Album Review: Misser, “Distancing”

Misser, “Distancing”
Released by Rise Records on May 28, 2013
Produced by Sam Pura; engineered by John Dello Iacono

Rating: 8/10

Twelve minutes is not a lot of time. It’s barely longer than the extra sleep you get by pressing the snooze button on your alarm clock in the morning. But for Misser, the brainchild band of Tim Landers (Transit) and Brad Wiseman (formerly of This Time Next Year), twelve minutes is enough time to burn through five loud, punk-tinged rock songs that demonstrate the band’s ability to keep their craft concise, tight, and angry.

“Goddamn, Salad Days” (boasting a nod in its title to Brian McTernan’s Salad Days Studio in Baltimore, MD, where the band wrote the track) opens up the EP by dropping the listener straight into chaos. Landers and Wiseman have perfected the art of back-and-forth vocals, and “Salad Days” calls to mind the best work of Taking Back Sunday. While the idiom “salad days” may refer to youthful idealism and enthusiasm, the song is far from sentimental. “It feels safe to be alone,” Landers howls, barreling into the chorus of, “Look to the sky, ‘cause I’m sick of the floorboards / preoccupied with opinions and chokeholds / out of my goddamn mind, all of the goddamn time.” The song’s bridge was surely written to cater to a live sing-a-long, and the band’s decision to debut it live during their Spring tour with The Wonder Years amped up their setlist and gave fans an early taste of the EP.

Upon first listen, “Burn Out” may strike the listener as oddly mixed; Landers and Wiseman’s vocals are tucked slightly below the instruments during the verses, but this allows the chorus to erupt with even more intensity. This track showcases the band’s ability to start simple and build on a song’s bare bones without ever sounding too repetitive. Landers’ hushed delivery of the lyrics of the chorus at the end of the second verse serve as one of the highlights of the entire release; the members of Misser are confident enough in their songwriting abilities to take a risk and drop a quiet pause in the middle of a three-minute build-up, making the catharsis of the loud section immediately afterwards even more rewarding.

“Alone, Die” is perhaps the most infectious and upbeat song the band has written, despite its mean-spirited lyrics. After writing a debut album full of bitter songs about strained relationships (2012’s Every Day I Tell Myself I’m Going to Be a Better Person), they have fully perfected the skill of capturing small details from these relationships that tell a much larger story: “I left my hat by the window of your apartment / The one I’d wear whenever it was cold or it was raining / It seems unfair that a piece of me gets to enjoy your company / While you just overlook the fact that it’s there.” Clocking in at just below the two-minute mark, “Alone, Die” is the epitome of this band honing in on their knack to convey strong emotion and executing it without any time to spare.

Closing track “Slow It Down // Write It Out” does, indeed, slow things down – but these are musicians who know how to make the most of slow cuts as well as fast ones. The guitar lines bounce and the drums leave just the right amount of empty space to create an introspective atmosphere for the song’s tired yet patient lyrics (“I’ll always be two steps behind the mean, trying to make sense of what’s not what it seems / I could say what I wanted to say, but I could never do what I wanted to do”). It rounds out the EP with a sort of confession; it’s the band saying they can’t afford to stay angry and loud forever, and celebrating the healing power of songwriting.

Distancing was recorded with Sam Pura at Panda Studios, and Landers and Wiseman are joined on this release by two members of their touring band – Torre Cioffi (also of Transit) on guitar and Mike Ambrose (Set Your Goals) on drums. While Distancing may not reach the emotional heights that their debut full-length achieved, it proves that Landers and Wiseman are growing more comfortable writing together, and the additional musicians add a tightness to Misser’s sound that their debut sometimes lacked.

While it has unfortunately become impossible to read about Misser’s trajectory as a band without encountering comparisons to Transit, I would be remiss not to comment on the promise that this EP shows in light of Transit’s stagnant, disappointing release of Young New England. The two were released within a month and a half of each other, and since Landers serves as a key songwriter in both bands, it begs the question: as Misser’s fanbase continues to grow, and as Transit’s latest album is panned by critics and fans alike, where will Landers place his priority? His gruff vocals – one of his strongest assets as a musician – are often buried in Transit’s work but are allowed to shine with Misser. I, for one, hope that Landers realizes that Misser serves as a much brighter showcase of his talent than does Transit. Whatever the outcome, I’m keenly anticipating more music from Misser in the near future.

-Matt R. Metzler