I had a conversation recently with our very own staff writer Casey concerning the “scenecore” article he was writing. The subject soon came to Finch as one of the first bands to combine singing and screaming into a nice little package. If you read his article (which you should, because it is exceptional) you will notice that he sings Finch’s praises and talks about What It Is to Burn being a great album. I would definitely not argue with this assessment, as I have been a huge fan of WIITB from the first time I heard “Letters to You” over 10 years ago. This is where the conversation with Casey went awry and inspired the subject of this here article. Just as Casey was stating what a great album WIITB was, I did him one more with my comment that “Say Hello to Sunshine is a criminally underrated album.” I could practically hear the tires skidding and the record scratch in Casey’s head.
According to Casey, he had given the album multiple chances but could not get into it. I didn’t share this with him at the time, or at least I don’t think I did, but I would go out on a limb and say that not only is Say Hello to Sunshine a great album, but it is the superior Finch album. I know I may have just lost every single person that has ever heard both albums, but stay with me here. Let’s examine both albums.
Part 1- A Bit of History: To first understand how groundbreaking WIITB was, we must remember what underground music was like back in 2002. On the melodic front, the skate punk from the mid to late 90’s was still popular, as bands like Bad Religion and Pennywise released albums that saw commercial success in The Process of Belief and Straight Ahead respectively. Pop-punk was also seeing some mainstream success with bands like New Found Glory and Sum 41 hitting the Billboard Top 100. In the heavier circles, bands like Throwdown, Bleeding Through, and 18 Visions were combining hardcore and metal to create a unique blend of metal riffs and hardcore breakdowns. Bleeding Through and 18 Visions wouldn’t include melodic vocals until a few years later. There were a handful of bands that seemingly attempted to combine these two worlds, notably Thrice, Death By Stereo, and Boysetsfire, among a few others. Most of these bands had not yet made it to the national stage, and if they had, they were still considered relatively obscure . You might be saying to yourself, “Wait a second. Boysetsfire, Death By Stereo, and Thrice sound nothing alike.” In 2012, yes, that is true, however, in the early 2000’s they all seemed closely related by simply combining clean singing with signature hardcore screaming. In fact, I first came across Thrice when they were an opener for Death By Stereo. The fact is that if you wanted to hear hardcore with some screaming and singing, it was slim pickings.
Part 2 – What it is to Burn: Enter Finch’s first full length WIITB in 2002, and they were somewhat ahead of the curve. Yes, the aforementioned bands had already begun to pave the way, along with some east coast bands like Thursday, but the scene as a whole had not even come close to what it is today. What set WIITB apart from its contemporaries was how damn catchy it was. Death By Stereo mostly brought on the heavy and angst, Thrice brought on the riffs, but Finch was able to write memorable, and essentially pop, riffs and combine them with soaring and extremely catchy choruses. Take one listen to “Stay with Me” and tell me I am wrong. You could put the album’s tracklist on the wall, blindly hurl a dart at it, and as long as it didn’t hit “Project Mayhem,” you would be rewarded with a great chorus ready to be played on airwaves across the country. Finch was also able to pepper all their songs with the right amount of screaming to create a perfect juxtaposition of melody and angst. My favorite example of this is the title track “What it is to Burn.” As is common with music, thousands of kids around the country heard WIITB and wanted to start a band that sounded like that. Unfortunately, ripping off your favorite band doesn’t often create good music. See Casey’s article on scenecore for more on that. For the next 3 years, Finch toured on WIITB and watched an entire new scene being created around them. That brings us to 2005.
