SeeYouSpaceCowboy – The Romance of Affliction (Album Review)

SeeYouSpaceCowboy – The Romance Of Affliction 
Released: November 5, 2021

Lineup:

Connie Sgarbossa // vocals
Ethan Sgarbossa // guitar, vocals
Taylor Allen // bass, vocals
AJ Tartol // drums
Timmy Moreno // guitar

Online:

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Official Website

[CW: mentions of death, suicide, and drug addiction.]

SeeYouSpaceCowboy are leading the charge with the current batch of rearview-mirror inspired metalcore bands, armed with one of 2021’s finest heavy works, standing tall next to Knocked Loose, Every Time I Die, Dying Wish and Zao. In the same instance, this is a band out of time, as while the San Diego group exists in 2021, they unapologetically make resurrected Myspace-era, white-belt-wearing scene music. (The good kind!) Paradoxically, they sound dated and familiar, but also fresh and well-written. 

With second LP, The Romance Of Affliction, influences and comparisons run the gamut of yesteryear’s post-hardcore, metalcore and mathcore name-stays. In the riffs, vocals, and melodic sensibilities, even down to the look and feel of, well, everything. Everyone from Alesana to Underoath (Aaron Gillespie himself even features on this album’s eighth track); The Locust to Heavy Heavy Low Low; and From First To Last to Drop Dead Gorgeous. Much more than a lazy sounds-like-XYZ list, however, everything about their mid-2000s style — hand-on-hip sassiness, discordant breakdowns, slicing dissonance, emo-pop choruses, melodic forays, etc. — is polished without sacrificing their human qualities.  

Outside of frontwoman Connie Sgarbossa’s serrated screams becoming more identifiable with each new SeeYouSpaceCowboy release, the most interesting thing about the band on The Romance of Affliction is how they’ve developed. The solely instrumental shorts and melodic guitar work that was on their previous record were seldom heard on their label compilation debut, 2018’s Songs For The Firing Squad, and especially not this record’s newly found, dual-vocal singing choruses from both Ethan Sgarbossa and Taylor Allen. (There’s still plenty of entertaining sass-core here, don’t fret.) They’ve come a hell of a long way, each new release being somewhat different than the last. None of it’s original for this kind of heavy music, of course, but this band’s development is like the anti-thesis to where many older metalcore bands have now stagnated. (Counterparts are one such band. Each record since 2013’s phenomenal The Difference Between Hell And Home became more and more redundant. And no, that one shoegaze song at the end of their last record barely counts. The exception proves the rule.)

What I love most about The Romance Of Affliction is how it bleeds all of their releases together. SeeYouSpaceCowboy’s second full-length merges what was great about both The Correlation Between Entrance And Exit Wounds and that aforementioned 2018 LP. It has the emotional weight, tendency for instrumentals, and melodic ventures of Correlation along with the mathcore-adjacent craziness of their early days. (I wouldn’t label this as a math-core record though. Staccato riffs, cool stuttering rhythms and dope breakdowns in 4/4 are sick, but that ain’t math.) What this amounts to is the best of both worlds, with added emo choruses creating some sweet hooks. Basically, it’s the biggest, and maybe even the best, that SeeYouSpaceCowboy have ever sounded. It’s also perhaps their darkest.

When glancing at these lengthy song titles, if you didn’t know where this album is coming from, you might find titles like ‘Intersecting Storylines To The Same Tragedy’ or ‘Anything To Take Me Anywhere But Here to be shallow and melodramatic. Yet those titles are meant to be blunt, reaffirming the lost and depressed place this record originates out of. From death leaving a hole in our lives that we then try to fill up any which way we can: sex, drugs, self-harm, writing, music, and so on. The death of Connie’s girlfriend was what their last album dealt with, and the ripples of that passing is still felt here, understandably so. 

Everything is dramatic, but it’s never played up. When this album was finished, Connie made an attempt on her life via overdosing, almost making true the album’s very namesake: one’s relationship with their own pain. Really, The Romance Of Affliction is almost like a call for fans and artists to do away with pedestaling musical monuments built to trauma; to not romanticize depression. It’s an album about the reality of a drug addict – so admitted by Connie in the record’s press rollout and recent interviews – and how that can shape your relationships. More so when your partner is in the same boat.

The Romance Of Affliction is an album as interested in love, loss and lust as it is also about innocence, guilt and forgiveness, one that thankfully comes across as honest and poetic rather than immature or forced. But shit, even if it did this basically-autobiographical record about Connie’s life over the last two or so years would still hit just as hard. As she candidly told Kerrang!: “We want to say ‘Music saved my life!’, but not really in my case, you know? It doesn’t really work like that.

Yet for just how serious this record is, the way that it’s all musically presented is – in the simplest of terms and sorry for this tonal whiplash – a shit load of fun. The band capture that playfulness of bands like The Blood Brothers (or for your health; their 2021 LP is so fucking good) across the album, to a great degree. Take for instance, the synchronized hand-claps after the first chorus on ‘Misinterpreting Constellations,’ the “Wooo!” gang vocal on the boisterous opening track, or the cheeky Mr. Blonde Reservoir Dogs sample heard in the riff-heavy ‘Melodrama Between Two Entirely Bored Individuals.’ 

