Album Review #1(July 08, 2008)
Hit The Lights, Skip School, Start Fights
Due out on July 8, 2008
Via Triple Crown Records
01. Count It!
02. Breathe In
03. Stay Out
04. Drop The Girl
05. Tell Me Where You Are
06. Hangs 'Em High
07. Back Breaker
08. Don't Wait
09. Cry Your Eyes Out
11. Say What You Want To Say
12. Winding Down
13. On And On
Hit The Lights come roaring back after an internal snag or two with their second full length entitled Skip School, Start Fights. After 2006's debut on Triple Crown Records (Brand New, Northstar), This Is A Stick Up...Don't Make It A Murder, received a generous amount of acclaim from many major outlets, the Ohio quintet were faced with a difficult issue -- the departure of their lead vocalist, Colin Ross. Scrambling to find a replacement, Hit The Lights were forced to cancel a tour in the United Kingdom and rebuild their empire. After a brief search, Hit The Lights decided to keep it in the family, promoting guitarist and backup vocalist Nick Thompson to the helm. After adding Kevin Mahoney to the spot vacated by Thompson on Guitar, they were stronger and tighter than they'd ever been before.
Hooking up with Rob Freeman, the once Hidden In Plain View front man, their newest effort, Skip School, Start Fights is polished, primed, and everything one would come to expect of Hit The Lights - catchy hooks, anthemic choruses, lots of pop-centric melodies with a hint of edginess, and concise guitar work. We're not talking Hendrix-esque ideas here, of course, but both veteran Omar Zehery and newcomer Mahoney hold the fort down with well thought out, accessible, and interesting playing - a necessity to keep a genre like this fresh.
Noticeably different is the vocal mix, represented by a new vocalist and a new producer (Matt Squire produced the first full length). Thompson's voice is a bit smoother than Ross', providing a more consistent tone throughout the record, congealing well with the rest of the band and their upbeat presence. The album clocks in at a little about forty minutes, a generous record with thirteen tracks, and this is a good thing. The one thing that have always plagued the band is finding out how to keep their pop-rock sensibility aware and consistent with the developing trends around them, and they have made strides on this record to do that - and too lengthy of a record would prove to be an issue for their target listeners, as music of this caliber can tend to become a pass of borrowed ideas, blending into one another. Hit The Lights does their best to keep their ideas different, toying with different keys, tempos, sounds, rhythms, and song structures.
The record starts with "Count It!", a short, albeit cliché, introduction to the record, recapping their arduous journeys for their music in search of nothing but pleasing their fans. It kicks right into the second track, "Breathe In", and like a rocket, this record slams through the atmosphere with no intention of stopping for anything, and it's wonderful. Absent from this record are any ballads or slower, drawn out attempts to show a softer side. Hit The Lights have surpassed that affliction. While "On and On", the last track, is a bit more subdued by comparison to the rest of the record, it still packs an anthemic punch towards the end that personifies this record in relationship to Hit The Lights' career. These guys have their feet planted, and, barring any more sudden changes, they seem to be a promising twinkle.
Their first single, "Stay Out", is one of the record's standout tracks. The bouncy and harmony laden verses are eclipsed by a catchy-as-hell chorus, where they implore the listener to "stay out all night, 'cause rest is for the dead.” The Track is a perfect pick for the band to capitalize on the partier inside of all us, including a riff heavy bridge with some great chants. The band's punctuality and rhythmic poignancy is right on the mark, and it develops throughout the record with tracks like "Tell Me Where You Are" and "Say What You Want To Say", both shining examples of the bands ability to use contrasting rhythms to their advantage, all compiled towards almost effortlessly making some perfect pop songs. Gone are the blaze and futile attempts of the last record's aim at sarcasm, and in are motifs of being alive, young, and unaccounted for.
It's also good to know that Hit The Lights have not forgotten their roots, writing some faster songs like another one of the record's stand out tracks, "Statues", and the very New Found Glory-esque "Hangs 'Em High". The transition between Ross and Thompson is easy for any fans of their prior releases, and if you listen to both of the vocalists intently, you may become a Thompson supporter just as I did with Skip School, Start Fights. However, it would be a lie on my part to say that the record is an instant classic. It's built on a strong foundation of both pop and rock sentiments, even showing minute shades of emulation of their punk rock idols of the past (in their case, blink-182, Lagwagon, No Use For A Name), and it certainly impresses, especially when compared to their peers today, but absent from the record are any strides towards coming into a sound developing with maturity. The songs have a solid foundation, but the band's inability to separate themselves from the herd of clone-and-go peers, even with the record's noticeable improvements over 2006's first full length, may prove to be a difficult mountain for them to peak. There is no sophomore slump, here - that's a certainty, but what will come next for this Ohio quintet will surely shape their resiliency as a mainstay in an ever-changing music scene.
The newest addition to the catalog is a step in the right direction for the band. Take it for what it's worth, a VERY well done rock record with infectious choruses, toe-tapping rhythms, and lots of allusions to being young and having fun, a fantastic summer record, to say the least. You can catch them when they embark on a Glamour Kills sponsored stint with All Time Low, Valencia, and There For Tomorrow between July 10th and July 22nd.