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‘Beautiful Oblivion‘ is about moving on from negative experiences, toxic people, and painful memories. For the members of Issues, that ranges from parents, friends, cheating ex-partners, and their own past mistakes. It’s why the front cover sees a figure leaving behind out-stretched hands hungering to pull them back in, seeing the character walk towards the light instead. In this approach, ‘Beautiful Oblivion‘ comes with a level of self-awareness. On the closing, jazzier title track, Tyler Carter bluntly sings “symphonies in my head keep me alive,” and on ‘Second Best‘ he belts out “Sometimes I wanna get lost, just wanna listen to Citizen and be pissed-off.” That cool Citizen shout-out aside, it’s a record that’s aware of its own creation; a record crafted by love for music that’s about loving your art and the art of others that mean so much to you. It’s a record focused on healing through music; finding solace in sound.
For Issues as a band, the other connection here is them leaving their past behind somewhat. Following a big line-up change last year with the band parting ways with screamer Michael Bohn, this latest effort sees them taking their competent style-blending of pop, R&B, electronica, rock, nu-metal, and djenty metalcore even further; heading in newer, funkier, weirder realms in the process. So the bands long-present pop influences of Michael Jackson, Prince, Aaron Carter, and the similarities to their pop-and-rock peers in Don Broco and Emarosa (namely their new album) are felt harder than ever before on ‘Beautiful Oblivion.’ This is them growing as artists, and while that does come with some growing pains, it’s a solid growth spurt nonetheless. As the album’s namesake states, they’re “in love with the rhythm.”
Guitarist/screamer AJ Robello sends it hard on the six-strings; switching between lush, funky tones and pounding metal chugs, showing off his dexterity as a guitarist. His dryer, punchier tones from ‘Headspace‘ return, contrasted well with the heaviest riffs and lowest tunings the band’s ever flirted with. As for his vocals, you could cut off your thumbs and one hand, and still count up the number of times he screams. There’s many moments throughout ‘Beautiful Oblivion‘ where AJ’s screams (or Michael vocals at one point) would’ve slotted in nicely but the screaming is kept to a bare minimum. So much so I found myself forgetting this band even played around with such vocals. Bassist Skyler Acord slaps his five-string bass like there’s no tomorrow, and his playing is so fleshed-out in this new batch. Skyler also comes into his own more on LP #3, writing more parts and singing on the bridge in ‘Here’s To You.’
Drummer Josh Manuel can’t be discounted either, with plenty of tasteful hi-hat work, great little fills, and great ghost-noted snare rudiments; he’s hanging out balls-deep in the pocket of these tracks. And then there’s Tyler, who raps a little, plays more with his already high-register range, even screaming during the half-time part of the title track and the breakdown on ‘Second Best.’ Outside of some of his best vocal performances, it’s a very forthcoming release for the frontman. For instance, the ginormous melodic pop-punk number ‘Rain‘ seems to be another lyrical glimpse into the lacking relationship between him and his father, something previously discussed on ‘Someone Who Does.’
‘Here’s To You‘ speaks of substance abuse and getting too fucked up for one’s own good but remaining indifferent about said recklessness, coming armed with a nu-metal bridge that is straight-up bounce-central. This first-off-the-ranks cut also shows that working with renowned producer Howard Benson hasn’t seen the erasure of the weirder sides to Issues. (A concern I originally had with but is now misplaced after hearing the full album.) With the vibrant pop and funk directions that this LP traverses, it honestly seems like he’s encouraged those aspects of Issues to be cultivated, and I’m so glad that’s the case. But it’s also classic Issues at times as well.
As per the slick sonic collision of groove-metal and R&B, ‘Drink About It‘ has quickly become one of my favourite Issues songs. It’s just so fucking groovy and angular in rhythm and its riffs but has that killer, dark instrumental mood sitting right under Tyler’s soothing vocals that make it all come together. Throw in some subtle acoustic guitars, electro drums, go-big-or-go-home strings, and sweet pop-vocal runs, and this is a certified banger.
