Upon first glance, Grey, by The Pain & The Beauty sounds like a punk album—or at least some variant of pop-punk or punk-lite. And it is. There are obvious and evident aspects of those sub-genres, but the album is also expansive in its directions (perhaps at times too much for its own good), ultimately playing out more like a late ‘90s alt/indie-rock album shamelessly cherry-picking the decades that came before.
The album covers a lot of ground, from ska-twinged, nasally pop-punk to baritone vocals over grungy guitar. The opening track “Crickets” certainly falls into the former category, almost harkening back to The Jam in the late ‘70s, but with enough speed and whininess that it just as easily could have come out of the mid ‘90s. The track “Come Around” goes in both directions, starting off with an exaggerated baritone before being answered by a nasally pop-punk vocal line over a jangly acoustic guitar romp. “Retreat,” the third song, is where the record really starts to catch, sounding like it could have been pulled straight out of the Lag Wagon catalogue (in fact, the resemblance might just but a bit too uncanny).
With such an expansive range at play, it makes sense that Grey is at its best when it's closer to a sweet spot right in the middle. “Greater Times” is a standout track, opening with crunchy guitars chords before falling back to a searing riff over electronic drums. The obsidian-smooth vocals are layered unevenly so that when lines like “Someday I'll forget your birthday, someday you will forget mine; someday I guess that will be ok, someday I guess that will be fine,” are delivered, they are done with a waiver around the edge that really adds to the effect.
The Pain & The Beauty is the one-man project of Simon Tehle, a self-proclaimed attempt to capture the myriad of feelings surrounding the act and art of growing up. Having just returned from studying music at Berklee, Tehle embarked upon experimenting and teaching himself various recording and mixing techniques.
That nature of experimentation is a great asset for the creativity on Grey, but it also works against project maintaining a sense of coherence. The vocal delivery is different on nearly every song, with both Tehle singing in many styles as well as trying out different effects and production methods. It reminds me a bit of the way the Dandy Warhols stabbed in a few different directions on Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia, but those songs all managed to find an intuitive link between one another.
All and all, Grey is a solid effort. While it's bogged down a bit by its own ambition to be many things, it wears rather than is mired by this confused identity. Perhaps that's what the album is going for.
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