Not going to lie, it was kind of strange listening to a new Armor For Sleep record and not hearing vocalist/guitarist Ben Jorgensen sing about sleeping, dreaming, or dying. Instead of writing another concept album, Jorgensen penned lyrics about a culture that’s dependant and obsessed with celebrity news and reality television, among other social commentaries, for the band’s major label debut, Smile For Them.
When the band first began the writing and recording process for Smile, they moved out to Los Angeles with a pre-arranged producer, courtesy of Sire. Unhappy with the results, the band packed up and restarted the process in their hometown and brought back Machine, who brilliantly produced their 2005 record, What To Do When You Are Dead. The end product is twelve tracks that seamlessly flow between post-hardcore and pop, resulting in what may be Armor For Sleep’s most rockin’ record to date.
The opening track, “Smile For The Camera,” wastes no time setting the vibe, as Jorgensen and fellow guitarist PJ DeCicco rip through the intro along side Nash Breen’s furious work on the kit. “Williamsburg,” the first single, is full of catchy guitar riffs as Jorgensen sings about how he despises hipsters and that “this city was blueprint for hell.” “Hold The Door” sounds like it could have been a track from Dead, with dark electronics pacing the verses while the chorus hits hard, thanks to the sharp strikes from Breen. The tempo picks up with “Run Right Back In,” an emphatic track with a huge chorus, making it one of the best tracks on Smile.
A bleak look at the apocalypse is portrayed on “End Of The World,” as Jorgensen and DiCicco’s guitars needle in and out. AFS turn it down a few notches on “Lullaby,” a beautifully put together track that is perfectly placed in the album, as it breaks up any monotony from occurring. Underneath the huge guitars on “Chemicals” is the subtly placed moog synth, which is a nice touch. “Stand In The Spotlight” closes the album with dreamy key notes and an infectious guitar melody. It doesn’t have the same power that “The End Of A Fraud” possessed, but it still ends Smile with some optimism, something previous AFS albums failed to do.
In what will prove to be Armor For Sleep’s transitional album, it’ll be very interesting to see how well this album translate over to the mainstream. While the album doesn’t have a surefire hit a la “Sugar, We’re Going Down,” it does have a number of solid tracks that could do well, such as “Williamsburg” and “Lullaby.” Fans, such as this reviewer, will be split on this, for while the music and production on this album is superb, many will miss the lyrics and concepts that graced the first two albums, as Smile For Them is very hit or miss lyrically. But, in the end, Armor For Sleep have released a very solid album, especially for a major label debut. And while, at times, the album seems be stuck in an identity crisis, the pristine production and intensity of each track keeps this album from falling through the cracks.