Tooth & Nail Records has signed a great many number of bands over its nigh twenty-five years of existence. And with so many artists, there were bound to be some duds, for lack of a better term. A few years ago, the label signed a few new artists that seemed exciting at the time; New Empire released a decent album and then broke up, Midnight Alive released a forgettable album and then switched labels, and Hearts Like Lions released a promising EP and then went silent. Their dropping from the label seemed pretty likely. But this year, we're finally treated to a full-length album from the Californian fourpiece, and I, for one, am glad they stuck around.
Cut from the same cloth as bands like Abel and My Epic (with bits and pieces of The Almost and Mae sewed on), Hearts Like Lions' brand of indie pop rock is infectious, though a bit more toned-down than some of these bands. In fact, there are some moments on If I Never Speak Again where it feels like the band has made an attempt to subdue themselves when a louder, slightly more intense sound would've been appropriate and very welcome; songs like "Let On" and "If I Never Speak Again" come to mind, as do certain portions of "Thank You Very Little." However, that ends up being the worst of the criticisms, and the lower intensity level does work for the band, even when the core of the song is a driving rock number like "Pretty Little Phase."
One of the album's highlights is a song called "Get This Through." The hook features a very welcoming melody while Stephen Ramos sings to an non-specified person, encouraging him or her to search deeper in their lives for something that keeps going unnoticed ("There's a message you're not receving, and you'll lose all self-control, think of all the good things, and remember you have hope"). Different songs come with different meanings, with no sort of specific theme to pick up. "Opportunities" is a song to someone long gone, and seems to be more about regret than anything else, but the title track leaves the listener to reflect on making every moment matter. Near the end of the song, Ramos asks a lot of questions, starting with, "If you told me that I would never speak again, what would I say? What would I do? Could I hear my voice? Would you understand? Would I get it back?" and ending with finality, singing, "And I'll say I'm sorry, and yes I'll mean it everyday." Though it's written and sung in a personal sense, it's something great to take away as the album concludes.
If I Never Speak Again is an album that shows that, not only is this band still a good fit for T&N, but also that they are a very talented bunch of musicians with a keen songwriting ability. Somewhat ironically, If I Never Speak Again actually speaks volumes of Hearts Like Lions. The guys will be on tour with some big names this year, including semi-labelmates The Ongoing Concept, so here's hoping that this will only keep their momentum going. But even if it doesn't, I don't think we'll be hearing the last of Hearts Like Lions anytime soon.- Review date: 2/25/17, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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