October 12, 2010 - I Surrender
Valencia might have been a one-and-done major-label band, but that’s not to say their time on Columbia Records was a complete failure. We All Need A Reason To Believe, the group’s lone release for the label, was a textbook example of everything contemporary pop-punk should be: hooky and memorable, (comparatively) raw and devoid of any of the multitude of gimmicks most bands in their genre employ. In short, it was the record most of their peers dream about one day releasing, and Valencia have carried the charm and finesse of their sole major-label release to their third effort, Dancing With A Ghost.
The bulk of Dancing With A Ghost wouldn’t be out of place on Reason, offering a brand of pop-rock that has more in common with ’90s alt-rock like Third Eye Blind than the early 2000s pop-punk idolatry of their peers. That’s not to say the band don’t get caught up in their genre’s peers from time to time (look no further than both “Spinning Out” and “Losing Sleep,” both of which curiously bite the chorus of Mayday Parade’s “Bruised And Scarred”), but the majority of the disc is seemingly incompatible with the bastardized genre pop-punk has become, for better and for worse. The problem is Valencia are so enamored with trying to stand out that they sometimes lose sight of what made them praiseworthy in the first place. They fill their songs with bells and whistles like xylophones, wind chimes and heavily orchestrated string arrangements, and toward the middle of the disc (most notably “Friday Night” and “Somewhere I Belong”) it’s easy to forget that this is pop music, not a Castlevania soundtrack.
Instead, Valencia shine brightest when they cut the extraneous instrumentation and just get down to business: “Still Need You Around (Lost Without You)” expands on the sensitive side they developed on Reason and might be the band’s best mid-tempo cut to date; the title track marries a dancy guitar line with perfectly placed background vocals and a monster chorus; and “Friday Night,” despite its intro blunders, marches along with the same intensity and aplomb as Green Day’s recent arena-sized output. Ultimately, Dancing With A Ghost’s high points are fairly level with those on Reason, but unfortunately they’re too infrequent to really compete.