Nothingness and empty can swell in a way that we soundtrack our own existence. As “Fulton Street I” builds on La Dispute’s Panorama, Jordan Dreyer’s screaming voice sounds like his soul is exiting his body with fear. The Michigan-based post-hardcore band’s most subdued record yet is also their most intense.
Just like neighbors who don’t talk, Panorama is a natural succession in La Dispute’s catalog, but you would barely believe that it’s built in the same home as Wildlife or Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair. Between the cleaner and grander instrumentation and the limited distorted vocals, Panorama teeters on a different band. It still has the ambition and some of Dreyer’s screams, but it feels more like a meditation on a life about to end.
All this comes as Dreyer is 31 years old, but he sees destruction and pain around him in a deeply real way, and it doesn’t sit well with him. “Anxiety Panorama” feels like the album’s centerpiece, as it draws most from the band’s early work, but it also sums up the panic that he feels in watching what feels like the world end. La Dispute don’t bullshit around with this imagery, following the instrumental first track “Fulton Street I” sets these tones:
“I saw fenders bend hard on an oak tree
I saw sirens at the scene
I saw cigarettes falling in the tangle of machinery
Between the console and the seat.”
Like any good poet, he’s specific. Even in a song like “In Northern Michigan,” over a smoldering track, this seems like a love song, but it also is built around absences caused by death. This is part of what sets the band apart from bands like Hotel Books. They hear the musicality of the poetry, but they also manage to tackle large narratives without the cringe-inducing lyricism of a thirteen year old, who just watched a bunch of slam poetry videos on YouTube.
Despite the bleak, mature realism of the record, “You Ascendant” provides some hope. A withdrawn track, it provides a dark romance about wishing to be together in death with the sincerity of a great Poe poem instead of the “wouldn’t it be cool to die together?” thought of a song by HIM. It’s still very sad, but it’s seeking some sort of comfort.