I hate it when a band I like releases an album I don’t. Thus is the case with post-hardcore band Slaves’ latest album “Routine Breathing,” released last Friday. With all the drama that comes with inviting the band into your life (including their most recent episode with the Vans Warped Tour), emotions were heightened from both band and fan during their recent traumatic experience. After suffering through so much, Jonny Craig and company have bounced back and released their album early in appreciation of the support from their fans. If only they could have utilized that energy to generate a better album.
I have a few issues in particular when it comes to “Routine Breathing.” First of all, what’s with the song titles? Over half the titles are weak attempts at humor, so irrelevant to the substance within the song that it does a great injustice to the track. I mean, titles like “Shout Out To My Toasters” and “We Are So Michelle Branch” mean absolutely nothing to the listener, leaving them feeling left out of an inside joke. I know some bands pride themselves on humorous titles (like Dance Gavin Dance for example), but I feel it inappropriate in this case.
Second, the album has way too many songs on it. With 15 tracks, I feel Slaves threw everything they wrote on this album, whether it was gold or garbage. Most of the songs overstay their welcome with drawn-out intros and outros, which I feel are only in place to help push songs past the three minute mark. It doesn’t help that so many of the tracks sound very similar not only to each other, but to tracks off their prior album “Through Art We Are All Equals.” In fact, the song “One God” is an acoustic rehash of “There’s Only One God And His Name Is Death” from their prior album. Although it is a decent rendition, I feel it’s a space waster and completely unnecessary on this album, best left to be played live instead of on a record.
Utilizing the same overdriven rhythms and bass pedal sounds from their prior album, I feel like I’m experiencing déjà vu with every listen. With such a talented vocalist as Jonny Craig, someone who has released fifty albums to date (I may be exaggerating), I was expecting something a little more moving, with more exploration and experimentation. On top of the same sounds, the album also uses the same lyrical inspirations that feel forced and uninspired. Centering on addiction and loss, I feel like Jonny Craig is simply repeating himself. The album is mediocre enough that the listener will forget what they heard in moments.
I hate feeling this way towards “Routine Breathing,” an album I’ve been anticipating for some time. But even with the numerous negatives, there are a few moments about the album that give me reason to not give up on the band. The one sonic change to this album from its predecessor is the lack of chugging rhythm guitar, instead opting for a lighter, up-tuned sound. Luckily Slaves (for the most part) released their strongest songs as singles, particularly “Burning Our Morals Away” and “Death Never Lets Us Say Goodbye.” I have already written about “Death Never…” in the past, so I won’t repeat myself. I will say that it is the second best track on the album, falling to “Winter Everywhere.” The softest and most non-Slaves sounding song on the album, “Winter Everywhere” features a guest spot by Tilian Pearson, a vocalist I’ve praised on this site in the past. The softer sounding track is more reminiscent of Jonny Craig’s solo material, which honestly I feel is more “experimental” than anything he’s ever released. The combination of Craig and Pearson is the highlight of this album, a falsetto dream. I would love to see this combination collaborate again in the future, especially in a setting away from Slaves (Isles and Glaciers Part Two, anyone?). Finally, there is no denying that Jonny Craig is an amazing singer. His airy and light vocals are always fun to listen to, even though he repeats the same flutters and crescendos on every album he’s ever sung on.
As much as I wanted to love this record, I just couldn’t. “Routing Breathing” sounds like any other Jonny Craig-fronted album, let alone like any other post-hardcore album. There isn’t enough about this album to stand out amongst others in the genre. It is far too familiar, suffering the same fate as Disturbed and their latest release. If Slaves wants to create an amazing album, they need to step away from their comfort zone and deliver something new and fresh. To say this album isn’t worth a listen is too strong of a statement, but the listener must listen with caution. If you’d like to support Slaves and their album “Routine Breathing,” you can find it on iTunes, and can follow them on Facebook and Twitter for latest news. If you’re really looking for some post-hardcore goodness, I’d recommend instead checking out Jonny Craig’s solo material, which I feel is more emotionally stirring than anything this album has to offer.