The Flatliners’ fifth full-length album is finally here! I’m constantly amazed when bands are able to continue making music together for this sort of length of time (fifteen years in the case of The Flats), because there are so many things that can derail a band’s focus or upset its winning formula. Through all of The Flatliners’ many years making (glorious) music together, I’ve yet to meet an album I didn’t like – despite the diversity across the band’s albums. It’s hardly surprising that over such a long period of time their sound has progressed and changed, but I think many fans were anxious about the band’s departure from Fat Wreck Chords after 10 years on the label, and the decision to release Inviting Light on Rise Records and Dine Alone Records. Coming up to this release, I felt a similar mixture of excitement and trepidation (Rise Records has burned me before) – but I really couldn’t wait to see what Inviting Light has to offer.
As I get into the first song, ‘Mammals’, I’m surprised by the slow and concentrated beginning. The guitar throbs with ghostly reverb that makes it seem as though the album is being glimpsed from a long way off, slowly materializing out of a thick mist and gradually coming into focus. This intro steadily gathers momentum until the song brightens about a minute in. Right from the first few words Chris sings it’s clear that his vocals have been treated differently on this record. His voice has a slight nasal quality and a bit of a tinny buzz. Despite this, the overall sound of the first track is warm and richly layered. In fact, as I’ll find later, the entire album has these qualities. The next song, ‘Hang my Head, begins more familiarly. This is partly because I’ve heard the song before, as it comes off of the Nerves EP that The Flatliners brought out for Fest weekend last year, and because the steady beat reminds me a little of ‘Count Your Bruises’ from 2010’s Cavalcade. The sentiment is also similar; while ‘Count Your Bruises’ may be a little more upbeat, both songs focus on dealing with the battles and anxieties of life. ‘Nicotine Lips’ is one of the faster and more old-school songs on the album, even though the chorus brings in some dense reverb on the vocals. ‘Indoors’ and ‘Human Party Trick’ were released a little earlier than the full record and I immediately liked both of these songs. Both really showcase the band’s luscious guitar tone and their deft skills in crafting fantastic melodies. The little guitar flourishes on ‘Indoors’, the way everything gradually swells, does for me just what so many Flatliners’ releases have done before - totally transports me out of my body and puts me inside that glowing melody. Coming off of this high and into ‘Unconditional Love’, I was not expecting to slow down so soon. This track has a brooding, bluesy flavour, and gets quite intense. On this and their previous album, Dead Language, The Flatliners have seemed to enjoy lingering in darker emotions and settling into deep grooves. ‘Burn out Again’ has a similar bluesy/country twang, and bemoans the inevitable crash that comes with trying to constantly produce new material. Much like the new Menzingers album, these are songs coming from older and more seasoned musicians, and this is reflected in both the subject matter and the careful crafting of each song.
‘Infinite Wisdom’ moves back to a more established Flatliners sound. It’s quite growly, but this grittiness is a little subdued – like the hard edges have been filed down and smoothed off. In general, the production on Inviting Light is quite smooth and polished which means the sound does lose a little texture. Chris’s gravelly vocals still sound amazing though. ‘Sympathy Vote’ is perhaps the poppiest track on the album, but hot damn it’s so good. Again, The Flatliners just know how to draw you in with some solid song writing and high-flying vocals. ‘Wedding Speech’ is probably my favourite lyrical offering from the album. In it, Chris sings “I’m personifying the wedding speech, looking to the future even if it’s bleak”. This really sums up the overall theme of Inviting Light: that things may be difficult and the future may seem doomed, but that we should nevertheless attempt to live with a cautious optimism – to ‘invite light’ into a dark and troubling time. The second-to-last track, ‘Chameleon Skin’, is well-named. I’m not sure I would have immediately recognised that this song was by The Flatliners if I hadn’t heard it as part of this album. The band slows down again in a longer track that expresses a deep desire to escape and to be someone else for a while. I could lose the fancy production here and just have a stripped-down acoustic song, but I can appreciate the poignancy of ‘Chameleon Skin’ as it is. Last on Inviting Light is ‘No Roads’, which captures all of the bittersweet emotions related to touring and returning home with great musical phrasing and passionate vocals.
On Inviting Light, The Flatliners indulge in a weightier, more refined sound that’s also warm and soulful. It’s a long way off from the rapid skacore songs of their youth, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I really enjoy early Flatliners, but I love their later offerings too. This album showcases some of the band’s best song writing, but I can sense that the smoother, milder tones of Inviting Light may not be to everyone’s taste.
Buy Inviting The Light here: https://www.banquetrecords.com/the-flatliners/inviting-light/4050538268591
Like The Flatliners here: https://www.facebook.com/theflatliners/
This review was written by Robyn Pierce.