Part 3 – Say Hello to Sunshine: In 2005, Finch released their highly anticipated sophomore album Say Hello to Sunshine. Even before the album was released, most of their fans, myself included, knew this would sound different from WIITB from the numerous band updates and interviews. When I first heard the weird, minor melody to the opener “Insomniatic Meat” I was intrigued and knew I was in for quite a ride. This was going to be a VERY different Finch. Not only was the music slowed down and heavier, but the lyrics were noticeably darker, even at first listen. The breakdown in the second song “Revelation Song” leaves me speechless every time I hear it. Nate Barcelow’s screams here are so blood curdling that the only visualization I have while listening to him is a murder scene in a horror film. A large part of Finch’s sound on SHTS is attributed to the drumming of Marc Allen who was only part of the band for a short 3 year period. More than anything else on this album, his rhythms really give Finch a new sound that is more dynamic than WIITB. Allen’s skills behind the kit can truly be appreciated when listened to on either headphones, or a car stereo with a sub woofer (my preferred choice). It will knock you flat. The riffs here are largely more complex, and yes darker, than in the past and they show that Finch has done quite a bit of growing since WIITB. While the bubble gum choruses and pop-punk guitar riffs are gone, SHTS manages to stay strong in the melody department. The choruses on “Fireflies” and “Bitemarks and Bloodstains” are some of the catchiest that the band ever produced. The vocal melodies are both dark and haunting, but they stick in your head just like the Finch of old. More important than any individual riff or vocal melody on SHTS, is the overall change in direction for the band. In a way, I don’t blame Finch fans for forsaking the band after hearing this album because it sounds nothing like WIITB. Even Barcelow’s clean vocals have transformed into a dark mixture of Glassjaw’s Daryl Palumbo and Deftones’ Chino Moreno. The album is not without faults, however, and I would be remiss if I didn’t lay out the major ones. The first six songs are outstanding examples of the band’s growth and they are extremely satisfying to listen to, but once the listener hits “Hopeless Host” they are subjected to a few lacklustre tracks. “A Man Alone” opens up with an obnoxious CKY sounding guitar riff that makes me want to rip my ears off. The tenth trach, “Miro,”and the aforementioned “Hopeless Host” are not terrible tracks in their own rights, but they should have been left off the album, especially when there are a whopping 14 tracks being featured. Lastly, “The Casket of Roderick Usher” shows the band stretching their Dillenger Escape Plan muscle, but it ends up sticking out like a sore thumb ala “Project Mayhem” on WIITB (at least they kept it under two minutes this time). Other than that, and some minor things here and there, SHTS is an extremely good album.
Part 4 – Assertions: In a situation such as this, one cannot simply dismiss the fact that an overwhelming majority of fans prefer WIITB. That being said, I believe that SHTS came a tad ahead of its time. I am not proposing that it was revolutionary or anything of that nature, just that it may have fared better with the fans had there been an album or two after WIITB to change the bands sound more gradually. History has shown that when bands have abruptly changed their sound from one album to the next, most fans jump ship. Atreyu, Four Year Strong, and even Cave-In have faced this in the past. Cave-In picked up a lot of new fans with their new sound, but many of their hardcore fans were not hip to the space-tinged Jupiter. Snapcase also abandoned their trademark technical hardcore sound and turned into something more akin to Thursday on End Transmission. Is it coincidence that it was their last album? AFI is a band that has been on both sides of the argument. Black Sails in the Sunset and Sing the Sorrow were both widely excepted by fans and lauded for their innovation and change in sound. They also gave the world Decemberunderground and Crash Love, two albums that were vastly different from everything else the band had done to date, but were universally hated by long time fans. Changing your sound when you already have a strong fanbase is a high risk/high reward gamble. It seems that Finch went all in on red and it hit on black. The sad thing is that on its own, SHTS is a truly impressive album. This is the case with a lot of albums that have been stricken with the same curse. Jupiter, while extremely different from Until Your Heart Stops, is a phenomenal album and has since become a cult classic. I still maintain that Crash Love is a steaming pile of dog shit, but I am actually a huge fan of Decemberunderground and maintain that it is one of AFI’s best albums. There are so many gems to be found if one can simply judge an album by its merits and not by a previous album or preconceived notion on what it should sound like.
Part 5 – Conclusion: Before I end this uphill battle, I would implore each of you to give this great record one more chance, taking into account the points I have made. Don’t think of it as the follow up to WIITB, or even another Finch album. Listen to it on a decent pair of headphones and pay attention to all the little details it has to offer. If nothing else, appreciate some of the best drumming available on a post-hardcore album. It really makes me sad to know that except for a couple of mediocre self released EPs, this is Finch’s last offering to the world of music. Maybe if it had seen more success they would have stayed together and produced another couple of innovative albums. Maybe not. In the end, they have a commercially successful, ground-breaking debut album in WITTB, and a massively underrated sophmore album that at least one schmoe thinks is a pretty decent swan song.