10 Years Later: Alexisonfire’s ‘Watch Out!’

Watch Out!

Alexisonfire seemed to not so much break up as drift apart. Dallas Green’s City and Colour was catching on with listeners. Wade MacNeil was chosen to replace Frank Carter in Gallows. With two of the band’s key members going or gone, George Pettit posted a statement — which wasn’t the most amicable-sounding — announcing the end of AOF. There was a tour, an expensive box set, a new band for Pettit, and now, nothing but the memories.

Looking back, Watch Out! wasn’t the band’s most successful commercial album – Crisis and Old Crows/Young Cardinals both have more impressive numbers. Watch Out! is notable for the big steps forward the band takes on it after their self-titled debut. The latter, while still near and dear to my heart, is rather silly in retrospect, the noodlings of a young band still finding themselves.

With Watch Out!, everything was suddenly much clearer, more structured. Each song had a chorus of some sort, and they were all sticky as hell. Dallas Green was a big part of that, having a much more prominent role on Watch Out! The emotional hooks of many tracks were also much sharper than before, with “Sharks and Danger” and “Happiness by the Kilowatt” delving deeper than, well, a dagger to the heart of angsty young teens. The songs were whole constructions and sounded the part – like real songs. It was as if a switch had been flipped, putting the railroad track in its proper place. These songs were now just so, barreling down into listeners’ skulls like pure sonic rockets.

I still remember the bevy of songs delivered to me by a high school friend of mine, our screamo music aficionado of the time. Skramz experts on the internet now would hiss and claw at his taste, but it felt right at the time. This Alexisonfire was near the top of his list of bands to listen to – “they’re named after a lactating contortionist stripper, isn’t that awesome?” It proved less awesome after combatting comments of “why is it all one word?” and “are you sure it’s not pronounced ‘Alex is on fire?” but it was the hook that caught at the time.

Crisis had just come out, and my friend favored the s/t’s “Pulmonary Archery.” Then as now, though, Watch Out! was the earworm that dominated my iTunes. The “clean” vocals were unmatched by similar bands, and that guy doing the screamy stuff was doing a grittier take, leaning more towards punk growl than metal yowl (as we’d see with later evolutions, most notably Old Crows/Young Cardinals). But the reason I opted for this album was the songs. They were all great, a slew of back-to-back-to-backs of resonant goodness.

So it caught me, for the same reason it caught other kids: those musical and emotional hooks. The album is a murderer’s row of songs capably crafted toward an audience craving those, and it still delivered those hefty doses of the hardcore stuff (or post-hardcore, as we’d assert in person and in the forum genre wars that continue to this day). AOF’s newer evolutions delivered on music that, at its best, was no less quality – it simply never felt as blissfully satisfying end-to-end as it did here.

This album was, and still is, a raging tornado that kicks listeners up with the first notes of “Accidents” and deposits them, slowly, back down with “Happiness by the Kilowatt,” dazed, emotional, elated, and ready to get picked up again. Leading off with “Accidents,” the clear-cut single, was a wise move. The song is a crowd-inclusive anthem that swings for the fences, one that even includes a group chant built for the crowd (see every pop punk band). It invested us immediately in the subsequent songs that would prove to cut right through to our inner parts.

It’s no wonder the next album, Crisis, exploded. It’s no wonder Green, a huge part of the band’s more crowd-friendly, mass-appealing evolution, had City and Colour blow up. In a band where the whole was most definitely greater than its parts, the parts were still great enough to be strip-mined to each lead their own wholes. We still have the legacy, the videos, and the albums, especially this album; it’s just too bad that in an era where every band from the past two decades is reuniting, this is one of the bands that seems most unlikely to do so.

Editorial written by Tyler Hanan
Watch Out! turned 10 yesterday, June 29.

Tyler Hanan

Tyler raves about movies on the Let The Right Films In podcast. Listen to him make jokes over his beleaguered cohost Kayla St. Onge and their more qualified guests who deserve so much better at soundcloud.com/ltrfipod. Find him on Twitter @tylerhanan.
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