The most appropriate term that can be used to describe La Dispute is a phenomenon, in that their mere existence truly defies explanation. After all, this is a band who’ve become a genuine powerhouse in post-hardcore through refusing to compromise their angularity and obtuseness, and through Jordan Dreyer’s breathless, cathartic spoken-word poetry serving as the crux of their sound, they’ve sidestepped trends and fads for years to stand strong as one of the biggest cult acts the scene has to offer. Even from the perspective of non-fans, that’s an impressive feat, but it’s not something that’s managed to bring those non-fans over. Yes, pretty much since inception, La Dispute have been one of those bands that you either get or you don’t, and with the likes of Touché Amoré proving so much more impactful in a similar vein of emotionally rigorous hardcore, La Dispute have generally been leapfrogged by similarly powerful but more accessible peers. It doesn’t help that their pretentiousness has frequently been cited as a feature rather than a flaw, but even so, there’s something that remains so magnetic about them; they’re too enigmatic to totally let go of, and even if they’ve never completely clicked, that alone comes with a certain degree of appeal that feeds into why fourth album Panorama feels as weighty and fascinating as it does.
But Panorama as an album needs to be considered over it as a concept, and on that token, this is possibly the most cohesive and engaging album that La Dispute have delivered to date. Even more so, that’s come without any sort of compromise; it’s still driven by Dreyer’s visceral, eye-clawing intensity and clashes between minimalism and melancholy, but it’s done so much better here, almost as if the band have fully tightened and streamlined their approach while still giving themselves the room to do basically whatever they like. That makes for easily the happiest medium of La Dispute’s career, and while there’s still a sense of disconnect that can prevent it from being truly great, Panorama makes itself known and impresses with aplomb.
Because of that, it’s not even as though too much emphasis can be placed on that disconnect, especially considering that, as usual, it feels like something that’s meant to be here. A track like In Northern Michigan probably sees the worst end of it in a very minimal, simmering sense of atmosphere and an incredibly staggered buildup in execution that seldom pays off all that much, but it definitely doesn’t land with the same clunk as La Dispute’s material has in the past. As much as clear melodrama continues to be a key ingredient, the progression is one that feels much more stable, commencing with the image of a car crash on Fulton Street I that builds into the turmoil of grief, whether that’s from the outside perspective of someone looking to stand as a source of solace on Rhodonite And Grief, or on the extended closer You Ascendent, the firsthand perspective of complicated, often unarranged thoughts that try and assemble themselves into some kind of closure or at the very least deflection, but often fail to do even that. And yes, that’s all driven by Dreyer’s tones that can tilt into the performative sadboi territory that he’s often been burdened with, but at least there’s justification for it here, and even a relative lack of an arc beyond melancholic ruminations through suburban settings still manages to carry more tangible weight.
Of course, a good deal of that arrives from how La Dispute choose to soundtrack these thoughts, and in that department, not a lot has changed. They’re still a bit airier and more atmospheric than most of their Wave post-hardcore peers, and while that can feed into the sense of disconnect, it also benefits a more eloquent, poetic execution that’s ultimately where La Dispute’s greatest strengths lie. There’s an enormous sense of tension that ripples through Rhodonite And Grief and There You Are (Hiding Place) that gives an already mighty sense of emotional resonance even more power, while Footsteps At The Pond, even though more upbeat in its cantering guitars, has so much weight and burnished catharsis to it that so many bands are just unable to muster. As for Dreyer himself, he’s always had a delivery that’s remained distinctly his own in staccato barks that weave and bend into more liquid, poetic diction, and that comes across just as strongly here pretty much across the board; he’s always been the best and most striking aspect of La Dispute, and that’s no different here. That can be a turn-off for some, and when he fully transitions into linguistic spoken-word poet on a track like You Ascendent, the artifice is unashamedly piled on, but it’s absolutely fascinating to experience, especially when it clicks and this sort of uniqueness really begins to take hold.
On the whole, it all feels like that sort of thing that La Dispute should’ve been doing all along, only now it’s crystallised into something with much more emphasis and power. The awkward, unflattering moments still remain, but Panorama feels much more complete as an album, building its central conceit into something that can stand on its own, and executing it in a way that has much deeper resonance beyond surface-level emotional contortions. That’s ultimately always been a big problem for La Dispute, and the fact that it’s been addressed to the extent it has here really is indicative of a band going the distance to make themselves so much better and more resonant. They’re always going to be a niche, underground prospect regardless, but at least now they’re one that can really leave their mark.
For fans of: mewithoutYou, Pianos Become The Teeth, Touché Amoré
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Panorama’ by La Dispute is out now on Epitaph Records.