Album Review: Four Year Strong – Brain Pain
They say time robs us of our former selves. Brain Pain, the fifth dispatch from Four Year Strong, comes electrified by the tension between the struggle to hold on to past personas and the looming inevitability of having to let go. After more than 15 years in the game, their trademark blend of sunny pop-punk and grittier hardcore might be well-established, but here those two sides of their sound bristle with more symbolic significance: of the carefree kids they were, and of the burdened adults they’ve become.
The titular Brain Pain is at the conceptual centre of everything. There are themes of confusion, depression and anxiety at play throughout, both on the macro and micro levels. Wryly-titled opening track It’s Cool bursts twitchily from an angelic chorus into the sort of angsty payoff that we’ve come to expect thanks to some metallic riffs, before adding a big breakdown for good measure. Next, the superb Get Out Of My Head injects grungy heaviness and real existential anguish, with its lyrics pleading, ‘You want me to burn out / But I’d rather fade away’. Crazy Pills goes down with a twisted spoonful of sugar, too, as unhinged metal guitars duel with a honey-sweet vocal performance. Crucially, they tackle the potentially prickly subject of mental health not with confessional, warts-and-all detail, but with more fluent, broad-stroke emotion. Led in by a swaggering bass riff, Talking Myself In Circles proves itself to be a potent blend of frustration and catharsis, but feels all the more relatable for it.
Elsewhere, Learn To Love The Lie feels far more straightforward, adhering to bittersweet teen-movie-soundtrack formula and feeling far fresher and more impactful after the chaos that’s come before. Mouth Full Of Dirt gasps with punky pugilism, again with guitars set to stun, yet it’s the tempestuous title-track that really stands out, with shredding six-strings, passages of airy relief and more smashing riffs all vying for space.
In fairness, the album’s last act does momentarily sag, descending into cookie-cutter territory with the straightforward nostalgia of Seventeen, the stock acoustic melancholia of Be Good When I’m Gone and the one-note aggro of The Worst Part About Me. But even these are flecked with moments of invention, as the impassioned authenticity of the songwriting pulsates through. Still, Usefully Useless gets things back on track, loaded with bombastic playfulness, before defiantly optimistic closer Young At Heart finds some sort of relief in raging against the dying of the light. Even when tackling hurt in their heads, it’s reassuring to know that Four Year Strong can still hit you square in the heart.
In our new episode of Art Of The Record, producer Will Putney records both vocal tracks for Four Year Strong’s new album…at the same time.
Watch twenty one pilots’ incredibly old-school lyric video for Level Of Concern.