It’s ironic that such a great summer album leaked online a month after the summer of 2004 was over. Now, in April 2005, Acceptance’s debut full-length Phantoms is about to become the mainstream summer hit of 2005. There’s a lot of pressure on this album to sell. A major label debut for a band with no proven mainstream success? A ballad (“Different”) being marketed as the first single? An album leak 6 months before the street release? A lot of questions have been raised regarding this band, but Acceptance has created an album to silence the doubters. Acceptance’s brand of catchy, emotional pop-rock stands out from the pack with killer hooks and stunning vocals. This band is about to take over the airwaves.
Acceptance’s last release was an EP with five studio songs produced by Aaron Sprinkle. The band stayed loyal by choosing Sprinkle as their producer for Phantoms. Sprinkle’s major label production debut is nothing short of incredible. Guitars are thickly layered, the drums are tight and not overpowering, and Jason Vena’s voice dominates the music as it should. Jason’s voice is one of the strongest in the genre. Clear, effortless, and passionate, Vena makes the listener feel the music just as strongly as he does when he sings it. Songs like “Different” and “So Contagious” demonstrate Jason’s ability to lift songs off the ground and take them into flight. Acceptance has also managed to incorporate keyboards into this album quite well, creating a sublime fusion of piano-fueled pop and straight up rock. The result is stellar to say the least.
The opener “Take Cover” is possibly the strongest track on the entire album. A gentle piano intro leads into the first emergence of Jason’s voice – “She’s a liar…it comes to this…” – the song gets kicked into gear. A huge chorus follows with detailed instrumentation brought forth by Sprinkle’s amazing production. The next track “Over You” will be hailed by some as the anthem of the summer. Insanely catchy chords and an instantly memorable chorus make this yet another strong track. Deep chord progressions establish Acceptance as different from other pop-rock bands. Already you can tell that the music is going to have lasting value – something that is hard to come by in an oversaturated genre. Acceptance’s music is catchy, it is poppy – but it is not sappy. This key distinction has kept me listening to Phantoms on a regular basis over the past 6 months. Can you even imagine the kind of impact an album like this will have on the MTV generation? It’s going to be huge.
The third and fourth tracks are mid-paced tracks with more of the same melodies. While Phantoms is full of catchy music, each song is different in its own respect. No chorus sounds like the one before and each verse builds to the chorus differently than the last. “In Too Far” features some heavily distorted guitar lines during the verse, which sounds awesome when paired with Jason’s crystal clear voice. The fifth track is “Different,” the first single off the album. Say what you will about this piano driven ballad, but there is no doubt that this song has huge potential written all over it. An orchestral arrangement accompanies the first verse into the huge chorus, once again featuring Jason’s voice. I know I got shivers when I heard Jason belt out “…something you said would change in me…” It’s the perfect song for a radio hit, slowly building up into a final and emotional chorus and bridge.
After a cool instrumental interlude, Acceptance kicks things back into gear with “This Conversation is Over.” This energetic track features a cool chorus in which a creative drum line runs underneath yet another stand-out chorus with harmonizing backup vocals. After the 2nd chorus a clean transitioning bridge takes the song into a different direction. Bridges are used well throughout this entire album, as the band will change keys and direction without changing the structure of the songs. It keeps the music fresh and prevents the album from falling into a rut. The album continues without a hitch, “So Contagious” is another slower song that is once again driven by Jason’s voice, and “In the Cold” features really cool crunching guitars hitting on syncopated beats.
“Permanent” is a song that was on the EP and once again reappears on Phantoms. This time it seems to be a bit sped up and remixed, but it’s essentially the same version as the EP. It is a nice pick-up to the pace of the album, as it’s the fastest song on the album. Additionally, it’s the only song with a breakdown in it. The album ends with the sing-along “Gloria/Us Appearing” which has an incredible ending to it with two vocal lines being sung over each other. Combined with the music, I felt myself getting goosebumps – this truly is an outstanding album, full of accessible emotion and passion.
Phantoms may take a lot of criticism for being “generic pop-rock,” but I assure you that it is anything but. It’s not often that bands can create pop-oriented music that has lasting value, but Acceptance has managed to do it with Phantoms. Outstanding vocals and truly talented songwriting sets this band apart from everybody else. In a day and age where pop-rock has become very old and boring, Acceptance has managed to create an absolute masterpiece of an album. This record will remain in your CD player for many months after its purchase – it’s that good. I’ve seen this band grow over the course of the past 6 years, and this release is a truly unbelievable achievement for them. They most certainly deserve all the fame and fortune that may come their way after the release of this album. Do yourself a favor and pick up this album on April 26th so you can hear what the rest of the world is talking about in about 2 months. Then pop Phantoms in your car, roll the windows down, and cruise down the city streets blaring “Over You.” I guarantee that it will be a fulfilling experience.