ALBUM DISPUTE: La Dispute ties loose ends with ‘Panorama’

La Dispute, Panorama

Toward the end of La Dispute’s 2008 debut, vocalist Jordan Dreyer proclaimed authentic love in spite of everything: “We are but lovers/ We are the last of our kind/ And if we let our hearts move outward/ We will never die.” La Dispute circa 2019 now begins its final confrontation with the reality of human mortality—“Will I ever leave flowers by the street?”

La Dispute
Epitaph Records, March 22

The Michigan band may not take spoken-word and post-hardcore to the heights of 2008’s debut, Somewhere at the Bottom of the River…, or 2011’s genre-defining Wildlife, but Panorama revitalizes the band’s key strengths and effectively completes a story that began 11 years ago.

Ambient intro “Rose Quartz” and “Fulton Street I” open the narrative, which is loosely based on a drive Dreyer and his partner took to their home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The song’s slow burn tests the band’s dynamic, with quiet mutterings and somber drones swelling to massive proportions.

Dreyer’s vivid imagery blooms from an intimate portrait into arresting existential agitation. Throughout the story, Dryer mixes in personal anecdotes and stylized metaphors. Some elements, like drive that inspired the narrative, are real. Others are open to interpretation.

“Fulton Street II” elaborates on the helpless frustration of inevitable demise, reintroducing Dreyer’s impassioned cries amid a mid-tempo groove akin to MewithoutYou’s “[dormouse sighs].” Bassist Adam Vass and guitarists Chad Sterenberg and Corey Stroffolino juggle expressive atmosphere and chunky tone, displaying their incredible chemistry as their simpler riffage rises and falls with Dreyer’s emoting.

Where 2014’s Rooms of the House opted for indie rock, La Dispute incorporates the less-is-more approach of its various EPs, resulting in the band’s most expansive sound in eight years. Even the straightforward down-stroke guitar strums of “Footsteps at the Pond” maintain dynamic intuition and varying layers.

Similarly, “View From Our Bedroom Window” elevates dreary alt-rock chords, lonesome melodic lines and punchy drumming. The songs fluctuate symbiotically with Dreyer’s framed narrative devices. Anecdotes of past trauma and future uncertainty commingle with his drive through the Midwest, painting pictures of unresolved pain in La Dispute’s signature combination of confession and symbolism.

The sonics of Panorama live up to the album’s name in terms of scope. Cuts like “Rhodonite and Grief” and “Anxiety Panorama” seamlessly transition from one to  another, deepening the album’s conceptual flow while diversifying its arrangements. The former’s clean, jazzy guitar chords and Brad Vander Lugt’s tasty percussion give way to a crescendoing trumpet, while the latter delivers unexpected bursts from demure soft rock to blistering punk. Ethereal moodiness and pounding groove become the perfect backdrops for Dreyer’s heart-wrenching dialogue on the process of aging and his terrifying realization of his partner’s hidden fragility.

Panorama’s contrast between overdrive and tranquility again recalls MewithoutYou’s recent material. Dreyer’s voice ranges from unhinged screaming to barely-audible poetry readings. “In Northern Michigan” is a rapturous example of the latter extreme, as Sterenberg and Stroffolino generate gorgeous textures over gripping prose. Dreyer struggles to reconcile his deep affection and protectiveness for his partner with the zest she maintains for life. “There You are (Hiding Place)” polarizes these hushed ruminations with the album’s heaviest passages, as the fear of the end finally paralyzes the protagonist in fear, anger and regret.

The seven-minute “You Ascendant” is the indisputable emotional core of the record. Hypnotic tom-tom drum rhythms and evolving guitar ambiance guides Dreyer as he gives final closure to the album’s question: what happens when death does true love apart? It’s there, in the midst of his thoughts on the Michigan interstate, that he realizes that freedom and joy can be found not only in lovely memories, but the release of death. The closer’s sweeping soundscape encompasses highs, lows, and inevitable demise with cathartic vigor—facing what lies beyond with a resolve “to be everything you need.”

La Dispute clung to hope on its debut, but now spurs the promises of love into the unknown. Flowers will indeed be left by the street, but this record’s heartbreaking outcry provides in solace in its passionate musicality. More than an increase of intensity, Panorama signifies a full-circle, milestone in La Dispute’s career.

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