In most genres and subgenres, there tends to be one label that acts as a hub where the cream of each scene’s crop is represented. With pop-punk, that label is Pure Noise Records, featuring amongst its roster such genre figureheads as State Champs and The Story So Far. But like most other labels recently, Pure Noise have been casting their net out a bit further and taking in acts from outside their typical remit. Though while hardcore bands like Vanna and Landscapes are the next logical stepping stone, New Jersey’s Gates are completely outside of the pop-punk / hardcore Venn diagram altogether.
As their equal parts emo, indie-rock and post-rock would suggest, Gates’ second full-length Parallel Lives is a lot less immediate than the typical output of their labelmates, favouring delicacy and poise over brusque gut-punches. The focus is heavily on atmosphere more than anything, with each of these eleven songs crafts a fine-tuned soundscape that careens gently by as opposed to anything uptempo. There’s a highly defined fragility to each one as well, outlined in the shimmering guitar lines and Kevin Dye’s willowy, brittle vocal delivery.
And that’s really the main problem. The entirety of Parallel Lives is a very subdued, almost ethereal experience from start to finish, so much so that it has a tendency at moments to slip into the background. It suffers from a critical lack of dynamism, meaning that some tracks like House & Home with its pale, hushed atmospherics, and Color Worn, a track so fluid it barely has a form at all, end up feeling more like mood music than an actual album you’ve consciously decided to listen to. It does become a problem as the album progresses – this is, after all, an album that throws speed and vitality out of the window for a much more relaxed, atmospheric tone. And while that’s absolutely fine, it’s not as enthralling as some similar albums, and attention levels do tend to wax and wane through its runtime. There are very few sticky hooks to really latch onto, and Dye’s vocals feel too airy to really make a noticeable impact. And while the idea of post-rock is to conjure up these soundscapes to become lost in, Gates occasionally find themselves caught between this and their more accessible influences, and it does drop the album down a few notches.
Having said that, Parallel Lives, when listened to in the right frame of mind, can be a deeply resonating and often beautifully crafted album. The aforementioned criticisms still remain valid, but throughout, Gates demonstrate that they clearly have the skill to make a very solid listen. Most of this comes in the instrumentation, where the band succeed the most. Opener Forget has a laser focus on swell as its shimmering guitars build up to something more rich and full, while Fade is stripped back to the simple dynamic of vocals and gently strummed guitar, and while it can feel a bit bare at points it certainly makes an impact.
What keeps this album afloat a bit higher though are the tracks Shiver and Penny, two tracks that are far more straightforward by pushing the post-rock to one side, and embracing the band’s emo and indie leanings. Shiver is the best of the two with its pleasant lilt and hushed vocals that are more than a bit evocative of Dashboard Confessional, and while on Penny the singing feels slightly undercooked in comparison, the track itself is almost upbeat with its choppy riff. What’s more, both of these tracks are extremely well-timed, placed around the quarter and three-quarter mark respectively to break up the more expansive passages, and make it overall more listenable. If nothing else, Gates definitely deserve credit for ability to actually construct an album; sure, it does dip a bit musically, but in terms of actual sonic composition and flow, Parallel Lives gets it bang on pretty much every time.
It’s worth giving Parallel Lives a listen, even though it doesn’t wholly feel as though Gates have got their direction as a band sorted yet. There’s a fantastic control of atmosphere on this album, definitely the band’s strongest suit, but they can’t quite pull of stretching it across the entire length of an album, and it does have defined peaks and troughs because of this. Nevertheless, Parallel Lives is still an extremely solid album, one that finds solace in the quiet that is hitherto uninhabited by their surrounding company. With a bit of fine tuning it could be great, but they’ve got a stable foundation to build on here.
For fans of: Moving Mountains, Seahaven, Lydia
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Parallel Lives’ by Gates is released on 3rd June on Pure Noise Records.