One look at Mayday Parade’s new album cover says it all: five black lines. I wouldn’t call it coincidence that the band has released four full length albums up until this point, and “Black Lines” is Mayday ditching their old sound and flashy logo to perform an experiment. After releasing one pop-rock chart topper after another, the band clearly feels comfortable enough now to do their own thing, not being creatively constrained to previously successful song archetypes. “Black Lines” is Mayday Parade ditching the glitz that they have garnered over the last ten years and breathing some fresh air.
Mayday Parade was most notorious for writing songs of young love that have since aged with the listener in the way you might cringe at the thought of an old significant other from high school. The technique works for a specific demographic, but it’s a demographic whose tastes quickly change. Mayday’s saving grace wasn’t in their lyrical content, but in their clear understanding of a catchy chorus, and it puts the band on a pedestal that most others in the genre can only hope to reach. It wasn’t until I saw them live on our very own campus my freshman year of college that I realized I was no longer a part of their carefully catered scene. High school, thank God, doesn’t last forever.
“Black Lines” came as a surprise at first. Not following the band anymore, I was intrigued to find a new album of theirs gracing my Spotify new releases. The most interesting aspect of this find: the album artwork. Mayday Parade’s distinctive bold lettered logo is gone, and in its place is the band’s name, unflatteringly set in a typewritten font on an album cover that looks like a hardcore band’s first EP.
Upon hearing Derek Sanders’ immediate yells from the opening track, “One of them will Destroy the Other,” I knew something was awry:
“I don’t know, man, I think I’m starting to feel something peculiar, something that’s either aggression or it’s got all possession of my mind,” he sings.
Never before have I heard this frontman, with the swooning voice that I remember as his trademark, sound so aggressive. The track is distinctly not-Mayday, at least until you reach the chorus, where hints of their former sound shine through. Immediately I realized this album was going to split fans, and knowing how passionate Mayday’s fan base tends to be, I knew how much of a risk they were taking with this record. It more than impressed me; it kept my ears glued to the speakers until all forty-four minutes of its seething energy were spent.
“Black Lines” writes over all of Mayday’s previous work. Lyrically, the band has reached a heightened maturity. “Black Lines” isn’t consistent with Sanders’ previous lyrical tropes about the joy and innocence of young love; rather, it grates the listener with the desperation of looking for something that one might never find again. It’s the desperation of growing up and facing the reality of the world that we must grow into, though we might constantly be searching for those perfect moments that only exist in reminiscence:
“Nobody’s ever gonna show me what I’m looking for, and I’m never gonna feel that fire again,” he sings on “One of Them Will Destroy the Other.”
Derrick Sanders’ previously notable crooning has been downplayed on this LP in favor of a new, more aggressive vocal technique that grittily suits the growth that this album represents. Mayday’s old sound is still there, but you really have to listen for it buried under a layer of musical dirt. Guitarists’ Brooks Betts and Alex Garcia have both demonstrated their competency with older records, and it’s revitalizing to hear their influences seep unhindered through “Black Lines.” Harsh riffs drive tracks such as “One of them will Destroy the Other,” and “All on Me,” while airy melodies linger in the foreground of tracks “Until You’re Big Enough,” and “Narrow.” We even get a groovy baseline from Jeremy Lenzo that drives the brooding third track, “Hollow.” The mix on drummer Jake Bundrick’s kit sits perfectly behind Sanders and co., and his fills add complexity to the music without overburdening the simple structure of each song.
“Black Lines” made me a Mayday fan again, but I hesitate to say that I am a returning listener. This album could very well be the band’s new direction, one I’m sure they hope will spark interest in older fans. If “Black Lines’” sales flop, and Fearless Records takes the reigns over their glamorous pop-stars, then I will have but to embrace the album for what it represented. It’s financially smart for a band to push out record after record of what works, and in the current state of the music industry it takes great risk to try something that might not. Black Lines is a pop behemoth going against the tide, or underneath it if we’re going to make puns, and is a mature album from a band that has clearly aged on many levels. Sanders’ utterance:
“Well God knows I’ve changed, I talk like I’m wounded now, I walk like I don’t know how, maybe I could re-teach myself, one foot in front of the other one.”
This a call to the listener, a plea for understanding to a fan base that may feel very alienated by the band’s new direction. We all change, and the process of starting again is a beautiful thing that can inspire incredible creativity. Black Lines is the most creative record Mayday Parade has released to date, and is a perfect example of the art that can come from risk and transition.
Mike Naples is a third-year student majoring in buisness management and marketing. He can be reached at MN805392@wcupa.edu.