October 09, 2012 - Run For Cover
Hostage Calm have always resided in the left field of melodic-hardcore tropes, from the obscure emo references of their 2008 debut, Lens, to their ambitious, unpredictable high-water mark, 2010's Hostage Calm. Arguably, they leave the subgenre behind altogether on the J. Robbins-produced Please Remain Calm, which takes the classic power-pop swagger of acts like Ted Leo and Elvis Costello and similarly touches it up with occasional punk aggression and the more restrained, deliberate craft of ’50s pop nuances.
Please Remain Calm relies much more on vocals than the band's past efforts. Playful melodies and harmonies abound, while there's hardly a moment one doesn't hear frontman Chris Martin leading the charge (save the vaguely Deja Entendu-indebted "Woke Up Next To A Body," where he hands off the pre-chorus/chorus to guest vocalist Greg Moran of Baby Grand, who also co-wrote the song). That focus turns "The M Word" (the original version of which appeared on Run For Cover Records’ 2011 compilation Mixed Signals) into a slow-dance ballad one might have heard at the Enchantment Under The Sea, while the Beach Boys-esque "Patriot" is a bona fide—and almost completely a cappella—hit. All throughout the album (but especially on "Patriot"), it shows that Hostage Calm have successfully merged the worlds of modern pop-punk and well-honed beach melodies far less obnoxiously than a band like, say, Fight Fair has tried in recent years.
The only thing missing is Hostage Calm's persistence at challenging the listener at nearly every turn. The styles and songs on Please Remain Calm do seem to span a half-century of pop, punk and rock songwriting; it's clearly ambitious and varied (recorded with the perfect level of spit-shined ruggedness by Robbins), but on certain songs (mainly the record's midsection) the band settle into a too-consistent vibe and pacing that lacks that something special they've previously proven themselves to have. There are exceptions, for sure: They still reel into unexpectedly faster tempos here and there (opener "On Both Eyes," "Brokenheartland," the multiple mood swings on closer "One Last Salute"), and the first four tracks are seriously catchy.
Please Remain Calm is actually more thematically consistent than Hostage Calm, its songs wed together by a unified theme that explores the post-collegiate, almost-adult stage of a young American's life (however more vague the subjects and issues at hand are depicted). That makes perfect sense, as Please Remain Calm feels somewhat transitional for the band themselves. But if this is merely the sound of an (admittedly talented and inviting) act figuring out new approaches, it's still one hell of an evolutionary stage to bear witness.