To many, Hawthorne Heights represent the peak of emo’s oversaturation in the mid-2000s. This was the genre at its most coiffed and mawkish, hitting levels of overwrought style over substance that would’ve made the pioneers of the genre’s originally rustic, indie-influenced sound balk at the sight of it, and Hawthorne Heights were seen as the poster boys for that movement. They embodied every stereotype the genre had unwillingly thrust upon it (see Ohio Is For Lovers’ declaration of “So cut my wrists and black my eyes” which still stands out for all the wrong reasons), and to everyone who saw this new wave of emo as merely a trend geared towards angst-ridden kids, this wasn’t exactly proving them wrong.
Since then though, Hawthorne Heights have slunk into the background as yet another relic of a time gone by, and though they’ve continued to release music ever since, there are few who even deign to give them the time of day anymore. So on some level, Bad Frequencies feels like little more than another attempt at spinning wheels and courting some attention at a time when nostalgia is the greatest fuel of all; after all, it worked in spectacular fashion for Senses Fail earlier this year, and Hawthorne Heights aren’t that far removed from them. But where Senses Fail managed to translate their decade-plus-sound into something more considered and mature on If There Is Light, It Will Find You, Hawthorne Heights don’t do quite as well. Ultimately, Bad Frequencies may succumb to many of the production and songwriting issues that an incredibly anachronistic style like this relies on (primarily a slick production job that hasn’t aged well and writing that can still err on the more juvenile side), but Hawthorne Heights in 2018 is more of a harmless curio than anything worth getting worked up about.
Those issues are definitely in shorter supply too; call it Stockholm syndrome or something, but even at its worst, Bad Frequencies just feels frustratingly underdeveloped more than anything. The likes of Pink Hearts and Starlighter (Echo, Utah) are the sort of sickly-sweet pop-rock tracks that cross the level of tolerability, especially with writing that lacks any real weight, and JT Woodruff’s vocals haven’t fared too well either, either as a saccharine, nasal whine that keeps any ties to the mid-2000s perfectly secure, or on a track like The Perfect Way To Fall Apart, a weak, gated “scream” that sounds more like a creaking door. But even with all of that, Bad Frequencies is mostly agreeable, and in terms of pure hook-writing, Hawthorne Heights still have a certain pop appeal that can trump anything deeper or more thoughtful. It’s where much of the enjoyment from Just Another Ghost and Edge Of Town comes from, amplified by moments of melodic composition that have some genuinely sharp and lasting effects. It’s by no means great or challenging, but Bad Frequencies is convincing enough as an upscaling for 2018 to warrant something of a pass.
That said, anything recommended about this album is done extremely tentatively, and with the knowledge that listeners will know what they’re going into. Hawthorne Heights aren’t exactly the paragon of emo excellence here, and Bad Frequencies works best when building on the genre’s established groundwork instead of trying to alter it. And even then, the glaring weak points will definitely be enough to put some people off. But for a band who were once derided by virtually an entire scene, harmless, semi-enjoyable efforts are at least a step in the right direction, and it’d be unfair to take that away from them.
For fans of: Saosin, Silverstein, Story Of The Year
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Bad Frequencies’ by Hawthorne Heights is released on 27th April on Pure Noise Records.