Following a hi-hat stomp, the skies of ‘Downfall‘ open up and unleash a downpour of heavy, double drop chugs and metalcore rhythms, before it suddenly takes this cleaner, melodic 180-degree shift, with a second verse that sees a drum and bass part courtesy of Enter Shikari’s Rou Reynolds coursing through Issues‘ veins. If anything, it’s the full genre-hybrid vision of Issues packaged into a single song and I’m all about that boldness.
On the upbeat neo-soul highlight, ‘Find Forever,’ we hear more of Tyler’s already falsetto vocals and super tasteful, cleaner instrumental licks. It all cools off with a wicked bass-driven bridge, with a feel-good gospel choir coupled with hand-claps before the final chorus kicks back in but armed with sexy saxophone lines from Antonio “Saxl Rose” Hancock. Bar the sax, this one reminded me heavily of the bangin’ ‘Lost N’ Found.’ (Issues have a choir return during ‘No Problem (Keep It Alive)‘ but doesn’t work as well. Yet the children’s choir on ‘Second Best‘ was a great touch. Swings and roundabouts.) We get Tyler putting on his rap hat over groovy mid-tempo drumming and colourful funk-guitars on the expressive ‘Without You;’ a vibe-heavy tune that feels like a cool summer-breeze flowing through your hair. I doubt the “sugar honey ice tea” lyric is a BMTH reference; more a coincidence as both songs would’ve been written separately before either’s release.
However, for all its big wins, ‘Beautiful Oblivion‘ does have the odd low-point. I don’t think anyone is legitimately walking away from this thinking: “my two favourite songs are ‘Get It Right’ and ‘No Problem’.” Other than being two of the three songs that I routinely skipped on all consecutive run-throughs after my third listen, they’re definitely the “duds” but are still passable. Which speaks volumes about Issues consistency as a band. The third song I’m referring to is penultimate piano-ballad, ‘Your Sake,’ that I never cared for.
Likewise, even within the context of the record, the safer ‘Tapping Out‘ still does nothing for me. While I dig the darker verses and its clever boxing-match metaphor surrounding mental health – dealing with AJ’s suicide attempt and therapy when recording – that tuned “look at me now” chorus grates my ears, and AJ’s screams for the heavier bridge and breakdown section don’t add much substance either. Elsewhere, there’s the fun and catchy black-sheep, the ever divisive ‘Flexin.’ It’s a goofy little tune that’s honestly not half bad; a song about being a broke bitch and being financially irresponsible. Yet it definitely ain’t flexing on any of its better siblings that maintain the strongest points of ‘Beautiful Oblivion,’ and I’m also not completely sold that the LP fully needed ‘Flexin‘ too.
Whilst imperfect, and while not quite on par with ‘Headspace,’ that sure isn’t for a lack of trying from Issues. As ‘Beautiful Oblivion’ sees Issues trying out new things creatively, furthering their R&B, poppier moods into weirder, funkier realms, blending their rock and metalcore moments back in nicely. Excluding ‘Drink About It,’ there’s no song here that’s up there with ‘Life Of A Nine,’ ‘The Realest,’ ‘Coma,’ or ‘Slow Me Down,’ but plenty of choice cuts have their own merits (‘Without You,’ ‘Second Best,’ ‘Find Forever,’ the titular song.) ‘Beautiful Oblivion’ has got hooks for days and some brilliant guitar and bass tones to boot, as Tyler Carter vocally glides over these well-produced instrumentals. Myopic listeners who only wanted the chug-loving, breakdown-loving Issues of old may be pissed-off by this new album (and their disappointment gives me life), but those open-minded enough for new sounds will find an enjoyable, catchy pop-metal album that sees Issues cutting loose with success, for the most part. All I have left to add: keep going Issues, you’re onto something here.
- Here’s To You
- Drink About It
- Find Forever
- Tapping Out
- Without You
- Get It Right
- No Problem
- Your Sake
- Beautiful Oblivion
‘Beautiful Oblivion’ is out now: