album: Panorama - La Dispute
words: Jordan Gorsuch
“Opener, “Rose Quartz” warns the listener that this might not be the La Dispute that they’ve come to expect. We don’t find the unsubtle blasts of emotion found on their first two albums, or even the cleaned-up-indie-rock-sound toyed with on Rooms of the House. The droning synths and textures both sound hopeful and menacing, with the darkness seemingly winning out, bleeding into Panorama’s one-two punch: “Fulton Street (I & II).” This latest is an album that embraces the subtlety of life, the maturity that can be found in reading between the lines, and the patience forged in a slow burn.
That texture stretches beneath stagnated, gentle guitar chords and an unusually soft, almost aloof vocal delivery from Jordan Dreyer. A bass line stumbles into the mix, teasing an explosion, a waltz with a soft cymbal touch that rattles off every few measures. Then comes the catharsis: “Will I ever put flowers by the street?” Dreyer screams with an agony that comes close to the uncomfortable emotion and grief found on the band’s most iconic cut, “King Park.” This question isn’t rhetorical, either. A long staple of Dreyer’s lyrics have circled around the idea of when his personal life will encounter real tragedy. This feeling of guilt that radiates from within Dreyer externalizes in the poetry of La Dispute - it takes root in the anger and catharsis found in his half-sob shouts and pleas.
“Fulton Street II” trades the band’s sweeping dynamics and exercise in restraint found on the prior track for an increase in aggression and energy. Dreyer utilizes similes to describe a relationship with a lover (“You were like a stone / Thrown in a river / ...Sink like an anchor”). He begins his dispute over the wariness and inability to help his partner hinted at on “Fulton Street I,” screaming, “I will be the one who chases you out into the snow / Go where you tunnel down and the trouble starts / I will follow you out and carry all the pain away.”
Are these romanticized, knightly claims even feasible? Does the narrator possess the agency to figuratively become the river that his lover has knowingly flung herself into, and carry herself (and her pain) to safety in his currents? The guitars reach a noisy fever pitch and sound thunderously in union with Brad Vander Lugt’s drumming as the narrator’s bravado fades (“I was waiting for the anger to change”). Pummeling percussion and massive distorted guitar chords drive home the final point in this three-track-story: “And I know your dreams / Of opening caskets / You shake in the mattress / You shake in the-” the song cuts out before the narrator can even finish his closing thought, further erasing his control. This dilemma and imagery associated with it start to take root as Panorama progresses.
The sonics of Panorama live up to the album’s name in terms of scope and ambition. Tracks like “Rhodonite And Grief” and “Anxiety Panorama” seamlessly bleed into one another possessing moods and sounds that set them apart. The former serves as a pseudo-evolution of the work found on Rooms of the House’s icy and classy “Woman (In Mirror),” and the latter a throwback to the emotional ragers found on their first two albums. These effortless transitions deepen the album’s conceptual flow while diversifying its arrangements.
On “Rhondine and Grief,” clean, jazzy guitar chords and hypnotizing percussion shift to crescendoing trumpet and freaked-out staccato picking as the band delivers an explosive bridge that rattles through the seasons of the year, and the waves of grief that accompany them. “We keep her picture on the fridge / I keep a rabbit toy for kids / You gave me strength to fix myself / I gave you tokens, toys and gifts / To help you grieve,” Dreyer speaks softly, seemingly exasperated.
“In Northern Michigan” finds the band at its most contemplative and atmospheric. The percussion slips in and out, mostly just a steady throbbing bass drum, as the band trades guitar passages for a swirling drone propped up by the clearest bass-line on the album. This less-is-more approach, accompanied with pregnant pauses in the mix, allow the listener to focus clearly on Dreyer’s darkly-romantic imagery. “Too much of you at once is just enough at all times,” Dreyer gently reveals amongst the whirling textures. He paints a scene of his partner willingly descending into a body of water as he stands on dunes of sand, a “watcher on the ridge,” she floats into the water “like a ghost ship.”
For a band so defined by their lyricism, La Dispute has drawn criticism for the curious decision of burying and obscuring Dreyer’s vocals in the mix; mimicking the many references to thoughtful dreaming and panicked awakenings, and our struggle to make out the messages in our own subconsciouses. It is a bit of an adjustment, but a rewarding one, and when the band allows for the vocals to take focus, it only enhances the punch of what they want to impart as the main takeaway.
Panorama introduces us to a new era of a band that is starting to find the beauty in subtlety. With that, they are asking their fans to read between the lines. Dreyer fights his natural urge to “fix” his partner throughout the album’s runtime. He tries to give her physical gifts to squash her grief, tries to figuratively rescue her from drowning herself, tries to swallow her anxiety, he even promises to be everything she needs. It is only when he swallows his own urge to protect her that he is able to watch her ascend - free from her anxiety and grief. Suffering is a necessary part of the human condition, and sometimes the strongest thing you can do as a partner is just to let that suffering take root and see what grows in its place.