A stop-gap between albums.
The last properly decent AFI record, front to back, was 'Crash Love', released ten years ago in 2009. 'Veronica Sawyer Smokes', 'End Transmission', 'Beautiful Thieves', 'Too Shy To Scream', and 'I Am Trying Very Hard To Be Here'? Banger after banger! Since then, their previous two records - 2013's 'Burials' and 2016's self-titled album - have offered a few solid new tunes here and there, but not anything that substantial overall. Not the least bit when compared with this band's legacy and older, better albums. And I say that as someone who has had so much of his life and formative years shaped by the music that AFI created; a band who is one of my favourite live bands to see perform, as a matter of fact.
This matter of inconsistency can fittingly be applied to AFI's 'The Missing Man' EP, released back in December 2018. It's clearly just a stop-gap release between records, with their next LP rumoured to drop later this year in 2019. However, this five-track dish doesn't bode all that well for what may come next from the long-standing alternative rock outfit. With the only potential saving grace of this EP being that maybe these were the five weakest songs cut from their forthcoming, to-be-announced album. Of course, time will eventually tell whether that's true, but what's on offer right here ain't all that promising.
First of all, it feels rushed. Namely in how this EP's mix is surprisingly quite flat, meaning that the intelligibility of Davey Havok's vocals - which sound as good as ever when they actually cut through - often fall into the background. Lessening the strength of his stellar vocal talents and his hooks as a result, which is a shame. In fact, much of this EP's arrangement and tone just feels and sounds unexcited; uninterested. As for the production and instrumentation, it's all pretty bare bones stuff other than the glittering synths flapping underneath the so-so 'Break Angels' and the strings, pitched vocal samples, and picked acoustic guitars softly moving away during the EP's closing titular song. Less can be indeed be more, absolutely, but when there's already not much to work with, things start feeling naked and thread-bare quite quickly. Such is the case with 'The Missing Man' EP.
It's not all doom and gloom, however. The animated, melodic goth-punk energy of opener ‘Trash Bat’ is the core standout. Hunter Burgan's simple but effective bass lines merge with Adam Carson's tight punk tom fills as they pound away under Jade Pudget's killer riffs and Davey's character-filled voice. It's a classic, lively, and solid sounding AFI for the modern age. It truly sounds like it could’ve genuinely been a sleeper hit off of ‘Sing The Sorrow’, an inclusion no one would’ve batted a mascara-smeared eye-lid at back in the year of our emo lord 2003. 'Trash Bat' is one of only two songs present that's worth returning to, with the other piece that's even remotely worth a damn being the title track. Because it's something different; a slow-jam filled with emotive harmonies, a great sense of space and mood, and this weird, modulated guitar solo from Jade. It's the most musically interesting cut, proving AFI can still write new, interesting pieces now beyond their best days.
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Elsewhere, the slow-moving grunge number of 'Back Into The Sun' is rather uneventful, other than a ripper of a short-lived wailing solo from Jade, who is such an under-rated guitarist in punk and rock nowadays. The EP's lead single, 'Get Dark', is a bit of everything that AFI has done before, and I honestly do believe there's some merit to that. But it's not at all complex, both musically and lyrically, and it leaves much to be desired. 'Get Dark' is like that cat drawing meme, where someone tries to trace around something else, but just comes up short. Instead of AFI moving forward, this track feels like a mere pit-stop along the way to making something actually fresh. Which is the biggest issue with this EP: it's filler, reminding us of their better days until the band's 11th LP releases.
After 28 years(!) as a band, ‘The Missing Man’ paradoxically proves two things about AFI. That they’re more than capable of writing at least a one or two decent tracks, but that their glory days are well and truly behind them now. Which makes this EP bittersweet and awkward, as someone who has formed such a deep connection with the great music that AFI's shared with the world over the years. (Being a big fan probably added ten points to my rating than what was necessary.) Moving forward, let's hope AFI's next record, whenever it comes out and in whatever form, fairs much better than this lacklustre EP.
'The Missing Man' EP is out now. Here's the best song from it: