Album Review: The Maine - 'Pioneer'

11 December 2011 | 7:36 pm | Staff Writer
Originally Appeared In

Sometimes stepping out on your own is exactly what a band needs to get back on track.

More The Maine More The Maine

The lead up to this album was definitely a different one for The Maine. After releasing their major label debut, Black and White, to a less than positive reception from a large section of the band’s fanbase, everyone was in for a surprise this time around.

Heading into this album the Arizona five piece decided to drop their major label backing, instead choosing to release their third studio album independently, through their own label, Action Theory Records. This is a big step for any band and will either certainly hit the mark or completely miss it all together.

Here stands Pioneer, an album that no one expected to be released by a band like The Maine, a band who are best known for their cheeky, upbeat pop hooks and tongue in cheek lyrics. What you will find is a sound that is stripped back and matured. There isn’t any auto-tune, synth sections or sassy lyrics on this record. Instead what you will find is the work of five musicians- stripped back vocals, simple guitars and bass, a drum kit, some added piano and percussion in places and a pure honesty and heart that is missing from a lot of “pop rock” albums released nowadays.

Fans of the bands previous albums may have to discard their preconceived expectations of what they think a The Maine album should sound like to even begin to enjoy it. While some tracks seem to feature sections of their previous albums, for the most part this is a completely new The Maine. The album is simple. It doesn’t ever try to be in your face or overly technical. Instead what it prides itself on is a real honesty and emotion that can be felt from the raw, rough vocals of John O’Callaghan all the way through to the steady, timed drum beats at the hands of Pat Kirch.

The emotional honesty isn’t higher on the album then in tracks “I’m Sorry” and “Jenny”. The first opens with drums, keys and guitars all flowing together in a simple melody before O’Callaghan’s smooth yet gritty vocals kick in. The passion behind his voice is evident right from the beginning and the simplicity of the instruments help to bring that emotion to the forefront. “Jenny” is a track that O’Callaghan wrote for his mum. The soft, emotion laden vocals are again carried by simple, cruisy, blues-infused instruments. It is a beautiful track made up of soft keys, simple guitar and bass lines held together by steady drums and percussion, all the while O’Callaghan’s pure, honest vocals carry the track, accompanied by those of guitarist Kennedy Brock.

Album opener “Identify” perfectly sets the mood for the album. It opens soft and slow, with simple guitars and smooth vocals before the rest of the band kick in, in a teasing cascade of instruments before pulling back into a simple layered melody to carry the vocals along. The chorus builds up again while still feeling somewhat soft. The track is made up of simple lyrics and instruments layered perfectly together to create an opening that instantly displays a new, redefined The Maine. All this while highlighting how complete the band sound together. This is an aspect that has to be highlighted, right throughout the album the dual guitars of Brock and Jared Monaco tie seamlessly together, while the bass lines of Garrett Nickelsen and the drums from Kirch flow together helping to keep the timing and tempo of the tracks steady and chaotic in equal measure. Together the entire band sound synchronized and whole.

The more upbeat, rockier tracks come in the form of “Don’t Give Up On (Us)” and “Like We Did (Windows Down)”. The first was one of the previously released tracks on the album. It is light and upbeat, painting the perfect soundtrack for Summer. It is almost a shout out to the band’s fans singing, ‘Trust in us, we’re all that you’ve got these days’ and ‘Don’t you ever give up on us’. Simple light guitar lines automatically get the mood up, before O’Callaghan’s deep vocals cut in and pull the instruments back. Slowly they layer back in, keeping the energy up and the mood light. The chorus is easily one of the catchiest on the album, following the same pattern used on most tracks, which is keeping the hook nice and simple while still relatable and memorable. It is a simple, catchy, boppy track that will have you singing along in no time. “Like We Did (Windows Down)” is another track that could potentially feature on Summer road trip playlists for a long time to come. It is a nostalgia-laden track made up of crashing guitar, drum and bass lines cascading together underneath energetic lyrics, something not featured anywhere else on the album. It is probably the closest fans will get to The Maine from the days of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop; upbeat, boppy, catchy pop rock that makes you want to dance and sing while still holding onto the new maturity and sense of themselves found right throughout Pioneer.

However, Pioneer is not a completely flawless album. At times tracks can seem long and uneventful purely because of the simplistic nature of them and the fact that many tracks lead into one another, making the album feel like one continuous story. Though that fact is saved by the catchy lyrics, honesty and hard work that is evident beneath every track. Sometimes all a track needs to be is simple, honest and heartfelt to be memorable.

Pioneer proves that sometimes you need to step out on your own. It is evident that these are thirteen tracks The Maine needed to make, to get away from all the producers and label influences and make a record that is truly them, exactly as they are at this time of their lives. Whether this is the start of a new direction for the five piece, who were made popular by their cheeky, tongue in cheek, pop-rock tracks or if this is simply just a break to stretch their legs and try something new, only time will tell. Either way, The Maine has proved that they can pull it off. Pioneer is a simple yet successful redefinition for the band, and if they keep heading in this direction who knows what they might create.

1. Identify
2. My Heroine
3. Time
4. Some Days
5. I’m Sorry
6. Don’t Give Up On “Us”
7. Misery
8. When I’m At Home
9. Thinking Of You
10. Jenny
11. Like We Did (Windows Down)
12. While Listening To Rock & Roll…
13. Waiting For My Sun To Shine