Just Like Vinyl’s “Black Mass” can’t quite decide what it wants to be. The album is caught in the void between acid-wash screamo punk and jagged-edged alternative metal. The record aims for the middle, shooting for a cut-with-scissors feel in the vein of At The Drive-In. While “Black Mass: successfully replicates the feel of those too-long-gone college radio classics, that’s all it does; replicate.
Part of the duality is not just the music, but the context. Just Like Vinyl can pen a seemingly heartfelt near-ballad like “Walk You Home,” but then comes back around the bend with songs called (and about) “Bitches Get Stitches” and “Happiness is a Hole.” As a listener, you’re not sure which is the joke and which, if either, is to be believed.
Just Like Vinyl seldom births its own natural emotion, despite the technical execution of sharp, crunchy, frenetic music. To the band’s credit, the notes and tones are appropriately frantic and desperate, and taken on its own, the listener can appreciate the feeling of unease that “Black Mass” intends to inspire. Guitarist Jake Carden is the star of this show, his crispy tone carrying the entire idea of the album’s sound and single-handedly generating the album’s most captivating element. His notes are off-balance in a good way, playing hit and run with the listener’s eardrums for tracks like “Sucks to Be You.”
Early on, “Hours and Whiskey Sours” shows some promise as a hitter, but then keeps getting under the ball and popping out because of the lackluster, made-for-radio chorus. The sing-along breakdown lends the song a hook it didn’t need, which is an issue for tracks all over the album (and ruins “Pressure/Release.”) I’m all for accessibility in music, but there are times when it contrasts with the album’s intent and becomes superfluous.
It takes five full songs for the album to blend its metal chops in, resulting in a layout not altogether different from a split EP. “Sucks to be You” is the first song that rolls in a little heavy metal screaming, but it’s not really until “Happiness is a Hole,” that the album drops into any kind of chug and allows the bass of Henry Batts to be part of the mix.
As a metal band, Just Like Vinyl’s pinnacle achievement is “First Born,” an off-kilter and intentionally scattershot affair that hits closest to the band’s intended idiom. The verses are dire and bitten, while Carden and Batts play so divergently that your attention is distracted and left in a haphazard shambles. More of this kind of experimentation would have made “Black Mass” a more complete effort, or barring that, at least a more academically interesting one. Just Like Vinyl has some talent for experimenting with odd cadences, and that should push that envelope in the future.
Everything I’ve said above coalesces in the album’s closer, simply and crudely titled “Dick.” This is the best showcase of everything the band wants to offer, treading the line between sludgy noise metal and crunchy alt-punk. The measures are just funky enough to be attention grabbing, while the rhythms are well-designed and executed. If Just Like Vinyl could put twelve “Dick”s on an album, they’d have a contender. (File that under inappropriate things I didn’t think I’d say today.)
Just Like Vinyl is in their birth pangs, and they have a ways to go. “Black Mass” isn’t the album it wants to be, and the style the band is going for is difficult to grasp and perfect. It’s highly possible that their next album won’t be a breakthrough, either. That said, they do show some positive signs, and the bottom line here is that you might want to pass on this one, but don’t forget the name altogether.