ALBUM REVIEW: L.S. Dunes – ‘Past Lives’

Five orange painted circles, each with a black line coming down from them

Let’s just do a roll call of who’s involved here before we begin, shall we? You’ve got Anthony Green of Circa Survive on vocals—good start. You’ve got Tim Payne and Tucker Rule on bass and drums respectively, both of the perennially-beloved Thursday. You’ve got Coheed And Cambria’s Travis Steer on guitar, off their back of one of their most acclaimed albums in ages. Oh yeah, and there’s also Mr Workaholic himself, Frank Iero, who somehow found time to get involved even with the festivities around My Chemical Romance’s return.

It’s safe to say, then, that L.S. Dunes are something of a murderers’ row of 2000s post-hardcore heavyweights, and the narrative around that has been bent to fit accordingly. Their mere existence was only announced relatively recently, but the hype has been expectedly hard to miss, though the music itself has been curiously absent from that discussion. Granted, there hasn’t been too much to go off, but rather than seeing how all of this will play out, the path of L.S. Dunes seems to have been hijacked into “with so much known talent onboard, there’s no way this can be bad, right?”

Well, fret not, because Past Lives definitely isn’t bad, though for who’s involved, it’s also not a genre masterstroke as has been involuntarily deigned upon it. Somewhat appropriately, it feels like a side-project, where the stakes are lower and the work here reflects that. You can also bucket in some of the general shortcomings that are harder to overlook, like how inconsistent the vocal production can be and can sometimes drown out Green pretty severely. He’s already got a vastly distinct voice, and when his diction can occasionally be hard to make out—like in his more shrill roaring affectations that can border on unintelligible—that’s a fairly definitive note of L.S. Dunes being a lot smaller and scrappier of a venture.

It’s all purposely so, that needs to be stressed. This is designed as a punk side-project, after all, and alongside any of its members’ main outfits, the scale is a lot smaller and the work is a lot less flashy. In essence, it’s most similar to Iero’s work during My Chemical Romance’s hiatus, though nowhere near as rawly blasted-out as they could be, which comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. It’s definitely more tuneful, and in the closest crossover instances like the title track or Permanent Rebellion, there’s an element of ragged punk firepower that hasn’t been lost, even when scorched intensity has been dialled back.

On the other hand though, it’s not like L.S. Dunes have embraced that melody wholeheartedly, and so Past Lives can hang about a bit more awkwardly than would be preferred. There’s seldom a flooring hook or earworm, especially compared to what everyone involved here has done elsewhere, nor is there often a massive uptick in pace outside of a strong but unvaried emo / punk core. That’s the shade of the passion project side of L.S. Dunes, as the band sate their own musical appetites first and foremost, with the width of broader appeal being a clear second. That’s not exactly out of line with how extravagantly self-expressive the creative streaks of everyone here can be, but usually that adds up to something more ear-catching that much of Past Lives ends up being.

But again, what’s here isn’t bad material, by any stretch. There’s too much talent on display for that to be the case, even behind the boards with Will Yip lending his signature warm, rich mix that gives the basslines a lot of meat and verve, and the guitars a distinct roughness. On a purely sonic note, it all sounds exactly as good as you’d expect, as layers with swirl and flow on Blender and Grifter, even factoring in a bit of harsher violin on the title track and a pseudo-alt-country sway to Sleep Cult. There’s very little to complain about instrumentally here; the cumulative experience is clearly shown off well, and it’s pretty evident that a looser, blow-off-steam kind of project like L.S. Dunes doesn’t have to mean sloppiness.

With just a bit more punch overall, Past Lives could hit the high watermark expected of it; hell, it’s practically in there already, given that there’s definitely a political angle they’re playing to, albeit one most tied to liberation and nonconformity than many specifics. Those are definitely there, like how Bombsquad’s lyrics are taken from a poem Green wrote around the time of the January 6th insurrection, but it’s more on a macro, societal level overall. Again, like seemingly everything to do with L.S. Dunes, there’s a dichotomy of factors at play—and a lot of them are to do with directness and how they could use some more of it—but there’s definitely more of a positive angle played here when the poetry itself punches a bit higher.

That’s effectively where Past Lives falls as a whole—with all factors taken into consideration, it’s definitely mixed but falls more towards positive, or optimistic if nothing else. There’s no doubting that musicians of this calibre can make a great album, instead of just the flashes they give off here, but it’s an undeniably strong foundation they’ve set. It’d just be nice if that came out a bit more readily; the stigma of a side-project hasn’t quite escaped this one, and even on repeated listens, you do feel that on an album that refuses to click as it probably should. That said, if this is merely a springboard for L.S. Dunes to do more, then so be it. They’ve already got tour dates lined up which would imply there’s more to come, and a few more road miles together can ultimately only be a good thing moving forward. So while Past Lives is just okay, L.S. Dunes already feel like they’ve got more to do up their sleeve, and that’s definitely exciting.

For fans of: Circa Survive, Thursday, glassjaw

‘Past Lives’ by L.S. Dunes is released on 11th November on Fantasy Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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