2008 might go down as one of the most tumultuous years in the history of “alternative” music. By more than one account, it was a reluctant passing of the torch from one generation of artists to another. As iconic acts such as The Early November and The Starting Line called it quits, bands with a more electronic edge began to claim the scene spotlight. It was in this atmosphere that Denver, Colorado’s electro-pop duo Breathe Carolina began to amass a legion of fans behind their fusion of post hardcore-style screaming and singing with trance-like electronics. The original result was the online-only collection of songs informally called The Gossip EP and the band’s 2008 Rise Records debut, It’s Classy, Not Classic. The band’s combination of straight-up dance/trance tunes with airy, Auto-Tuned vocals and occasional screams attracted both legions of loyal fans and an army of scornful detractors.This polarization was heightened less than 12 months later, when the duo released their Fearless Records debut, Hello Fascination. The album brought the act’s sound into the realm of “legitatmate” rock, introducing guitars and breakdowns to the band’s sugary, synthy style. While this eclectic mix caused for a largely incoherent mix of tracks, the band’s formula seemed to work. That is, until this latest album Hell Is What You Make It. Filled to the brim with 13 tracks, Hell is easily one of the year’s most mixed bags, at times delivering electronic sections worthy of the finest DJs while at others leaving the listener disappointed at the pathetic grabs for Top 40 radio.
For all of Hell Is What You Make it’s inconsistency, the record starts off very strong, bouncing from the trance-inspired intro straight into one of the band’s heaviest (and best) tracks to date, “Wooly.” Indeed, “Wooly” is Breathe Carolina’s quintessential track, encapsulating the extremes of the band’s sound up until this point. The song seamlessly jumps from synth-backed, club worthy verses and choruses to manic screaming and breakdowns that put A Day To Remember to shame, creating a delightful roller coaster for the listener. Alas, despite the heights that “Wooly” climbs to in the formation of Breathe Carolina’s sound, the record proves that it is in many ways a departure from the sound the band’s fans have come to adore over the past two years. Indeed, the song itself is a false start to the album, and after a listen of the entire record, the track’s chorus (“and I wish you well, I’m the storm giving you hell…”) seems to be sound alot like a warning to the listener.
Indeed, from the following track onwards, the record seems to ignore the manic and the heavy in favor of trance, dubstep, songs that simply scream “Top 40,” with little exception. Indeed, “Blackout” contains all of the aforementioned elements, and makes for a fairly forgettable track, while “Edge Of Heaven,” despite its softer beat and respectable use of dubstep, tries to force screaming where it clearly does not belong. Further along, the track “Sweat It Out” itself quickly turns to hell; while the song pairs some more ill-fitting screaming passages with awkwardly paced electronics, the chorus is perhaps one of the record’s greatest. It is simply a shame that one must sit through the verses to reach them. Yet, this is all nothing compared to “They Say You Won’t Come Back,” the biggest clusterfuck the band has written to the date. A cheesy chorus and trudging verses make this song terrible to the point of comedy, and one wishes that the band had indeed pulled a Lonely Island in this sad excuse for a track.
Thankfully, despite these disappointments, the band comes up with some mild winners through the record, if not even within the disappointing tracks themselves. It should be noted that throughout many of the record’s more disappointing tracks, the music still displays some level of skill with electronics. It is simply tragic that the overall products lack much coherence. After “Wooly,” the first mildly respectable track is “Last Night (Vegas).” For all of its cliché lyrical content (the song itself is much like The Hangover), it is perhaps one of the greatest tracks Jason Derulo never recorded. Meanwhile “Gone So Long,” a mid-tempo ballad, seems to channel the best of Top 40 in its heartfelt verses and sugary radio-ready chorus. Thankfully, the record proves to be ironically bottom-heavy, with the majority of the more palatable tracks found in the second half of the tracklisting. The dubstep instrumentation and darker lyrical content of “Get Off Easy” will make it, along with the following track “Waiting,” a sure hit at the band’s live performances. “Take It Back” is yet another of the band’s bids for the hearts of the pop masses, and it is easy to say that it is the act’s best shot at success. Yet, the record’s true gems come in the final two tracks, “Chemicals” and “Lauren’s Song.” Indeed if Hell Is What You Make It is an attempt at experimentation and expansion of a sound, the duo would be well to note what they did with these two songs. “Chemicals” prominently features the band’s usual screamer providing clean vocals, and includes the record’s finest dub passage. Yet, even this passage pales in comparision to the album closer, “Lauren’s Song.” The song is truly the dark horse of the record as it is a straightforward rock track. It pays tribute to both artists’ roots in the underground Colorado punk scene, and introduces a possibility for Breathe Carolina’s future never previously considered: as one of a traditional rock band.
Without a doubt, Hell Is What You Make It is mixed and shuffled beyond comprehension. Not only does the record contain some truly hellish tracks (giving a new meaning to the album’s title), but it defies all tracklisting common sense by placing the strongest tracks to the record’s tail end, making the journey to find them much like the search for El Dorado. It is clear that Breathe Carolina is a band in artistic limbo. The act’s two distinct sounds have come to a head, pulling the band’s songs more into one direction than another. Yet, for all its attempts at pop sheen and radio stardom, it is obvious that the future of Breathe Carolina’s music is uncertain. The band is forcing itself to choose between the mosh pit and the dancefloor, and it would be wise for them to know that the future of their act, much like the hell that this album (at times) symbolizes, is what they make it.
4. Edge of Heaven
5. Last Night (Vegas)
6. Sweat It Out
7. Gone So Long
8. They Say You Won't Come Back
9. Get Off Easy
11. Take It Back
13. Lauren's Song
Breathe Carolina started in 2007 with Denver, Colorado natives Kyle Even and David Schmitt, recording songs on GarageBand for fun. They started out as a MySpace band, getting over 10,000 plays in 2008 and accumulating over 30 million plays during 2009. The name Breathe Carolina came from a dream David had about a woman named Carolina living his life right before his eyes. In early 2008 Breathe Carolina signed with Rise Records, but left Rise in mid 2009 and joined Fearless Records. They have made 3 music videos and have released 2 full length albums. ... read more