Album Review: Late in the Playoffs, “Alive and On Your Own”

Late in the Playoffs, Alive and On Your Own
Released independently on July 2, 2013
Produced by Gary Cioffi Jr.

Rating: 7.5/10

“Waiting in line, I chew my nails and think how the golden years will make or break the bank.” This line from the opening track of the debut full-length by Chicago’s Late in the Playoffs says more than it might seem upon first listen. Being a relatively new and independent band in 2013 is not exactly a stable career choice – particularly when that band is playing a breed of music influenced by late 90s and early 2000s emo and pop-punk, which aren’t topping any charts today. Having formed in 2009, Late in the Playoffs have already faced this reality when original guitarist Conor Page had to leave the band (and the city of Chicago) for a year and a half, until he saved up enough money to rejoin in time for the writing and recording of Alive and On Your Own. Now that the band has survived their initial lineup trials and the task of financing, writing, and recording their first album – not to mention the undertaking of actually releasing it, and doing so independently – Late in the Playoffs are poised to break out of the Windy City.

The first two tracks of Alive and On Your Own provide a good introduction to Late in the Playoff’s two vocalists, with Aaron Goldschmidt taking the lead on “Golden Years” and Conor Page helming the dark and brooding “Never Wrong.” For much of the album, though, Goldschmidt and Page team up and trade lines back and forth, creating a great dynamic between Goldschmidt’s smooth vocals (which sound coincidentally enough like a halfway point between The Wonder Years’ Dan Campbell and Matt Brasch) and Page’s grittier style. “The Wayside” represents the pinnacle of their dual vocal duties and boasts some of their best hooks.

While this album’s faster tracks shine with rapid riffs, propelling drums, and lyrics with wit that call to mind scene heavyweights like Motion City Soundtrack (“Force of Nature,” “You Won’t,” and the already-mentioned “The Wayside”), Late in the Playoffs are still a young band, and they tend to stumble when they slow the pace. Stripped down cuts like “Hope” and “My Sober Self” amplify the nasal quality of Goldschmidt’s voice, and while the former is saved when the rest of the band steps up to join him, the latter goes nowhere. Goldschmidt’s vocals grate, and at only a minute long, it sounds like an early sketch for a song, and I’m puzzled by its inclusion.

Fortunately, this disappointment is overshadowed by the excellent “You and the Cold.” This penultimate track is by far the highlight of Alive and On Your Own; the guitar tones are sublime, demonstrating a masterful balance of heavy and clean; the riffs are stratospheric; Dan Schein’s bass forms a strong and lively backbone, and Christian Ray’s drums measure out the tension between the verses and the chorus. The song drops off earlier than expected, but that only boosts its replayability factor.

“Chemicals” carries the album home, featuring prime vocal work from both singers, as well as melodies and chiming guitar lines à la The Graduate. Alive and On Your Own should be taken seriously, despite being an independent, digital-only release. In some ways, Late in the Playoffs remind me of another Chicago band that spent their entire career being underrated and overlooked – Spitalfield. The emotional sensitivity (and intensity) is here, the melodies are here, the musical proficiency is here (and, like Spitalfield, Late in the Playoffs boast particularly strong bass work, provided here by Dan Schein). In today’s music landscape more than ever, the trajectory of a band’s career is in the hands (and wallets) of its fans. Alive and On Your Own establishes the foundation for a promising future; now, it’s our job to make sure that Late in the Playoffs see the success they deserve.

For fans of: The Dangerous Summer, The Wonder Years, Transit, Mayday Parade, Spitalfield, Motion City Soundtrack

-Matt R. Metzler