Vinyl Vlog 576

Vinyl Vlog 576

Sunday, 13 November 2022
The Flatliners – New Ruin – “Rat King”

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into The Flatliners’ New Ruin LP. In the twenty-year duration of The Flatliners’ career to date, it’s actually pretty remarkable to observe the turns that the band’s music has taken. After beginning with some respectable (if not terribly memorable) ska-core in 2005 and then taking a couple of years to develop (see how it works with 2007’s The Great Awake), The Flatliners really hit the big time hard with 2010’s classic Cavalcade and proved that the success of that album wasn’t a fluke with 2013’s Dead Language. After that, the band followed The Ramones’ career path for a while (released a compilation and bandmembers released solo albums on smaller labels) before finally beginning to return to center and reclaim themselves – right before the pandemic turned the whole world on its head.

The last five years have felt a little uncertain for The Flatliners (a sensation they’ve shared with every band who makes a living on the road), but New Ruin – the band’s sixth album and first full-length in five years – finds them back and on stable ground.

As soon as needle catches groove on the A-side and “Performative Hours” opens the proceedings, listeners will be blasted out of their seats as Scott Brigham’s guitars, Jon Darbey’s bass and Paul Ramirez’ drums as well as the production applied by singer/guitarist/producer Chris Cresswell which presents it all rushes out so fast that it may take listeners’ breath away. That breathtaking sensation seems to have hit Cresswell as well; here, a little more rasp than fans are used to hearing in the singer’s voice puts some fresh grit into the song through the verses and it then relieved perfectly when the gravel disappears in the choruses. The easiest way to explain the delivery is to say that the first verse hits listeners just as they expect after having not heard from the band for a minute, but then the choruses prove that they’re better than ever. It’s honestly just what fans need.

After that first explosion, The Flatliners hold back and make listeners come to them in the solid but not so monumentally hard charge which pushes “Rat King” along. There, Darbey’s bass does most of the heavy lifting through the verses as Cresswell and Brigham take a page from Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner’s book for the performance – which also leaves a lot of space and dissonance in the mix through the song’s verses. The result means that listeners are really able to grasp Cresswell’s frustration with the abuses of power that the singer sees and the divisiveness which grows from it while (blessedly) leaving all the potential perpetrators of the act unnamed. After the last few years of lots of people pointing fingers, naming names and making accusations as TV cameras roll, that Cresswell speaks in more generalized and emotional terms feels fantastically refreshing. That sense of refreshment carries over into “Big Strum,” which is more melodic than hardcore and simmers where the tracks which preceded it boiled over, and while “Top Left Door” really sets too great a contrast between the opening play of the song (which is just Cresswell and a guitar with scooped mids to really give the moment a “by himself” feeling) and the moment when all the bandmembers join (the difference just makes the song feel and sound lopsided), “It’ll Hurt” resolves that flaw with better balance and a more enduring, positive and propulsive outlook which braces the song right through to the second before the needle lifts from the side.

The quality of the A-side of New Ruin is great and will certainly have listeners ready for more when they flip the record over to renew the play, but there’s no denying that the B-side of the album is the superior document. With a slightly more gentle hand than that which was used to throw figurative bricks through “Performative Hours,” lighter guitars (or, at least, not such heavy chords) set tension and build through the beginning of “Oath” – which gives listeners’ imaginations the chance to really build with the song, as it plays. That build proves to also be fuelled by Cresswell’s lyrics which, as was also true on the A-side of the album, are far better polished than the average punk banger (check out lyrics like, “How’d you find hate at the end of a long rope?/ Got a lot to say/ Gatekeeping on a feeling indescribable/ Finding pleasure in their pain/ Cutting corners off of inconsequential correlations/ And since it’s so above us/ We keep reaching for love”) and are capable of hooking listeners incredibly hard. Immediately after that hook is set, the band returns to the ultra-refined melodic hardcore the band’s fans love them for and particular standouts on this B-side – “Recoil,” “Souvenir” and “Tunnel Vision” – illustrate the band’s mastery of the form as they show how much delicacy they can install without bogging the songs down (“Tunnel Vision” is a particular standout in that regard, as Cresswell really goes out of his way to present some excellent melody in his vocal performance, and Paul Ramirez installs a drumming pattern which really drives the song but never threatens to overwhelm it). After that, “Heirloom” lives up to its name by sounding like a song which has been waiting in The Flatliners’ canon since the band was writing for Cavalcade, and then the band politely shows listeners the door with “Under A Dying Sun.” There, the band dials back the power levels a couple of notches to imply that, yes, this trip is almost over – but still exerts enough force to really help add some extra punch the album’s play.

…And, as “Under A Dying Sun” fades out, listeners will find that they need to take a minute to really decide what New Ruin means – both to them and to The Flatliners. For the band, there’s little question that New Ruin lives up to its name in that the album expresses a new and more mature angle that the band has taken to the music they’ve been making for the last twenty years. New Ruin does not abandon the sound and style they’ve been working with, it annexes that sound and adds both a bit of hindsight as well as a resolution that some that some new ground has been broken too. For fans, New Ruin will represent a new chapter in The Flatliners’ ongoing development and gives them some of what they’ve been showing up for for decades, but also gives them some new goodness to inhabit as well. Simply said, with New Ruin, everybody wins. [Bill Adams]


New Ruin is out now. Buy it here, directly from the band’s official website.

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