Betrayers

BETRAYERS
12 Songs To Haunt You Review

By Jay Armstrong

Three years….three years, what a lifetime lays between then and now in this live fast die young freewheelin’ time we lucky few have found ourselves tried and shaped by. Three years since the last proper Betrayers release and before the album even takes shape we can feel the change, we brace ourselves as the songs play on to see, for good or bad, what it all means. It’s obvious these cats have lost the overt drive to prove themselves, the youthful arrogant confidence of needing to own a proper place in our hearts which we heard on 2014’s Let The Good Times Die is all but gone; to merely read that line without listening to the album one could justifiably fear the worst–that of a band stripping out the rock n roll which owned our attention to softly roll in the lolling lacklust mediocrity which every trust-fund flower child and faux-writer wants to champion as “psyche” when to those of us not sold on swill see through as yet another case study on dudes trying to fool us into believing they belong simply by washing generic regurgitated chord patterns in reverb while hiding their childish dribbling on lyrics about nothing behind the echo noise which kids with their molly headed closed eyed attempts at feeling cool can’t get enough of. So in a long list of positives we can shout about 12 Songs to Haunt You (Yo Ma!/Sweetie Pie Records) let us start the list with the most important being these babes out of Alberta have a sound feeling contingent upon the guidance lain out from The Abigails to The Almighty Defenders yet they remain unique in their ability to define themselves around, within, and outside of IT. This shows itself in the duality of the two strongest points on the record “Hand O Glory” which dances and jumps from vibe to vibe like a lava lamp through acid eyes and my personal favorite off the record “Kiss Me Quick,” wearing loosely on their sleeve simplicity and the guise of portrayed honesty which if done a degree more or less in the direction of contrived would cause the entire album to crumble in its reflection; choosing to place the later so early on the album is a brave move most would have shied away from thus being the catalyst for the letting loose exuberance felt as each track unfolds beyond it.

There’s an undeniable flaw to this album which has been the true Achilles heal to the band since the very beginning and it is not the album or the songs themselves. Compared to other albums we wade through in search of redemption 12 Songs to Haunt You is an oasis in the desert, the problem remains now more so than ever in the question–Who are Betrayers? Despite knowing how to do it all well we are yet to find their voice screaming out to the world, “this is who we are….this is what we’ve become.” Which can (and probably should) be taken as a positive. My favorite Betrayers track to date is “Tombstone Salesman” from the split 7″ they did in 2015 with The Lad Mags and if that had been where they caught traction to rumble off into the future we would likely have ourselves yet another band wearing the aforementioned “psych” like a goddamn crutch. Their indecisiveness certainly is a strength at a time where there seems to be a depressing social need to strangle all forms of life out of that which we love by quantifying and compartmentalizing minuscule tangents of sound with bullshit genre labels. Betrayers somehow manage to create another album to put on repeat without speaking to who they have become over the last three years other than a group able to do it better. What else do I want? Right? This band could define the future, could step out as giants, and possibly for the first time in forever prove to us that despite their shortcomings as Canadians have the ability to puff out their chest, clench their fists, and stand firmly ready to show their dominance rather than carrying that “there is a place for all” mantra which eventually buries bands swimming in their same pond. Although with a purpose I have digressed just the same, the point is this is a solid album, enjoyable as anyone with taste and the proper sensibility to discern style/substance from the click-whir clones Coachella seems to be manufacturing in some factory on the northern border could ever strive to hear. 12 Songs To Haunt You is a great album at getting to know Betrayers better, newcomers will find it worthy enough for basking in its light, the downside is this a band who shows us song after song after song how much their ability elevates them above the mire yet never quite does enough to blow our minds completely outta our heads the way it tempts us with each passing second of getting up enough to do. Essentially this album is the equivalent of our biggest crush making out with us between sets behind Hotel Vegas on a Saturday but come last call never quite makes it home with us… there’s frustration but it comes from an end goal in disregard of the here/now experience I foolishly catch myself looking past.

12 Ghosts To Haunt You is an album begging for social experience, for having friends hanging around your spot drenched in hormones and laughter, this is the band to set that tone, this is that album to put on. The opening track, “Theme From ‘The Silky Boys'” feels practically Conor Oberst-esque as a fifty second intro, the all-organ shine to it is a nice touch bringing to life an otherwise simple west-coast homage. We see for the first time Betrayers having an actual single with “One of Your Fools” which, as with all proper singles, has the band getting as formulaic as we ever hope to see from them, boiling off the excess to what we love and symmetrically lining it up in progression one factor after the other to form a very polished sample for the world previously unaware of their existence to taste. This is a good thing, they have the potential to be important for so many, hearing a sound which shows them getting down to the job is commendable. If the entire album followed suit the result would be lackluster–discarding critical dispositions it is a good bet “One of Your Fools” feels real good in the wild. If one song on the album speaks to individual strengths it is “Kill Me Quick,” coming off with a bass line so ideal, so heavy, the lyrics sweeping around like a hammock in an afternoon breeze while the drummer and (especially) lead guitar player seemingly dropped some sunshine a few hours earlier to find themselves jamming off from some room in the back in a stoned groove haze without a care in the world, confident the others will keep up and fall in alongside them, as they do, saturating the ether with a Kerouacian blow into eternity.

