Album Review: I See Stars - 'Digital Renegade'

23 March 2012 | 1:58 am | Staff Writer
Originally Appeared In

A generic split between electronic-driven pop-punk and breakdown-filled hardcore.

More I See Stars More I See Stars

With a strong backlash from fans after their last release (2011’s The End Of The World Party) showed a more pop-punk oriented approach, I See Stars have returned barely a year later with the follow up, Digital Renegade. The attempt to please their fans is clearly apparent, which unfortunately makes the album difficult to differentiate from the plethora of bands in the electronic-post-hardcore sub-genres churning out very similar releases. Often seen as one of the pioneering bands that contributed to the rise of the electronic-post-hardcore fusion that has become popular in the last five or so years, I See StarsDigital Renegade does little to put them above the rest of the pack.

Gnars Attacks is a solid-enough opening to the album, with a cool strings intro and opening guitar section lay the platform as the screams of Zach Johnson take over. As Gnars continues though it appears they have tried to cram every single element of the album into one song; and thus the song’s fluidity and transitions suffer. It is a common theme on the album and many songs blend together as they follow very similar structures and lack original instrumentation, preferring to revert to a dance-y techno part or a breakdown after every clean section rather than trying something new.

Second track NZT48 is the most fluent song on the album with the section movements, breakdowns and programming seeming more natural. Coupled with the opening track, it lays a decent foundation for the album and shows the potential that it has, albeit remaining unfulfilled throughout the middle thanks to rather boring and simplistic instrumentation, forced sections and a lack of invention in vocal melodies and lead lines.

Clean vocalist Devin Oliver, who played a big role on TEOTWP, takes a backseat to accommodate the extra “heaviness” the band was after. Still, Oliver’s vocals are impressive and the auto-tune that was prominent on prior releases is less-noticable, but the vocal melodies and bit-part role he plays on the album work against him. Underneath Every Smile – probably the most “poppy” track on the album – gives Oliver more of a chance to showcase his vocal abilities than others but it lacks the catchiness to pull the listener in and get them hooked. His duet with Hey Monday’s Cassadee Pope on Electric Forest is one of the few exceptions on the album that really grabs your attention and is by far a stand-out track.

iBelieve is an attempt at an electronic ballad and is easy to listen to, but like most songs on the albumlacks real substance and edge – the washy vocal mix over the electronics doesn’t really help either. While relatively simplistic, the programming does its job and they don’t try to force anything; perhaps a similar approach could have benefitted the rest of the album. Like the majority of the album though, it just doesn’t feel complete and that the band seemed to settle for a first draft of the song rather than tweaking it and making it more dynamic.

The end of the album is undoubtedly its strongest section where the previously mentioned Electric Forest and Filth Friends Unite breathe some life back into it. If you can get by the cringe-worthy opening lyrics of “everybody on the floor”, Filth Friends Unite, a throwback to the band’s first album 3D, is probably its best track. Unfortunately, while being a strong closer to the album, after a few listens through you begin to wonder if it was worth the journey to get there.

When bands put out two albums in a short space of time there is always the danger of the latter seeming rushed. I See Stars seem to have fallen into that trap with their third release, Digital Renegade. In an attempt to be “heavier” after the more pop-punk effort of 2011, The End Of The World Party, the extra breakdowns and screaming mixed with electronica unfortunately fall short of culminating in an album showing true progression and growth. Older fans of the band and fans of the genre will be pleased, but from the neutral its lack of inventive songwriting is disappointing.

1. Gnars Attacks
2. NZT48
3. Digital Renegade
4. Endless Sky
5. Underneath Every Smile
6. Mystery Wall
7. iBelieve
8. Summer Died In Connersville
9. Electric Forest
10. Filth Friends Unite