This is a difficult one. I’m a huge fan of Alexisonfire. I thought their last record, Crisis, was incredible. Almost genre-defining. After around 6 months with their 2009 release Old Crows/Young Cardinals, however, I still can’t decide what I think of it.
It isn’t the change of direction, which some fans have bemoaned. I actually quite like the new sound, which has shifted from a “screamo”-based sound to something much closer to traditional punk/hardcore not all that far removed from the sound of Wade McNeil’s side project Black Lungs, a hugely impressive act that made this list in 2008. The sound also seems much more collaborative than previous albums, with all members given space to contribute their considerable talents to the songs. It also feels like a logical progression from Crisis. Put simply, it works.
My misgivings aren’t with the songs, either. Brilliantly constructed and powerful, some of the songs on this record are the best the band has ever recorded. Alexisonfire sound confident and determined on Old Crows/Young Cardinals – like a band with a sense of purpose. When the band shifts into a political gear on songs such as Sons of Privilege, on which they attack America’s sense of entitlement and superiority, or the stunning Midnight Regulations, which discusses the growing gulf between rich and poor, the band sounds almost peerless.
No, the thing the challenges me on this record is the religious theme running through songs such as Born And Raised and No Rest. It isn’t so much that they’re singing about religious themes as it is that the band’s intentions are somewhat difficult to work out. In one moment they could almost come across as being “preachy”, with sentiments that seem to border on fundamentalist, but in the next breath they’ll be flaying organised religion such as in the song Accept Crime, with the lyrics “let the clergy damn our every emotion/til every impulse is a revolution”.
This is not to say that all the songs with religious themes are disappointing – in fact The Northern, a re-interpretation of a traditional hymn, is one of the best songs on the record and one of the best things the band has done.
As it stands, Old Crows/Young Cardinals deserves to be ranked amongst the best releases of the year. It is superbly written, played and produced. Dallas Green’s famous voice sounds better than ever, and the punk rock feel suits the band to a tee. The second half of the record, beginning with The Northern, is stunning and contains some of the best material Alexisonfire have released. My nagging misgivings with the record just won’t go away though, and have resulted in a placing near the bottom of the list. This placing may prove to be too low, however – if I ever totally work out what the band is singing about here, Old Crows/Young Cardinals could end up ranking in the top couple of 2009 releases. Time will tell.
Listen to Alexisonfire HERE.