REVIEW: Four Year Strong – ‘Four Year Strong’

Artist: Four Year Strong
Album: Four Year Strong
Label: Pure Noise Records
Genre: Easycore, baby

Before we take the next 1,100 words or so to discuss the new Four Year Strong record, let’s talk about presentation.

Four Year Strong is a band that has always cared about presentation. Ridiculous promo pictures featuring the band’s enormous men in FYS-branded varsity jackets, the famous beards, song titles riddled with highly-quotable movie lines, and cartoon album artwork with robot sharks, wizards, and centaurs are all essential parts of the brand that Four Year Strong spent so much time building in the late 2000s. The 2010 incarnation of the band was the best possible visual representation of their signature sound – giant dudes with incredible facial hair just look right as they’re tearing through songs titled “Beatdown in the Key of Happy” and “It Must Really Suck To Be Four Year Strong Right Now” that feature equal parts breakdowns, synths, and pinch harmonics.

After a return to the Vans Warped Tour last Summer and a teaser in the form of the Go Down In History EP, Four Year Strong is back with a self-titled record that features the ridiculous artwork, movie title songs, and sense of fun that became such a well-known part of their brand back in the day. Looking at the album’s packaging alone, you’d be right to be equally excited and scared.

You might be thinking, “But, John, look at that artwork! Look at those track titles! Did they seriously quote Tim Curry in Home Alone 2? That’s hysterically niche!,” and you’d be right. This is a decidedly Four Year Strong move – it’s like catching up with an old friend and picking up on all of their mannerisms you’d forgotten about after such a long time away. However, those robot sharks and Alan’s man boobs don’t come without a context. Four Year Strong decided to try something new when they released the widely disappointing In Some Way, Shape, or Form back in 2011 before disappearing off the face of the earth in the wake of critical and fan disapproval. This was truly a dark era for the easycore movement. You might look at the packaging and say, “John, it’s clear to me that Four Year Strong is a desperate attempt to reclaim the band’s early 2010s fame with a carbon copy of Enemy Of The World. Also, they’re really running dry on movie quotes. Boogie Nights? Really?,” and I think there’s some validity there as well. However, one listen through Four Year Strong and it’s clear that this is far from a cash-in. For better or for worse, this isn’t the same band that held the Easycore Crown (TM) for so long.

Four Year Strong’s last record fell flat not because of an attempt at a synth-free maturation, but because of generally lazy songwriting and a lack of inspiration throughout the track list. The self-titled record has no such problem. Opener “I Hold Myself In Contempt” is a great indication of the direction the band has taken with this record. It’s got a catchy hook, vocalists Dan O’Connor and Alan Day are in top form as they scream their faces off, and the guitar work is the best in the genre, per usual. The quality of songwriting is familiar for Four Year Strong fans, and for the most part, any of the riffs, vocal melodies, or lyrics would fit right in place on one of the band’s older records. However, the skeleton is different. Right where we expect the obligatory mosh call and an enormous breakdown, we get an extended guitar solo, courtesy of O’Connor. It’s a refreshing moment that erases all doubt of the band’s definition of “mature songwriting.” The band clearly now realizes maturity and fun aren’t mutually exclusive, and the pace of the record is immediately set.

Despite the shift away from the utterly ridiculous, things lean a bit more toward the fun side every now and again. With “We All Float Down Here,” “Stolen Credit Card!,” and “Who Cares,” Four Year Strong throw just about all caution to the wind with fast-paced, live crowd-ready songs that are sure to become headlining setlist staples. Alan reaches the glorious tippy-top of his vocal range in the first verse of “We All Float Down Here,” as he belts “Peel your skin back to show what you’re made of / too bad you never did have the guts to know where your heart should go” before the insanely loud guitars begin to chug along with the kick drum. Kurt Ballou’s production shines in this track as well as the breakneck “Stolen Credit Card!,” as his loud, metal-influenced drum work and buzzsaw guitars clash nicely with the catchy hooks. The instrumental of “Stolen Credit Card!” might be the single heaviest moment on Four Year Strong – this could easily be converted into a modern hardcore song with the removal of the clean vocals and way more “bleghs.” The same can be said for “Who Cares,” which sounds like something off Green Day’s Insomniac for the most part and ends before it hits the 2-minute mark.

As great as the bulk of the record is, there are still a few hangups; namely the center section of the record that drags in comparison to the beginning and end. “Gravity” consistently makes me lament the ending of “Stolen Credit Card!” and I can rarely make it through “Here’s to Swimming With Bow-Legged Women,” which sounds a bit too much like “Bada Bing! Wit’ A Pipe!” This might be the highlight of the record for some, but I usually find myself skipping this song in favor of the subsequent “I’m A Big, Bright, Shining Star,” which might be the single catchiest song the band has ever written. “Go Down In History” sounds exactly like the version we got last year on the EP of the same name, and as strong as this song is, it’s a bit anti-climactic as a closer.

Four Year Strong will likely go down in history (heh) as a return to form for the Massachusetts easycore pioneers, and rightfully so. My only stipulation with that statement is the definition of where the band is returning from. This self-titled effort is the band’s first record where the good outweighs the bad since Enemy of The World, but it’s not a return to the goofy, synth-heavy, breakdown machine that Four Year Strong was in 2010. Sure, there are some similarities here – the beards are still in top form, robot sharks are present, and there’s definitely at least one reference to Rush Hour in that tracklist – but for all intents and purposes, this self-titled record is a new era for the band. Rest well, for easycore lives, baby.

SCORE: 8/10
Review written by John Bazley (follow him on Twitter)

John Bazley
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2 Responses to “REVIEW: Four Year Strong – ‘Four Year Strong’”

  1. Anthony D. says:

    Great review. I’d probably rate the album in at 8.5 or 9 out of 10, personally. It’s everything I wanted in a new album from these guys. We can all just pretend In Some Way, Shape, or Form never happened because the second the verse starts in “I Hold Myself In Contempt,” all is forgiven. This is the album that should have followed Enemy of the World.

  2. Ben Feddersen says:

    In Some Way, Shape, or Form was a disappointment? I’m glad nobody told me, I fucking love that album. Saw them tour in support of it and it was an ass-kickingly good show.