May 25, 2010 - Epitaph
The anthemic pop-punk championed by Blink-182 and New Found Glory in the '90s (and whose legacy goes back to early '80s O.C. progenitors the Descendents, the Vandals and the Adolescents) is pushing past its freshness date (and perhaps well beyond, depending on your perspective). Familiarity breeds contempt; these days, energy's hardly enough to forestall a snide snicker or dirty look. Augusta, Georgia's Veara will undoubtedly receive their share of disparagement directed at their well-worn style, but their sophomore release marks steady improvement over their debut, and suggests they may yet be able to escape the genre's straitjacket.
For one thing, What We Left Behind sidesteps the bottomless pit of lovelorn whining that afflicts the worst acts like anthrax. Indeed, next to the exceptionally tight playing, the lyrics standout as the quartet's principal virtue. The album's tone consistently explores a sense of growing maturity--shedding disappointment and false friends to seize responsibility and one's own identity. On "Role Model," singer Bradley Wrosdick confesses, "I've made mistakes but I've used them well/At least I never tried to play the part of somebody else," while "My B-Side Life" says to "walk it off, and learn how to cope without a crutch."
From all of the talk of friends dragging them down ("Pull Your Own Weight") or demonstrating their faithlessness ("We Have A Body Count," "Waste My Time," "Better Off Without You"), it sounds like Veara have had a tough couple years, but it also seems to have burnished their resolve and resulted in a stronger unit--an idea reiterated several times across the album. It's apparent in arrangements that, while pretty meat-and-potato by genre standards, boast significant crackle and just enough variety to avoid blurring together over the album's 30-minute course. The album's highlight is "Better Off Without You," thanks to a memorable, slightly herky-jerky hook, rousing shout-along vocals, particularly driving rhythms and an overall sonic crispness that while endemic to the album is even more focused on this cut.
What We Left Behind won't win any accolades for originality, but the band execute the formula with the energy it demands to carry it off these days, and demonstrate enough lyrical and vocal prowess, as well as musical precision, to standout in a crowded field. They certainly haven't separated themselves from the pack, but even jaded ears will find a refreshing joie de vivre and esprit de corps on the album. It's a broad step forward from their rather pedestrian debut, and promises that their growing maturity may bloom into something more musically indispensable.