Since you never know who is going to read this thing, if you or anyone you know has the power of choice on songs to include in films “The Devil Doesn’t Want You” begs (NEEDS!!!!!) to be included in a horror film, preferably starring Greta Gerwig, and “Levi’s Blues” demands to be placed in some youth-in-revolt Romper Stomper/Green Room reincarnation, obviously in one of those we’re-snotty-and-wild coming together sort of scenes…someone make it happen. The lowest point on the album comes on “Les Étoiles” simply for accomplishing exactly what they set out to do by crafting a french song, it’s strength is its weakness, offering nothing really to the album or the bands legacy by showing us what we already have seen they are capable of doing. Being derivative is cool, they are band far cooler than the sound they choose to emulate on this one, especially after having stuck the needle in a similar vein on the far superior “Kiss Me Quick,””Les Étoiles” exemplifies the standoffishness felt as I draw the microscope in all the more on this album, an issue which went unnoticed the first three times I listened through hanging about my place going on in life with it floating weightlessly about me, this band is better than that which they are deriving their sound from and it’s obvious the shoes barely fit.

If you take away the criticism of what they could be playing this album is a runner, when you avoid dissecting it the way no album ever should be with the pretentious air seeping in from the full of shit nature one must carry to be properly critical day after day, year after year, reviewing bands does, you find, as with people, that as long as you accept it as is instead of honing in on what it has the potential to be, you’ll find a worthy bond. If I heard this album when first kicking in the door on my twenties the tone of the review would be so pompously “LISTEN TO THIS ALBUM! LISTEN TO THIS ALBUM! YOU’RE GOING TO LOVE THIS ALBUM,” which is an even worse approach–it’s one thing to read something as being overtly critical for factors nearly uncontrollable when drawing from the stream of creativity but a whole other depressing experience being told “you should absolutely enjoy something or you are an idiot” the stupid way stupid people (as I was and probably still am) approach attempting to get others to champion their same tastes, not putting the bands or the art they create first, instead obviously calling, desperately pleading, for the universe to collectively stroke-off their ego each time they begin sniffing their upper lip to say “I wrote about them before anyone else did blah blah meh.” This is how we find ourselves in this commonplace situation of no talent electronic dj’s and producers wading in the disgusting cesspool of remixes, people who create songs without even a hint of creativity who wind up headlining festivals (hey mediocre people need to feel like they belong too, I get it), this need to champion something new is a disease. I’m too deep in my own bullshit to really know for sure but that approach feels far worse, I’d much rather read Lester Bangs ripping unapologetically into his hero Lou Reed in a way which the layman might see as being negative than I ever would be told by some half-retarded Urban Outfitters clone how important this next drop is going to be or how underrated Real Estate are.

The slow burn on “Belong Here Raga” is as good of a jam as it gets, it is the one which when playing over the album gets white washed by its subtle tone but when dropping the needle on intentionally or coming across on shuffle owns up to the single-serving friendship Betrayers work so well at falling into. The order of tracks on the second half goes against the strengths of each song, “Raga” plays directly into the aforementioned creme crème de la crème “Hand O’ Glory” therefore marginalizing “Raga” in a way otherwise not likely to have happened had they placed say “Poem For Charlie” between the two. “Charlie” as well finds itself at a disadvantage coming on so late on the album, if it had opened into “Silky Boys” it very well could have been an enjoyable inclusion, having a spoken word element on an album as it should be otherwise shifting into high gear is a misfire of power taking us out of stride and back to square one which is the most unfortunate place for “Spit Hood” a coaster at best to fall.

“Night ‘N’ Day Boogie” with swooning sunset female backing vocals give us a whole new dynamic to grasp at for a potential glimpse into their future, closing the album with such a song begs us to question whether this is a future they intend to embrace the next time they speak up into our lives. Is it an allusion? I hope not. It is a beautiful song no doubt, reminding me so much of those Golden Ghetto tracks Rockyanne Bullwinkel and David Petro owned us with a few long years ago, those songs, such as this one, are certainly beautiful yet angelically without longevity in our psyche. Which is the overwhelming takeaway on the lower spots of this album in general, the standouts powerful nonetheless, so when mixed in with the greats already stapled in our lives from Betrayer’s past set us up for a live show beyond the great time we have already felt from them. The wait for 12 Songs To Haunt You shows itself in worth, the band stepping up enough to prove their desire for longstanding in our lives is not unwarranted. Now we continue on that slow train heading off into the future we climbed on back in 2012 to just exactly who-knows-where they are taking us, the only question remaining is over whether this is a band which will ultimately be more about the destination or the journey.