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I Am The Avalanche - Wolverines

Swooshgazer   (7 reviews)

Posted: 03/27/2014 | Comments: 0 | Rate:

It's truly hard to believe that I Am The Avalanche has been kicking for a decade now. Stranger, still, is it difficult to fathom that with their breakthrough third record "Wolverines", I Am The Avalanche have surpassed the lifetime of vocalist Vinnie Caruana's seminal Long Island pop punk group The Movielife. Yet here we are in 2014, digesting IATA's most important record yet.

I Am the Avalanche formed in the immediate wake of the Movielife's untimely breakup. Their self titled record, released in the fall of 2005, quickly appeased the appetites of starving Long Island pop punk fiends with an infectious batch of midtempo anthems. From there, however, it was far from smooth sailing for Caruana's new band. Stuck in the infinite limbo that came to define Drive Thru Records post-2004, it was another six years before IATA released another record. "Avalanche United", as solid as the final product ended up sounding, didn't quite feel like a proper follow up when it was finally released in 2011. Almost half of the record was leaked (in demo form) far before IATA was released from label purgatory, leaving fans with an EPs worth of "new" material and a proper release of instant classic "Brooklyn Dodgers", along with the other four leaked demos ("Amsterdam", "Is This Really Happening?", "You've Got Spiders", and bonus track " Conan O'Brien"). It came as little surprise, then, that I Am The Avalanche quickly followed up "Avalanche United" in quick succession two and a half years later.

"Wolverines" is a coming out party for the New York quintet. The band sounds absolutely refreshed, finally far enough removed from the shackle's of label hell and the inevitable Movielife reunion in 2011 to allow the music to finally stand on its own.

The record begins on a high note for Caruana and Co., a group that has never been shy about wearing their hearts on their proverbial sleeve. "Two Runaways" is a legitimately unabashed love song, dripping with urgency but managing to avoid leaking sap. The syncopated cymbal mashing of longtime percussionist Ratt Romnes sets the tone for the group's tightest collection of tracks to date.

"177", as this reviewer gleefully witnessed in person recently, has all the hallmarks of a live stalwart. Carauna belts "One hundred and seventy seven, we're all going to hell" throughout the track's massive chorus passage, repeating the segment in a way that almost begs listeners to scream along in their cars with the volume cranked up beyond a reasonable level. The song calls to mind "I Am the Avalanche" classic "I Took a Beating" in its recounting of New York City living.

Lead single "The Shape I'm In" is more of the same, introducing the band's signature group style harmonies over an absolute earworm of a hook as Caruana yelps about the perils of middle aged backpain. The track resonates far more than their younger peers cries of broken hearts and scene unity, creating the de facto sense of urgency that's proven time and time again that IATA stands apart from Caruana's now ancient first group. "Young Kerouacs" calls to mind vintage New Found Glory while the band's perfected technique of combining a dual vocal hook and throat tearing verse once again rings true.

The title track "Wolverines" is a short bombast of dissonance and melodicism, declaring in less than a minute and a half's time that it's both the "best day of my life" and "worst day of my life" while managing to not sound absolutely contradictory. The sentiment defines the album quite nicely; whether they're lamenting or celebrating, IATA still convey the same sense of urgency.

"Anna Lee", for all of its catchiness, may be the record's first and only misstep. At the risk of employing a cliche many reviewers have used in the past to discuss the band, the song almost instantly presents an aura of nostalgia for "40 Hour Train Back to Penn" or, more recently, "Avalanche United" counterpart "Dead Friends". Caruana has employed these tricks in the past; whether it's Kelly, Katie, or now Anna Lee, he's used a song on most of his records to address a specific female. Maybe it's the use of a proper name that throws the balance, because "Save Your Name" succeeds in its ambiguous nature of chastising in the second person. More likely, however, is that it's all perception; over the years, I Am the Avalanche have become the true definition of "the people's" band. Although their fans are no longer dictating the set list (the band has moved far beyond Movielife, Lifetime, and Weezer covers), it's clear that crowd response has always played a huge part in which songs make it to a live setting.

The record roars to its conclusion with perhaps its three best tracks. "Where Were You?" is possibly the second catchiest track IATA has ever released (taking a seat a row behind "Brooklyn Dodgers", a song many fans knew every word to 3 years before ever hearing a recorded version). The piano notes that sit comfortably below the lead vocal in the verses almost beg listeners to sing along. Leave it to a group of seasoned veterans to flip the boring tirades of "fallen friends" on its head. "My Lion Heart" is the closest thing we get to a ballad on the record. Rather than cascading the usual elements (acoustic guitars, reverb-soaked vocals), the band instead lets the minor progression of the verses slowly build to the mammoth chorus. "You can blacken both my eyes, I'm still gonna fight" could be a metaphor for the band's entire career.

"One Last Time" is one of those closing tracks that almost shakes the dichotomy of the entire record. It's easy to imagine that this number could of as easily started the record as it does finish it, as its the lyrical antithesis of "Two Runaways". While the latter is triumphant and sure of itself, "One Last Time" is beautiful in how unsure it is of itself. "Please don't tell me how this ends, I don't think I could handle that," Caruana croons. "If this is the last day of my life, I need to see you one last time." For I Am the Avalanche, there's no telling how this story ends. The band has gone through more ups and downs in a decade and three albums than most of their peers could probably ever imagine. "Wolverines" is the sound of one of pop punk's most revered national acts finally growing comfortable in their own skin, no longer living in the shadows of a great band they've now both outlived and outshined.

If there's anything left to prove for the Avalanche, it's that they can continue at this pace without faltering. If this record and their live show is any indication, most are going to be referring to the Movielife as "Vinnie's old band" and a precursor to the potential he's fully realized now. "Wolverines" is a game changer.

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