Actually, let’s hone in on that opener, ‘Life As A Soap Opera Plot, 26 Years Running.’ A blood-curdling shriek from Connie sets things in motion with harmonic guitars rising in waves behind the frontal aggression, erupting on a volcanic level. It immolates you through off-kilter rhythms, erratic riffs, multiple breakdowns, snappy snare runs, singing refrains, hushed words, and two excellent feature spots from Keith Buckley who cries “it’s not enough to feel warm, I wanna burn in the flames” over excessively panicked intervals in the outro. This opening movement is literally everything that I like and want from SeeYouSpaceCowboy. ‘Life As A Soap Opera Plot, 26 Years Running’ is precisely what makes their music tick so much. It’s one hell of a starting point to kick off a new record with.

That Buckley feature is a big help for that particular song, and now’s the best time to address the album’s other features. For one, that Gillespie feature is on ‘Intersecting Storylines…’ and it reaffirms just how much character he still has in his voice after all these years. Gillespie was the perfect choice to guest on a song like that by a band like SeeYouSpaceCowboy

Jay Webster (SHAOLIN G) of fellow Pure Noise-signed act, UnityTX, brings the hyped-up ruckus on the short but stomping ‘Sharpen What You Can.’ This fucker begins like it’s in the middle of a fight but there’s another round yet to go. Jumpy shifts in tone and tempo rock this one back and forth, as does some ominous china-smashing pre-breakdown madness. So much tension, but then the release hits – following SHAOLIN G’s rap delivery over chugging bass lines – in the form of this gnarly, bending breakdown as he alone leads SeeYouSpaceCowboy onto the finish line.  

Then, coming back for round two after the killer ‘bloodstainedeyes, If I Die First’s vocalists join in on the album’s titular finale. One of the weaker songs, it’s merely a far cry from the two band’s solid shared split from earlier in the year. This final song is dripping with raw emotions, indeed – much like the rest of the record – but it does feel a little superfluous musically. 

That being said, there’s no shortage of awesome moments, including ‘With Arms That Bind and Lips That Lock,’ which is just quintessential SeeYouSpaceCowboy. The pitch-rising madness of this fifth track’s guitar work, blended in with melodic shafts of light, is a blast. Not just another hyper-active metalcore mosh-fest though, it soon develops into one of the most dynamic and rich songs the band’s ever written, threading the needle between all three vocalists and ends on a heavy-ass climax. On that note, the chemistry of the five members is at all-time high with The Romance Of Affliction. Hopefully a lineup that’s stabilized for years to come. 

As a throwback to their EP days, we get ‘Anything To Take Me Anywhere But Here,’ the most scattered song yet. That title feels like it came first and then informed what the song itself would be: a mess of jazz, metalcore breakdowns, sudden clean tones, a genuine scream, and even a few detuned guitar lines. It’s a loosely stringed together song in barely two-minutes, making for a sporadic little song but one that I don’t mind, my enjoyment of it growing each time we cross paths.  

If you write a 2000s aping metalcore album, and you DON’T have an instrumental interlude or two, did you even write a 2000’s aping metalcore album? No! ‘Losing Sight Of The Exit…’ is one such brief but pretty instrumental piece, leading right into the ‘…And My Faded Reflection In Your Eyes.’ (‘The Peace in Disillusion is a keys and strings instrumental later on in the album, but is rather forgettable.) The one-two movement of these songs back-to-back is a hair-raising instance for the record. Equally danceable and moshable, and with Connie’s filthiest screams yet, ‘…And My Faded Reflection In Your Eyes’ is the sort of catchy-but-heavy nostalgic song that once made ghoulish Victory Records heads filthy rich. Thankfully, I can’t see Pure Noise selling SYSC whoopee-cushions anytime soon. 

Ouroboros As An Overused Metaphor’? A rad song name that’s also far too accurate. The concept of the serpent eating itself is as overused in heavy music as conservatives comparing everything they don’t like to George Orwell’s 1984. (Please read other dystopian fiction, I’m fucking begging.) Secondly, the song itself is solid, racing through a balancing act of feral violence and choruses that I don’t even mind the recycled riffage.  

Even with one or two head-scratching or shoulder-shrugging moments, this record remains a real showcase of SeeYouSpaceCowboy’s songwriting talent. Each song is filled with so many differing sections that fly by in an instance yet all feel crucial to the whole operation. While the hookier direction of this record, with its dual-singing refrains might be a little overplayed by its end – both in terms of this specific record and the wider genre – things never feel too bogged down or boring. At its peak, The Romance Of Affliction is a well-balanced, well-paced body of work, from a band that loves and understands why this kind of heavy music once connected with so many. SeeYouSpaceCowboy’s latest would’ve been a terrific record back in 2004-2006, and it’s just as good now in the current year. 

SeeYouSpaceCowboy – The Romance Of Affliction tracklisting:

1. Life As A Soap Opera Plot, 26 Years Running (ft. Keith Buckley)
2. Misinterpreting Constellations
3. The End To A Brief Moment of Lasting Intimacy
4. Sharpen What You Can (ft. SHAOLIN G)
5. With Arms That Bind and Lips That Lock
6. Losing Sight Of The Exit…
7. …And My Faded Reflection In Your Eyes
8. Intersecting Storylines To The Same Tragedy (ft. Aaron Gillespie )
9. Ouroboros As An Overused Metaphor
10. Anything To Take Me Anywhere But Here
11. The Peace in Disillusion
12. Melodrama Between Two Entirely Bored Individuals
13. The Romance Of Affliction (ft. If I Die First)

Rating: 8/10
The Romance Of Affliction is out tomorrow via Pure Noise Records. Pre-order here.
Review by Alex Sievers@AlexJSievers

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