Packed inside a station-wagon, dance-rockers You Say Party! We Say Die! burned themselves out touring Europe in 2007. Let’s just say for a little while they weren’t leaping into one another’s arms. Conflict sometimes focuses a band like a crucible. In this case, it produced XXXX. They’ve used the experience and grown as musicians, especially vocalist Becky Ninkovic. Listening to it, XXXX is indisputably about love, escaping the dark past, and reconciliation.
Formed in 2003 in Abbotsford, a suburb of Vancouver, the Canadian 5-piece currently features vocalist Becky Ninkovic, keyboardist Krista Loewen, guitarist Derek Adam, bassist Stephen O’Shea and drummer Devon Clifford. They’ve gained a reputation for jumpy brash pop-punk that occasionally sounds like Bratmobile minus the overt feminism.
You Say Party! We Say Die! embrace the 80s more on the new title. Opening with a straight-up dance number “There is XXXX (Within my Heart)” feels like a sudden detour at first. Not too surprising though since four or five songs on the last album could have been written by The Smiths or The Cure. Ninkovic admits in interviews the need for gentler and personal moments on the album due to past events. As an example listen to the shimmering synth ballad “Laura Palmer’s Prom.” In addition to varying song types, they alternate tempos rather than redlining it all the way. Hold on all you burly guys dressed in black. You can still bash yourselves silly with tunes like “Glory.”
O’Shea and Clifford’s kinetic rhythm work continues to eliminate sitting as an option. Clifford’s unleashes an awesome Hawaii Five-O style drum roll during “Cosmic Wanship Avengers.” Check out the end of “She’s Spoken For” for a bass line right out of a Mega Man video game. Keyboard lines usually nudge out guitar licks with this band. Krista taps out more doomy organ and video game soundtrack tones. These tasty pieces of weird-looking candy appear on “Cosmic Wanship Avengers” and “Lonely’s Lunch.”
The variety of songs on XXXX better highlight Ninkovic’s singing. For someone with a pixie-like speaking voice, she can switch from sneering to sultry. She sounds richer and more soulful overall. Krista Loewen’s backing vocals sound noticeably stronger and more present too. She even sings the lead vocals on the final song “Heart of Gold.” Prior to recording the record, Loewen and Ninkovic received training from vocal coach Sharla Souder. It seems to have helped immensely. I love how both their voices swirl together on the album closer. Maybe we can expect more duo vocals in the future.
When a band evolves, it’s natural to miss having more songs like the earlier albums. Personally, I think a couple of harder tracks would smooth the transition. At least they’ve opted for diversity, not a total replacement of style. You sense musicians searching for the right sound rather than for what’s popular. Polished, but still raw, XXXX displays some expressive and catchy vocal talent.
Grade: 4 out of 5 stars
You Say Party! We Say Die!'s Myspace page
You Say Party! We Say Die!'s website
"Glory" and "Dark Days" live performances from their rehearsal space