It’s kind of a shame that As December Falls aren’t bigger than they are. Not because their music has been excellent enough to really warrant it (a lot of the time, it hasn’t), but because this whole music thing is clearly a big deal for them. Let’s not forget that they took out a bank loan to fund their second album, and while it was ultimately paid off, it’s still more than a little heartbreaking to not see more come from that sort of determination and drastic measures.
But then that’ll always circle back to the music itself, won’t it? As in, putting in the work and effort and tenacity is all well and good, but it’s totally up to fate whether the fruits of that labour connect or not. And in the case of As December Falls…they’ve never been terrible, but the notable absence of something all their own has been really tough on them. At their breakthrough, they felt like the spiritual successors to the then-waning alt-rock / pop-rock wave à la Tonight Alive, but without a special sauce to take advantage of the newfound space falling into their lap. And considering that, despite their best efforts to push on, they’ve not done an awful lot to adapt, you can kind of see why widespread success has been reticent to brush them.
Again, it really isn’t the best scenario for them, even despite their clear willingness to persevere. Join The Club comes at a time when it’d be so easy and tempting to throw in the towel, but arriving at their third full-length is a milestone in itself. It’s probably their strongest effort too, albeit still nothing earth-shattering. At least now, they feel a bit more explorative within their musical domain, to where all the ideas tend to land sufficiently well. Hell, the opening title track is actually quite strong, a highly-caffeinated pop-punk bop that’s easily the highest concentration of energy on the album. Honey follows in much of the same vein, a bit more mid-tempo but dialling into the tart hook-work that As December Falls often see the best results from.
In general, Join The Club works the most when it’s slimmed down and focused on reaching those heights of pop verve. By comparison, something more rock-centric like I Can’t Sleep falls into some the lumpiness that could plague the acts at their genesis. It isn’t exactly bad (just like very little on the album is), but it’s just kind of archaic for pop-rock in a way that’s not flattering. It owes most to the more saturated and homogenised eras of Britrock that have fallen deeply out of favour in the years since, and to put it quite simply, As December Falls are better than that. They’ve got more spunk and spirit than that, and they’re best off putting it to use.
It’s the area in which Bethany Taylor brings most to offer as a vocalist, in the exuberance of her middle or upper registers that’s exactly the mood As December Falls should be aiming for. (Go too high, though, and there’s a danger of shrillness that’s brushed upon a couple times too many.) With a crack squad of pop-rock producers and engineers in their corner too, Join The Club does hit its highs more than it swerves them. And that’s important to note when As December Falls are still very much in their wheelhouse. They might be tinkering with some different pop-rock approaches, but especially lyrically, it’s as clean-cut as you can get. That’s fine, though; it works for the type of band they are, and those big emotional swings tend to come naturally to them.
And that’s what makes it clear that the process of refinement has been imperative in Join The Club. As December Falls certainly feel more lithe and comfortable within what they’re doing, and generally just punched-up to a greater extent than before. That’s not to say they’re circumventing some less-interesting moments (a casualty of their initial era, more than anything), but they’re crashing into them a lot less. Above all, it’s just nice to see them doing well like this, and finding an avenue that works for them. For as often as their potential has been met with a lot of pushback—from both a listening public and themselves creatively—at least they’re more firm in the latter this time. Let’s just hope the former can follow suit.
For fans of: Tonight Alive, Against The Current, You Me At Six
‘Join The Club’ by As December Falls is out now.
Words by Luke Nuttall