One thing I’ve come to respect about Bayside is they’ve always known who they are. They’ve never felt the need to reinvent themselves, and they’ve spent the last 16 years working to perfect a sound that’s entirely their own.
The band’s latest effort, Vacancy, is no exception. It is a growling collection of songs that feels familiar on first listen, a true continuation in Bayside’s story and sound.
The album further cements Bayside’s designation as one of the most consistent bands in punk rock today, while offering just enough surprises to keep longtime fans intrigued.
It’s been two years since Bayside’s last album but it’s clear from the very beginning that the band has not been complacent in their craft. “Two Letters” opens with a sinister riff that gives way to a broken and battered bass melody. The song’s chorus is brash while the verses are more reserved, the back and forth mirroring Anthony Raneri’s conflicting emotions over what to call someone who once meant so much:
It takes a lot to shake me
My body breaks to figure out
How to leave the past behind
When it’s around all of the time
And I don’t know what I should call you now
Much of Vacancy chronicles the deterioration of Raneri’s marriage. This album is his diary made public – an unhindered look into the troubles he has found himself facing over the last couple years. The lurching “Behind Enemy Lines,” powered by rolling snares and darker chords, identifies Raneri as a “Yank in southern battlefields.” Meanwhile “Maybe, Tennessee” offers a wailing guitar solo, courtesy of guitarist Jack O’Shea, its mournful tone is a fitting backdrop to Raneri’s realization that he needs to escape from a place that is no longer home.
Beyond the defeatist attitude is Raneri’s bitterness at finding himself alone again, most prominent in “Rumspringa (Heartbreak Road).” It boasts some of Raneri’s most vitriolic lyrics to date (“I’ll bring home the bacon/so you can bathe in it/and I’ll catch the red-eye home/if you insist/god knows you’ve gotta sleep an extra ten fucking minutes”) – as well as a seething delivery – while also offering a calculated and searing guitar solo.
The songs that stick out are the ones that take the most risks while maintaining that signature Bayside self-assurance. “I’ve Been Dead All Day” experiments with darker show tunes-like melodies, its key-fueled bridge hauntingly playful as Raneri admits his relationship was never as well off as he wanted people to believe. He takes on a self-deprecating attitude in the bolder, poppier “The Ghost,” which asks:
What would make you stay?
I’ll move a mountain, I’ll change my name
Don’t have to breathe if all my air gets in your way.
Closing out the album is the somber “It’s Not As Depressing As It Sounds.” Though it works well as a stand-alone track, it does not live up to the standards set by Killing Time and Cult, Bayside’s previous two albums. The former gifted fans with a dark and brooding look at a life wasted, while the latter culminated in an unstoppable crescendo of gang vocals. But “It’s Not As Depressing As It Sounds” feels more defeated than defiant, choosing to accept things as they are rather than stand up and fight. It leaves the album feeling unfinished – like there’s still something left to be said.
Maybe that’s the point. You’d think that after 16+ years, we’d have seen Bayside’s best by now. But Vacancy has proven yet again that “best” is a relative term, and there is still so much more to come.