn't drop off. For 2 songs, I felt some kind of AOF-revival in my ears. 9/10

Heading for the Sun
What impressed me first here was the drumming. I think it is pretty amazing in this song, even though I'm not a drummer myself, but I feel it's got a cool groove with good surprising rhythmic moments in it - which I like. The chorus is probably a grower. It doesn't stick with you immediately, which is no surprise for a song like that following Midnight Regulations and Emerald Street, but it's a solid chorus. The verses are also pretty memorable, probably because there's less George in it (as sad as this is). However, probably one of the most energetic songs on the record. This will be fun at their shows, if they play it. 8/10

Accept Crime
This song, like No Rest, is just too punky for me. While the chorus line is memorable and effective, the whole song just doesn't speak to me. Another candidate for getting skipped on my list, though not as weak as No Rest. 4/10

I wonder why Wade and Dallas always want to end AOF albums with slow songs. It's probably a tradition since Watch Out! with Happiness By The Kilowatt, which was continued with Rough Hands on Crisis and now this song. However, this song is nowhere near as good as the two aforementioned. The whole atmosphere of the song just sounds like an outro with lyrics, not like an independent song I would want to hear at an AOF show. Not only lyric-wise does this song sound kinda unfinished (and thus a little effortless) to me. Probably a good outro, but not a good song. 6/10 (due to the placement as "Outro").

Summing all this up, I think Old Crows / Young Cardinals is a solid album. It's got some passionate highlights, but also some passionless letdowns with a lot of meaningless gear-shifting in between. I think it might be a good turnout, if you didn't expect much from this record. The question, everyone has to ask him/herself is, whether we would ever want to expect nothing from a band like Alexisonfire in order to like their new material?

My general answer to that is "No", even though I have to answer it in the affirmative for this record, because I expected sth. worse.

I personally hope they remember their strengths again (which blinked through on 2-3 songs on this record) and soon continue to make passionate, ambitious music, so that I don't have to say "This was once my favourite band" with the next record.

Overall rating: 6.5 to 7/10
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  • obl1vion

    good review. i pretty much agree on everything except for burial, which is in my eyes one the best of the album, but i guess thats just personal taste.

    23 Jun 2009, 18:47
  • oAsukAo

    hm, I cannot agree with the most parts, but now I'm too lazy to write it down D: So, perhaps later. (or never, cause that's your taste and discussions about taste are silly and senseless, we know that, right?|D)

    23 Jun 2009, 20:37
  • Piata

    I actually like the shift to the hardcore vocal styles. Alexisonfire has produced 4 albums with 4 different but similar styles. This album is no exception. The last two songs miss their mark imo, but otherwise a solid release. AOF albums from best to worst: Watch Out! Old Crows / Young Cardinals Alexisonfire Crisis

    24 Jun 2009, 14:48
  • DeathTunes

    Good review. I'll give the tracks you recommended a few more listens to see if i can get into them, but for me it all varies from bad to average at the moment.

    26 Jun 2009, 12:07
  • fraggleblabla

    Old Crows not a good opener, dude, it's nearly their best (imo only .44 Caliber Love Letter is better)! But yeah, someone already stated that it's senseless to fight over personal taste, but if your heart jumped a bit when hearing Dallas almost screaming on Midnight Regulations, he does it in OC as well! Just listen to it again, it's amazing! :D And Sons Of Privilege is so intense when it starts with Dallas singing "In America..." towards the end. Love this song. I agree with you on Accept Crome and Burial though ;)

    27 Jun 2009, 13:14
  • DeathTunes

    And it would be a 5.5/10 for me

    3 Jul 2009, 14:27
  • jhimbob

    I think that Born and Raised was quite far from the songs on Crisis, and is my personal favourite.

    22 Jul 2009, 8:58
  • AbteilungLSD

    Fukkin' interesting review. Good work dude!

    24 Jul 2009, 8:19
  • PulmonaryArchry

    I personally think it's their 2nd best album they've put out thusfar (kinda hard to beat Watch Out!). Love the fact that they're getting back to their punk roots.

    5 Sep 2009, 2:35
  • Hugill123

    Personally I think Crisis is the best then Watch Out!, but i'm not saying their debut or OC/YC are crap by any means. They are all among my favourite albums. As for the review, its good not to hear the sheer amount of superlatives as you do in many reviews and be brave enough to be critical to the work of a band you admire. I agree mainly with no rest, I have the tendency to skip this song, it could be construed as being quite generic, but I do think that sons of priviledge is a standout track, definitely the first I thoroughly enjoyed on the album.

    16 Nov 2009, 23:25
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