Daniel Cece

Hot Off the Press: Dead Poet Society - 'Fission'

Music Scene Media
Jan 26, 2024
4 min read

Generally speaking, I'm not a fan of music that is predominantly vocally driven. I generally do not like music that contains elements of Pop or implements formulas in any predictable way. I do my best to avoid music that sounds remotely similar to anything that could be played on modern mainstream radio stations (not that anyone willingly listens to the radio anymore). So, why do I have the entire new Dead Poet Society album on a vicious repeat cycle this week?

Well, almost the entire album. Their brand-new record, Fission, deserves as much praise as it does criticism, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think. Transparently, Fission was actually the album that served as my introduction to this band, which allowed for a truly organic first listen untainted by expectations based on previous releases (isn't it the worst when your favorite artist eventually underwhelms you?). That being said, the first song was met with both intrigue and mild skepticism when I heard that guitar tone juxtaposed with the singer's voice. Various elements work their way into the introduction in the way a chef sprinkles spices atop a dish that simply wouldn't be the same without them. After successfully piquing my interest within what felt like seconds (but was a two-minute timespan), it stopped abruptly in its tracks, leaving me feeling annoyed that there was no denouement, no payoff. That, my friends, is what an album intro is supposed to do.

The term, "catchy", is a word that has had more of a negative connotation in my social circles than a positive one. Way(yyyyyyyyyy) too much music, especially modern mainstream music, is engineered to be a series of earworm after earworm so that it will best serve its true purpose: to be a commodity (and it does its job infuriatingly well). However, there is a difference between "catchy" and "memorable", and they are far from mutually exclusive. Fission is brimming with timestamps that would be right out of the book on how to write a catchy melody. I would categorize about half of those as being the aforementioned "radio" moments that all the Pop lovers out there are going to dance to with their eyes closed and their arms raised. I get it; We all need to make a living out here. Devil's Advocate moment, though: Writing those kinds of melodies organically without the help of a major industry producer/partner giving you cheat codes behind the scenes does take a certain level of talent and music theory knowledge. Despite having notable similarities, the more Pop-leaning moments on Fission give the impression that they were written more organically than the typical drivel found on the Billboard charts. This band has talent, plain and simple. Even if those moments aren't for me, I can acknowledge that they are the product of musicians who care about their music, and that's really all I ask.

The other half of the melodies on Fission have a distinct memorability to them that, contrastingly, stands out from the previously mentioned. These sections would work just as well both in a heavier context (like metal, for example) and a lighter context (like funk or R&B), but feel just right presented in the ways they are. For all the metal fans here, I am delighted to say that I was banging my head on more than one occasion throughout Fission. One thing I will give Dead Poet Society: They know how to groove, and they know how to do it in a way that doesn't feel forced or repetitive. There are certain criteria required to generate the ideal rhythmic "forward head- and neck-bob" when listening to a particular song. It's less about tempo and more about the way the notes are positioned within the phrase (a single unit of music that makes complete musical sense when heard on its own). One thing that keeps me coming back to Fission is the abundance of tasteful groovy sections, many of which are combined with progressions that are written to complement the rhythms and be digestible enough to appeal to a wide range of audiences. These sections are, by far, my favorite on Fission, with many of the highlights being present beyond the singles that were released. Without giving too much away, it's also worth mentioning that Dead Poet Society occasionally will strip down part of a song to the barebones elements in a way that scratches the "breakdown" itch while also driving the particular song forward. This end of the musical spectrum is a far cry from some of the other material I criticized earlier, and the way Dead Poet Society incorporates both throughout the album shows their musical versatility in a very respectable light.

One key element I noticed throughout Fission was the gritty, indie undertone that I had come to miss in alternative, punk, and hard rock. The bands that got me (and likely you) into those genres released many of our favorite albums before every artist collectively assimilated into the overproduced, sonically homogenous nightmare that we've come to know and hate today. I was listening to songs from the soundtrack of my youth recently and realized how much I was craving the natural, more analog production (and the writing styles that complimented it) used in the late '90s and early '00s. While Fission certainly appeals to more modern audiences, there is a distinct aura about it that calls back to times of old (yes, we're old) in a way that doesn't pander to nostalgia, but rather flexes a muscle that could only come with a sincere appreciation for the music that shaped their genre. This trait in their music is an element that helped shape my perception of them as artists and without it, their music would feel much more cookie-cutter. Backing up that notion, Dead Poet Society wasn't shy in their use of counter-melodies, one-off accents (vocally or otherwise), and other subtle layers that set their songs apart from more mainstream music which typically omits them so as to not distract the listener (insert eye-roll emoji here).

Fission has something for just about everyone, which is something not many newer albums can say. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if one of the tracks on Fission made it into a movie or two. There are many instances where a chorus, bridge, or even an outro creates noir-style visual scenarios in my head, complete with all the suspense and theater of an archaic blockbuster. On the off chance that any of the tracks from Fission do make it onto the radio, it will be a pleasant surprise and well-earned.

FFO: The Mars Volta, Dayshell, Dance Gavin Dance

Overall Rating: 7/10

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