When "Understanding In A Car Crash" from Thursday's 2001 album, Full Collapse, became a surprise hit, Thursday became screamo's ambassador to the mainstream. Characterized by heavy, melodic punk with a visceral emotional edge, the style had yet to gain a foothold outside the underground. That changed when Thursday left its indie home, Victory, for Island. Then the floodgates opened, and the water hasn't gone down since: Thousands of histrionic screamo bands have followed in its wake, each replicating the sound, but mostly missing what made Thursday special.
After 2003's War All The Time, Thursday disappeared and essentially disbanded before reconvening with an expanded lineup (adding keyboardist Andrew Everding). City's leadoff track, "The Other Side Of The Crash," seemingly references Thursday's breakout hit, though the new album isn't a re-tread. Perhaps (rightly) sensing that the screamo formula now sounds passé, Thursday created lush-yet-powerful songs that neither abandon the band's roots nor wallow in them. Producer David Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, Sleater-Kinney) has limited experience with heavier music, but plenty with ambitious bands, and his touch is evident on City. It's much moodier than its predecessors; songs like "The Lovesong Writer," "Autumn Leaves Revisited," and "Sugar In The Sacrament" show an impressive structural sophistication. The liner notes credit a voice coach, which explains why vocalist Geoff Rickly mostly sings, falling back on rote shouting only a couple of times. All City's tracks show growth and reinforce Thursday's superiority over its imitators.
When Thursday left Victory, Taking Back Sunday became the label's star by playing a poppier variety of screamo. On its 2002 debut, Tell All Your Friends, it sounded fresh and raw, but two albums later, it's formulaic. The opening track of Louder Now, Taking Back Sunday's major-label debut, shifts tone with an Audioslave-like guitar lick, but the TBS formula gets entrenched by track three: subdued verse, louder bridge, big chorus, repeat. More maddening are the breakdowns that arrive like clockwork. "What's It Feel Like To Be A Ghost?" gets quiet at the 2:10 mark, but roars back 50 seconds later. With "MakeDamnSure," the quiet/loud break comes between 2:04 and 2:45. The formula recurs in virtually every song, except for the now-obligatory acoustic track ("Divine Intervention"). Vocalist Adam Lazzara has also changed his style a bit, though he occasionally sounds like his jaw is wired shut. That's not to say that Louder Now lacks charm—"Spin" and "Miami" excellently blend the band's acumen for punk punchiness and melody alike—but the album's numbing repetitiveness negates it.