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“It was the middle of the night…” begins Hawthorne Heights vocalist JT Woodruff as he invites listeners into “Bring You Back,” the first track on Skeletons. The song serves as an introduction to a journey through the band’s most recent album as well as an ode to former member Casey Calvert, whom the band lost in 2007. Opening the album with such an homage and expression of pain and loss prepares the listener to continue along with the future of Skeletons, just as the band did. Woodruff sings, “I’d do anything if I could bring you back,” but since that wish is highly unlikely, Hawthorne Heights proceeds to tell the story of Skeletons, an album “about escaping from all the bullshit around you and rebuilding yourself after what seems like total devastation.”
There is much to be celebrated with the June 1 release of Skeletons. It is the fourth full-length studio album compiled by Hawthorne Heights, though the first to be released under Wind-Up Records after a rough bout with Victory Records. The new label has given the band a fresh drawing board with what sounds like a lot more freedom. New label, new sound. Long-time fans of the band may disagree, but the turn toward more melodic verses and beautifully harmonized choruses sans Calvert’s unclean vocals have changed their sound for the better. Just check out the anthem in “Last Few Words.” Rather than an unnecessary scream, words are emphasized by a melodic echo as well as pleasing harmonies. Not to worry about the loss of any signature edge or roughness, though. “Abandoned Driveways” provides more harsh vocals that cut through Eron Bucciarelli’s vicious drumming and Micah Carli’s distorted guitar patterns. The song communicates an aggressive take on being so much a presence in a person’s life that you become their “gateway drug,” and will not get away too soon.
The band is toting the album’s second track, “Nervous Breakdown,” as the first single and have already released it for streaming on their myspace. The chorus is catchy enough, but the hook happens in the first few seconds when Matt Ridenour and his bass introduce a tighter, funkier 80s feel. Have fun with dance-groove friendly “Hollywood and Vine,” which supplies a bit more pop in the lyric construction and a heart-stopping break before the last chorus. Even more fun is had with a more electronically driven and tight dance beat in “Drive.” “Drive, just drive./Roll the windows down feel alive./Alright, alright, I’ll drive until the morning light.” If that sunrise reflects the awakening of a new era for Hawthorne Heights, then Wind me Up and count me in.
“End of the Underground” was originally slated to appear on the bands last album Fragile Futures. Props for this choice, as the confidence in moving forward has a better fit in Skeletons, rather than an album that dealt more with reactions to the loss of a best friend. But more than that, “the end of the underground” communicates the band starting over – getting what appears to be a second chance in their careers by working under a new label. A heavier, fuller instrumentation throughout both verse and chorus may even be the foundation upon which this album is built. Listening again, it is almost as if they knew three years ago that this song would be the launch of a new beginning. After all, the album’s title is derived from the lyric “The skeletons are screaming for one last dance.” And no, Hawthorne Heights, “you are not alone.” The personal growth that has been thrown into the songwriting and intelligent arrangements for this record provide the rest of the body for those Skeletons, and will hopefully make the leap from that last dance into the next thousand dances, as the future appears even brighter.
In Eron’s words, “[Skeletons] is about making bad decisions and learning to deal with the outcomes but still pushing on…having confidence in yourself and who you are. And being positive despite seemingly insurmountable odds.” I would say that after a listen, those odds are in your favor.