I have such a love-hate relationship with bands like Hotel Books and mewithoutYou. The half-screamed, half-spoken word vocals dabble in the poetic and gnomic but usually end up being too metaphorical to relate or too lyrically-constrained to the same themes to be interesting. Moreover, it’s just not appealing sonically.
Roanoke’s Gaffer Project unfortunately also straddles the line between incredibly promising and disappointing. With “Slowknife: A Study of Fear” as their first major release, listeners will find an album whose instrumentation is somewhat similar to chaotic hardcore acts like Not One is Upright and Rival Choir. Vocals, at times, also appropriate the previous acts. However, there’s an inconsistency in quality and the poeticism seems unnatural for this kind of genre. A straight-up screamed approach certainly would have been more welcome.
Ultimately, my biggest gripe with the album is its mediocrity. I hear elements of some of my favorite bands. Touché Amoré, Holding Onto Hope, La Dispute, and Rival Choir all take a similar vocal style but thrive on song structure and interesting vocal patterns. Instrumentally, there sadly isn’t a ton of cohesion. Some songs are heavier; some have piano and thrive on the negative space. I understand plenty of bands showcase diversity on their albums, but in many cases it feels like a conscious and calculated decision. Here, it feels more like a mixtape, apart from the lyrical concepts focused around fears we commonly face.
Overall, the album feels like something that I could really enjoy. It evokes plenty of comparison to other bands I admire. However, it doesn’t feel like the band has a good sense of its musical identity just yet, resulting in a release that feels fragmented and a bit confusing at times. Couple that with what I believe to be production issues, and the album leaves quite a bit to be desired. However, I do see plenty of promise in the band and am confident that if they continue to hone their craft, their next release could definitely resonate better with listeners.