No Bragging Rights

The Concrete Flower

“Strength Through Struggle” opens up California-based melodic hardcore crew No Bragging Rights' fifth album, and it does so with a bang… a slow, building, emotional bang. The title track follows that up with more building and building, then things finally explode… in a slightly polite way. The mix of clean singing and screamy-guy screaming in hardcore is so predictable it's lost all impact, but here the clean vocals aren't totally swoon-ya-to-bed. Rather, they're a bit ugly, a bit imperfect, like the best clean vocals are, and like No Bragging Rights have become known for. You can tell the clean singing comes from a place that isn't aiming for units sold and is instead following a tradition of post-hardcore bands—and damned if it doesn't sound great.

The band pull all the sounds together that anyone who has spent time with their previous material will expect, and it never quite gets cliche (gets close, though); their earnestness is just too easy to get caught up in. When they bring in more contemplative emo moments, like on dramatic closer “Damager/Recover,” it's a winning formula (the sample on that song also works particularly well). The guitarwork throughout the album is fun to listen to; just when it gets too chuggy, there's some neat shred part or quick stutter to make you pay attention. Speaking of attention, “Attention” is a surprising late-album punk rager, all feedback and gang chants and aggression. Unfortunately, the suicide-prevention-hotline-PSA-script lyrics scattered throughout the album leave a bit to be desired, sacrificing poetics for let's-have-a-talk bluntness.

Good-cop/bad-cop has lost a lot of its power, but a band like No Bragging Rights manage to still put it to good use; no small feat. Sure, the predictability of the songwriting is borderline infuriating, each riff hummable the first time you hear it, and each clean vocal line already ingrained and downloaded into your psyche, like, two weeks before you buy this album. Yet, still, against all odds, they pull it off, and it just gets better with each listen. I haven't said this about a hardcore band in a good eight years, but those clean vocals sound great, boys. Keep it up; just don't let 'em get too pretty.

Pure Noise