‘Self-Acceptance Speech’ album review

Image courtesy of Old News

album: Self-Acceptance Speech
artist: Old News
genre: rock & roll
release date: October 15, 2020
star rating: four out of five

review by Brennen Smith

Old News, a band made up of Kansas natives, reinvigorated and refurbished their sound on their debut LP record, Self-Acceptance Speech. The band describes themselves as a contemporary of Delta Sleep or Microwave, and they are probably something close to a combination of these two bands with emo lyrics, math-rock-esque instrumentation, and a few poppy choruses mixed in. The highlights of the album are definitely the overall instrumentation, layering of sound, and the autobiographical lyrics, which are reflective of the millennial struggle to live a meaningful and fulfilling life.

The album highlights are epitomized in the first two songs off of the album, “Pulling Teeth” and “Heads Like Projectors.” “Pulling Teeth” starts slow but ends up hitting hard with an incredibly catchy chorus. The use of horns (forgive my instrumental naivety) gives the listener a feeling of flying off to escape the relational problems in the song, only to be brought back to earth with the punch of the guitars. This song has the most instrumental depth and makes use of quieter sounds to bring out the hard-hitting chorus. If Old News continues to put out songs like “Pulling Teeth” in the future, I’ll be listening to them.

“Heads Like Projectors” follows up the best song on the album with more enjoyable, edgy, and thoughtful lyrics. Less hard-hitting than “Pulling Teeth,” it playfully speeds up and slows down and is an overall enjoyable song. The lyrics are some of the most prescient on the album, as the narrator, a man who is too conflicted internally to know how to engage his will upon the world, wishes for the stages of grief to hurry up toward “acceptance.”

“JPS,” or “Johnny Poop Shoes,” and “1917 Cherry St.” are both re-recordings of old songs from Old News’ first and second EPs. Comparing the old to the new is a good way of analyzing the growth of Old News as a band. The production on both songs is much-improved from their original releases: more in-depth layering of instruments, vocals are turned up and strike a better rhythm with the music, and the ending of “JPS” is delightful, with its chorus of backing vocals yelling “get out of my head” evincing a striking improvement from the original where the singer went solo. The original “1917 Cherry St.” had a more chill feel, with spaces strewn throughout the song to highlight brass instruments or a little bit of guitar, but the new rendition has a much fuller sound.

Regarding instrumentation, Self-Acceptance Speech leaves the listener desiring more stand-alone arrangements because these instrumental sections are so good. There are two intermission songs with no vocals, but the talent of the guitar, drums, and layering of other instruments are often so good it makes me wish the band will pull into more of an instrumental direction with a few full songs bearing little-to-no vocals.

This album has much better production overall compared to prior endeavors, but it still doesn’t have the polish of a band on a bigger label – though you can hardly fault Old News for it at this point in their journey as a band. The worst of the album is the screaming on the second verse of “I Don’t Care” – it really grates on the ears – and the songs “I Don’t Care,” “Happy Pills,” and “Sunday Suit.” Though, they still are worth a listen, at least for the exploration of faith or lack thereof in “Sunday Suit” (and the interesting country twang in the guitars) and the discourse on the use of anti-depressant pills to alleviate an absence of happiness in one’s life throughout the song “Happy Pills.”

The lyrics in Self-Acceptance Speech are incredibly thought-provoking and poetically poignant, with phrases like “slave to serotonin” from “Happy Pills” or “cut our losses and cut each other out” from “Pulling Teeth” that stick in the mind. My personal favorite line is the clever reference to the Hippocratic Oath in the “hypocritical oath” taken in the song “I Don’t Care.” The vocals may not be the best, but the lead singer and band have improved as a whole in their ability to combine music and vocals into cohesive choruses and crescendos at the end of many songs on the album. Last but not least, check out the song “Dancing In The Light,” especially if you also live in your head to a degree that’s unlikely to make social engagement enjoyable and want to rock out to a song that leaves you somewhat optimistic about your ability to enjoy life in the limelight more often.

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