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It is fair to say that 2011 has been full of some outstanding hits and some disappointing misses when it comes to pop punk releases. A Loss For Words’ second full length, No Sanctuary comfortably sits close to the former side of the fence. In short it is a fun pop punk album that throws up a few surprises along the way.
Something that definitely stand out when listening to this album is the vocals. Matt Arsenault, the band’s front man is an incredible vocalist. Because of his unique vocal range, something the genre doesn’t always offer, and the interesting tones in his voice, No Sanctuary is able to go in a variety of different directions, making it extremely versatile for a pop-punk record.
However, right from the beginning the rest of the band is proving that they aren’t going to let Arsenault do all the work. The guitar work in particular has improved in leaps and bounds from anything the band has previously released. In the two years since their last release it sounds like the band have really looked at their strengths and weaknesses and worked on them tirelessly. The result is No Sanctuary, an album that definitely hits the mark.
No Sanctuary opens with an aggressive, bouncy bang in the form of track “Honeymoon Eyes”. Upbeat guitar and drum lines are met by light, perfectly poppy vocals that have the perfect amount of grit beneath them. The song features simple instrument lines that help to carry the vocals before leading into a more upbeat chorus. The third verse features some nice technical guitar work, thrashing drums and dual vocals that take the track up a notch. While the opener doesn’t push any boundaries straight off it does provide a great, fun start to the album.
“Pray For Rain” improves on the foundations setting by the opener. Crashing drums and guitars join simple bass lines to keep the song paced in its steady, upbeat tempo. Instruments strip themselves back as the vocals come in, making was for both Arsenault and bassist Mike Adams to work together. The sing-along bridge and chorus are perfectly constructed to be sang a loud in a live setting, and for the most part it is clear this album will translate well live.
“Raining Excuses” showcases an attractive side to Arsenault’s vocals, and the simple beat throughout the verses brings his vocals to the forefront. The bridge of the song slowly brings the tempo up, making way for chorus. The instruments crash together cohesively, creating a chaos that works well when compared with the simplicity of the instrument lines that carry the verses. The gang vocals towards the end of the track add an extra ‘live’ element. This track is an example of the way AL4W can slip out of their pop punk assault. “The Lost Cause I Used To Be” continues to highlight Arsenault’s vocals but this time the rest of the band are a lot more involved. Energy wise this track is one of the strongest on the album. Bouncy drums intertwine nicely with some fancy guitar work from both Nevada Smith and Marc Dangova, keeping a bouncy, upbeat tempo going from beginning to end.
The band’s versatility is most prominent in the comparison between title track “No Sanctuary” and ballad “Jetsetter”. The title track opens with low, scratchy guitars, a cascade of blistering drums at the hands of Jack McHugh and growly screamed vocals. It is by far the heaviest track on the album, beefing up the punk, turning down the pop and throwing in some hardcore influences. The bridge and chorus jump back to the bouncy, pop punk that has been prominent in the rest of the album before the verses fall straight back into their more hardcore influenced selves. In this setting the other band members really have a chance to exercise their fingers, while the pop punk choruses are some of the best, most fun and catchiest on the album. “Jetsetter” is the album’s token ballad. It is a soft, acoustic track that highlight the smooth tones present in Arsenault’s and lets him exercise his range more than the pop punk tracks let him. The track proves that the band can tone it down, strip back their sound and still create a great track. The dual vocals towards the end of the track work well as the distinct sounds in both vocalists’ voices sound best when clashing back and forth.
Older AL4W fans might recognize album closer “Wrightsville Beach” from the band’s 2008 Webster Lake EP, only this time around the song has gotten a facelift, being reincarnated from its original acoustic form into a full band track. The track opens with scratchy guitars and bass carried by crashing, bouncy drums, bringing the tempo right back up. The track is a fast, upbeat effort and definitely an album highlight, making it a perfect way to end the album. The third verse takes the tempo down a notch providing a quick break from the chaos while gang vocals set up a fun, sing-along section. The track slips onto an acoustic setting for its final chorus, taking the energy right down. It is a strange way to end such an up tempo album.
No Sanctuary is a solid record from a band that might have headed into their major label debut without enormous expectations. Instead of simply borrowing, repeating and fitting into the stereotypical created by the pop punk genre, A Loss For Words are proving they aren’t afraid to mix it up from time to time. While there are no songs that totally hit it out of the ballpark, No Sanctuary is definitely a complete album featuring 12 tracks that will keep you coming back again and again.
1. Honeymoon Eyes
2. Pray For Rain
4. Raining Excuses
5. The Hammers Fall
6. The Lost Cause I Used To Be
7. No Sanctuary
11. Wrightsville Beach