Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Conley Saves The Day With Daybreak

Princeton's transformative alternative pop rockers Saves The Day have been around a long time. So why is it their sound still sounds new, fresh cut, like a band stretching its legs for the first time? Maybe because it's always been mostly Chris Conley's band and he's frequently swept away in change.

Only the ageless (but chameleon-like) Conley's vocals are left from the original lineup. The rest of the band now includes Arun Bali (guitar), Rodrigo Palma (bass) and Claudio Rivera (drums), all of whom joined in 2009 or later.  Even the label is new. Razor & Tie Direct signed them in March, delaying the original spring release date of Daybreak for September.

There isn't any bad blood between past members, not really. Many of them have dropped in and out to work on other projects, notably Mannuel Carrero and Durijah Lang (Glassjaw) or, more recently, longtime band member Spencer Peterson, who joined Black Cards. Another former member, David Soloway, still plays with Conley now and again via their super group side-project, Two Tongues.

Conley is still introspective but a little brighter on Daybreak.

Take the song 1984, for example. It's one of the better tracks on the album and Conley says the song is reflective on personal life and the world that have "kept you from being the person you want to be." But more than that, he says it's about finding strength in your heart to respond in a more positive way.

"We tried to keep our heads down and play as hard as we could," said Conley. "It really lets the song explode into the final chorus." 

Let It All Go carries a similar message. Conley wanted to reflect on how dwelling on the past can sometimes prevent you from being who you want to be. Some of this comes across loud and clear in the accompanying 20-minute documentary, a bonus for anyone purchasing the entire album.

Even the teaser captures the sometimes pained but always contemplative nature of Conley, especially on this album. As much as Sound The Alarm was one of my favorites of the three for its darker lyrics (but still no Stay What You Are), hearing Conley talk about his personal journey so candidly changed my perspective. I appreciate the final installment of a three-album concept more than a casual listen.

Admittedly, Daybreak is more pop than punk, but I think the louder arrangements are among the strongest songs. 1984, Deranged & Desperate, and Undress Me pack in more than other tracks.

The deluxe edition also has electric versions of Stay and Hold. The latter is the better of the two, but even that is almost too airy for my taste. You might find one or two you might like, but I'd also skip any track defined by a single letter.

And yet, even if many of the songs aren't on my heavier play list, there is no denying that Conley takes his work seriously, digging in deep to find his material. All of the music he created clearly affects him, making him an artist first and a commercial musician second. Isn't that what we hope all musicians do?

The new lineup isn't afraid of the past. They came ready to play.

I have to give kudos to the newer bandmates. They've been asked some straight up questions from fans, and have obviously put some thought into the answers. One of the pointed questions featured on their site basically asks Palma if he can fill the shoes vacated by Carrero.

After giving Carrero props, Palma admit that he won't deliver a "beefy" bass sound but he has lent some big, bold, out-of-bounds bass flavors. It's true. But more than talking about the sound, it also tells me Conley and crew are the right guys right now.

Of course, other questions aren't so tough. One person asked what redeeming qualities the band might find in the Star Wars prequels. Seriously? They're good sports. They answered, albeit anonymously. Asking them which shooter they like, on the other hand, drew out their resident expert.

Daybreak By Saves The Day Rings In At 4.8 on The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Daybreak puts Conley back on track, convincing me that there is some more material left to be produced under the Saves The Day name. While it's too soon to tell which group of fans he will likely alienate more, there is no doubt Conley made the album he wanted to make, and after hearing him talk about it — it's clearly the album he needed to make.

Don't be surprised to see fans rate it all over the map. As an album, you have to expect it. As a collection of singles, some songs would fare better than the album as a whole. (BTW, check out the acoustic version of Let It All Go caught by Smart Punk too.)

Daybreak is available for download from iTunes; the deluxe edition includes the documentary. If you are just interested in the CD, Barnes & Noble carries it. You can also find Daybreak on Amazon. Before you get it, one final thought. People always talk about how Conley's voice has changed over the years. It has and hasn't. He can still deliver a tenor, but the alto feels right for him.
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