La Dispute: ‘Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair’ In 2018

A look back upon La Dispute’s ‘Somewhere At the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair’ ten years on from release with its new re-issue.

A mutual love of La Dispute’s music is one of the core reasons why I’m now such good friends with my pal/editor/transdimensional sex god, Alex Sievers. If I remember correctly, it was early 2012, and we’d been in a Literature class together for a couple weeks or so. Then we randomly bumped into each other at La Dispute’s Under 18 Corner Hotel show in Melbourne during their Australian tour cycle supporting 2011’s fantastic ‘Wildlife‘; a fucking great album you should have already listened to. That was actually the first ever gig I attended, and I got kicked in the face by a crowd-surfer and made a new friend too. It was a jolly good time.

At that point, I’d never actually listened to La Dispute’s earlier material, especially not 2008’s ‘Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair‘. (Also, that is the first and only time in this entire piece that I’m writing that full album name out). I was 17-year-old when I first got into ‘Wildlife‘, and I hadn’t been getting into other new music for very long, so I didn’t end up checking out ‘Somewhere…‘ until I saw said songs were performed live. And also because Alex told me I really needed to hear it. His dictatorial take on music suggestions were noteworthy and accurate even back then, bless his heart.

Anyway, I still love ‘Wildlife‘, even though it’s been seven years since that album came out. I also should say that I do like ‘Somewhere…‘ a little bit less than that sophomore, but the sheer immediacy and rawness of this particular La Dispute record hit me so much harder than ‘Wildlife‘ ever did. Musically, this now-decade-old album was (and still is) a potent combination of American Nightmare craziness, frenetic guitar work, changing time signatures, Brad Vander Lugt’s busy drumming, pg. 99-esque screamo, and plenty of post-hardcore influences from bands like Fugazi and The Jesus Lizard. Yet it was the nature of the lyrics that struck me so goddamn hard. Although, this may have had something to do with me being a whiny little shit of a teenager; the lyrics and songs from this album resonated deeper with younger audiences. Especially with songs like ‘Andria‘, which honestly hit me far too personally – like it was written solely for me – but I’ll get to that later on.

‘Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair’, with reimagined cover art by Corey Purvi.

Unfortunately, there are some “downsides” to the degree of emotional intensity that ‘Somewhere…‘ draws out you, and how relatable and palatable it can be. A lot of the album’s lyrics can be summed up with the phrase “weaponized melodrama”, with constant refrains of “lover” and “my dear”. Lyrics like “Always is valueless, I wish I’d never heard her speak a word” (from ‘New Storms For Old Lovers‘) would be a little over the top nowadays. But at the time, they were especially appealing to the kinds of depressed, equally loveless and lovesick people that had sad, fake-deep Tumblr pages and/or those who wrote shitty teenage poetry. Of which I was absolutely the latter. If it’s since been decided that we can describe certain post-rock bands as “crescendo-core”, I’m going to then describe ‘Somewhere…‘ as “ee cummings-core”. And no one can tell me otherwise.

This album overall could be criticized for being “immature”, and I’d probably even describe the record that way now, but not as a major point of criticism: it’s just a fact. Because of course, the album is immature. Vocalist Jordan Dreyer was only 21 when this album came out; his breathless spoken word parts, and raw, passionate voice-breaking screams and all. That’s completely insane to me as a wildly-underachieving 23-year-old man. And compared to La Dispute’s prior release, ‘Vancouver, ‘Somewhere…‘ can be very mature at times, and certainly more complicated lyrically; involving several stories from different perspectives over the course of the entire listen. It’ll break your heart and leave you a wreck, that’s for bloody sure.

An actual criticism I do have of this new tenth-anniversary commemorative remaster of ‘Somewhere…‘ is that it occasionally removes the compelling rawness of the original’s production in an effort to make it mesh better with their two subsequent albums. Mixed by Dave Schiffman (Thrice, Trash Talk), mastered by Emily Lazar (Coldplay, Beck), and having the guitars re-amped by Will Yip (pretty much any good band ever) and Chad Morgan-Sterenberg, it has been all made tighter and cleaner sounding. Yet in doing so, that process has maybe removed some of that “soul” from the original record. It’s still a great album, mind you, but I cannot in a good conscious lie and say that I didn’t notice this. The dynamics are still there but those familiar with every in and out of the 2008 release will clearly see the production changes here as soon as they hit play. La Dispute’s second the third albums, ‘Wildlife‘ and ‘Rooms of the House‘ (2014) respectively, really showed off the band’s maturation, in both songwriting and lyricism. However, retroactively sonically adjusting ‘Somewhere…‘ to seemingly now more cohesively fit the tone and production of its two successors of isn’t the wisest of moves, in my humble opinion. Still, these songs still hold up more than well:

Somewhere…‘ went on to help the general music press at the time establish some vague idea of a new movement stirring amongst the post-hardcore landscape. La Dispute, along with Touche Amore, Defeater, Make Do And Mend, and Pianos Become the Teeth, got lumped together as something called “The Wave”; lauded as a new wave in emotional, lyric-centred post-hardcore bands. This is one of those funny cases where it seems like writers focus too much on money and catchy names, or just don’t know anything. Because these four bands don’t sound anything like each other for the most part, and their lyrical themes could be described as “disparately connected” at the very best. Even the bands involved didn’t and still don’t take these names seriously. La Dispute drummer, Brad Vander Lugt, said at the time that it started as an in-joke for all of the bands involved, but that “people just ran with it and some kids took it really seriously like we were trying to create some kind of collective, which it wasn’t at all”.

That being said, a focus on lyrics does tend to get the kids all riled up, including me. When I listened to ‘Somewhere…‘ for the first time, I had a lot of issues surrounding my first girlfriend, who had moved away and it thus being damn near impossible to maintain any sort of relationship. And, truly, that fucked me up a lot. For a long time. (A word of warning: long-distance relations are almost definitely not worth it and will never work out. Sorry). Feeling that way and listening to ‘Andria‘ – a song about pretty much that exact topic of loving someone who moves long and far away – gripped me in a very personal way that I just couldn’t shake off. Lines like “I still remember how the distance tricked us/And lead us helpless by the wrist into a pit to be devoured” destroyed me. It basically forced me to love this album for its emotional intensity alone. This is one of those albums that has to hit you – has to get you  -at the exact right time, when you’re in a particularly emotionally vulnerable place. Just like ice cream makers or a cult leader do. And it’s a damned good thing that I fell in love with La Dispute when I did, and not some unhinged enigma of a dude who lives in a small shed in the outback.

Ten years on, and six years on from when I personally first experienced it, ‘Somewhere…‘ is still a really great album. It’s an important record too. Even if I don’t quite feel the same way about it as I did the first time I listened to it and aren’t super keen on the new mix. Yet it’s an album to cry to, to jog to, to mosh to, to grow to, to lose to, and to fall in love to as well. So if it takes this new remix/remaster to get those unfamiliar with it and La Dispute to listen to a good album a decade on from release, then I’m not gonna complain. And if you want a trip down memory lane for a bit of post-hardcore history, it doesn’t get any better than this.

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