Before I start this review I want to bring something to your attention dear OBR readers: if Strange Vacation sounds like a few other bands to you, don’t be so quick to turn down the volume. The fact is that Strange Vacation is absolutely influenced by certain bands (i.e. The Dangerous Summer, The Graduate, Angels & Airwaves) and it just so happens to be pretty blatantly obvious, but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable or interesting to listen to on a budding summer’s morning. In fact, I find myself listening to Strange Vacation because of their unique take on this kind of unspoken sub-community in pop-punk where Tom DeLonge is their god, delayed guitars and spacey synths is their language, and the typical “pop-punk breakdown” is fortunately nowhere to be found.
You see, Strange Vacation made quite the splash amongst these excited fans with their debut album Chasm. Since then they’ve played only one public show as Strange Vacation (as far as anyone knows), successfully crowd-funded a vinyl pressing of the debut record, and had been secretly working on a follow-up album to Chasm almost immediately after it was released. Now, it’s here – Thunderstorms. If that wasn’t enough hype for you, check your pulse because you’re probably dead.
A sophomore release is a difficult one for any band who gained any kind of success from their first album. No matter what, listeners will want every record after their first colossal debut to be even more exceptional. Thunderstorms certainly rolled in with a fan-pleasing boom, but I have to say; I have a few things to gripe about.
Strange Vacation is now solely comprised of Mark Warren (bass, keys) and John-Paul Bakaric (vocals, guitar) with the occasional vocal accompaniment from Jem McTaggart. Since Chasm, Strange Vacation’s line-up dropped two players with the leaving of Josh Waldorf on guitar and vocals and Kyle Mueller on drums. Much to my surprise, Bakaric (vocal/guitarist) filled in on drums for all of the tracks on Thunderstorms. I can’t say that Bakaric’s drum tracks are as difficult and technical as Mueller’s contributions on Chasm, but it’s clear that Bakaric has an ear (and apparently the ability) for placing fitting and well-rounded drumming behind his own songs.
Strange Vacation was able to pull off another record showcasing their unique adaptation of The Dangerous Summer-esque bands, but it seems like an overall less-mature version of their first beloved release. Some of my favorite tracks such as “Come Watch The Sunset” showcase a slew of harmonies and vocals from Bakaric and female-accompanist Jem McTaggart, but I can’t help but think that the track begs for a change of pace with vocals from their previous-member Waldorf. Without the mind-blowing chops from past-drummer Kyle Mueller and refreshing vocals from past-member Waldorf, I find myself noticing what I don’t like about these tracks, for example, like how the vocals now sound forced at times (much like many other places on the album). The same stressed yell worked well at the end of Chasm’s “Round and Round”, but the same can’t be said for their excessive and even somewhat ridiculous use on Thunderstorms.
The real gems on Thunderstorms are towards the end of the album. Songs like the mid-tempo builder “Oasis” and the relatively inquisitive “Purpose” are examples of Strange Vacation’s ability to make meaningful and instrumentally fitting songs. The album’s title-track is an accurate representation of the better elements of Thunderstorms, and rightfully so, with its huge chorus and conservatively used minor chords
My biggest complaint with Strange Vacation’s otherwise solid album is the lyrics, and the best example of this let-down is the song “On and On”. The catchy track is possibly one of their best instrumentally and, without a doubt, has the most potential (with it having the heaviest guitars and whatnot), but along come Bakaric’s seemingly phony lyrics in the verse, “A little late night drunk sex, before I know it we’re in a fight, by the morning all that’s left is a regret.” Compared to the thoughtful, contemplative lyrics from their last album, “Recreate your stability, new inventions to cope, and create the sounds you love, with sharp clarity in your dreams,” there’s simply no comparison – it’s unfortunate, but one has to assume that Strange Vacation have lyrically taken a giant leap in the wrong direction. There’s even a couple songs on Thunderstorms which remind me of cheesy pick up lines like in “Heaven Must Be A Mess Without You” when Bakaric and McTaggart harmonize to say, “My angel, Heaven must be a mess without you.”
“Road Trip” is a more mature take on youth and quite possibly my favorite song on the album, especially compared to “On and On.” It even features an Angels & Airwaves type of delayed guitar riff which just so happens to sound pretty similar to AVA’s “Do It For Me Now,” but the riff isn’t similar enough where it ruins the song by any means.
Don’t get me wrong, a few tracks on Thunderstorms are some of my favorites from their catalog yet. Songs like “Sick Cycle” featuring none other than The Dangerous Summer’s very own AJ Perdomo during the bridge and outro serve as a reminder to anyone doubting the record (myself included).
So I guess my real grievance with Thunderstorms is that it showcases the skilled and listenable best of Strange Vacation, but doesn’t leave out the disappointing worst of Strange Vacation, which leads me to conclude that the record, much like this review, might be one big contradiction. With that being said, though, don’t let this discourage you from giving Thunderstorms a chance. Strange Vacation have still done it again and made for an interesting and unique twist on this growing sub-genre in pop-punk, but maybe just start listening to Thunderstorms somewhere in the middle of the album instead of from the beginning like some lunatic OBR writer does from now on.