Black Lungs – [Album]

Sunday, 01 June 2008

Listening to Black Lungs’ debut full-length album, it’s impossible not to feel as if, in making it, singer/guitarist Wade MacNeil has beaten some very long odds. For the last seven years, MacNeil has played second guitar to early breakout member Dallas Green in post-hardcore, screamo kings Alexisonfire and backup singer to both Green and Alexis screamer George Pettit. Given the size of those two personalities, MacNeil has seen exactly none of the limelight that the band has enjoyed and even less attention for his contributions to their sound. However, as Send Flowers opens with echoed vocals, muted guitars and building screams beneath the mixes (where you can hear the singer tellingly rage, “Will you let me go to hell however I choose?” on "A Blessing And A Curse"), MacNeil presents himself as the singer of the unsung—modest but unafraid—and sets the tone for this album: this one is MacNeil’s affair alone and he’s not going to back down or roll over. It’s an all or nothing push and the singer himself says as much in “Hold Fast (Sink Or Swim).”

In a lot of ways, Send Flowers is characterized by what it isn’t more than what it is. Rather than trying to cultivate the image of a limp-wristed songwriter wearing his heart on his sleeve—as Green has already done for two records with his side project City and Colour—MacNeil pushes hard and never apologizes for turning up the volume on tracks like “When It’s Blackout,” “Hold Fast” and “Timeless." Rather, on each track he tries valiantly to make the honest play because it just feels right; “Timeless," for example, begins with a refreshing confession (“This is nothing original, identifiable/ Just familiarity to tap your toes to/ the soundtrack to wake up something inside you”) that doesn’t try for earnest romanticism because it just isn’t called for and, in this context, wouldn’t be welcome. The singer leaves the artifice to Green and just plays it candid here; in a lot of ways, it’s simply a straight up rock record, but it’s made all the better by its unaffected delivery and the fact that it doesn’t draw a single comparison to anything else that has come from the Alexisonfire camp. As the record progresses, the approach bears fruit as anyone listening can hear MacNeil get more confident in his vocals and his rasping, gravel-scoured voice opens up to reveal a tonality that is equal parts Greg Dulli and Lars Frederiksen.

By the closing “In Memory," MacNeil has paid his last dry-eyed tribute and is on the verge of coming undone. He leans against Sammi Bogdanski’s gentle piano timbres and (on loan from Attack In Black) Ian Romano’s drums for support, but by then, MacNeil has beautifully dome what he set out to do. Faced with the possibility that he could always be in the ever-growing shadows of Alexisonfire and Dallas Green, this second guitarist/third singer has to see if he could cut it on his own; that’s the test that Black Lungs represents. Send Flowers is Wade MacNeil’s test and, damning the torpedoes, he’s passed with flying colours.

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