Photo Credit: Amber Paredes
Dayseeker – the Orange County quartet formed a decade ago – has always been a difficult band to categorize. “Post-hardcore” and “metalcore” are the labels most frequently assigned to the band, but said labels tend to obscure the nuances and peculiarities of their sound – their inclusion of synths, their capacity for balladeering, the way that their songs can begin by sounding like one thing and become something entirely different by the end.
Their fifth album Dark Sun – and first since the pandemic began -, more than any other album of theirs, posits that their disparate styles; the diversity of their sound, is their greatest strength. Not only is it hard to define the album itself by one genre label, but it’s also hard to do so with even a single song here. Opener “Dreamstate,” for instance, begins with Linkin Park-style alt-rock arrangements combined with a blur of synths before transitioning into pop-punk; which takes place before lead singer Rory Rodriguez unleashes an unmistakably metal growl. The following two songs follow the same formula.
The problem though is that these songs aren’t as exciting or commendable as the above description makes them sound. The band never finds a particularly satisfying fusion of their clearly wide-ranging influences, instead awkwardly stacking different sounds on top of each other, or beside each other. It’s all very bold, but not particularly clever. Listening to the LP, I’m reminded of something Pitchfork’s Cat Zhang said about Rina Sawayama’s Hold The Girl – another album that contains awkward and clumsy genre-fusions – the music “is ambitious in the way that putting on all the clothes in your closet is ambitious.” Dark Sun is simultaneously entirely too much and not enough – an exhausting mish-mash of genres that still manages to contain little in the way of innovation or genuine risk-taking.
The quartet’s fifth full-length album is a textbook example of spreading oneself too thin – opting for a surface-level grasp of metal, pop-punk, synth-pop, and alternative rock rather than meaningfully committing to any of the four. It’s startling how, a decade into the band’s existence, Rodriguez and the band manage to still sound like strangers to themselves; searching and failing to find a definitive identity of their own. Such is only made more glaring in the moments where the band leans heavily on clichéd metaphors and similes and generic rhyme schemes (something that abounds on “Homesick”).
When the band stops trying so hard to do so much so often, they get closer than ever to something genuinely compelling and identifiable. “Midnight Eternal” – the album’s midway centerpiece – sees the band tackle some of the heaviest themes they’ve ever confronted. Concerned with the death of a close friend or romantic partner (it’s unclear which), the song starts with the album’s most evocative and revelatory line (“Hold me in a dim-lit world // So I can learn how bad it hurts”). Across two-minutes-and-thirty-six seconds the band rejects the trite and predictable lyricism that bogs down the rest of Dark Sun and instead opts for the starkly diaristic and confessional – as they tell of “the fear to know that you won’t be alive,” the process of holding another’s hand as they transition from this plain to the next and the heartbreak of death’s aftermath. Nothing else on Dark Sun comes close to reaching the song’s heights – even though the band tries replicating much of its formula on the relatively under-whelming “Paper Heart” – but this one song alone is enough to raise hopes of what Dayseeker can go on to achieve in the future.