Picture this: Sixteen year old me, scrolling through my Tumblr feed reading the lyrics “fuck an apology, I’m not sorry for anything” over and over again. Like a moth to a flame I, like many others, was drawn immediately to the angst and apprehension that formed the foundation of The Story So Far. As I grew up, so did they, and now five years down the track that same band are gearing up to release their fourth studio album; Proper Dose. A more mature effort than anything the band has done previously, Proper Dose is an atmospheric body of work that sees the band walk a dangerous tightrope between where they have come from and where they’re heading. The Story So Far is Parker Cannon (vocals), Kelen Capener (bass), Kevin Geyer (guitar), Ryan Torf (drums) and Will Levy (guitar).
Having heard the singles already released, I approached Proper Dose certain that the version of The Story So Far I had grown up with was a thing of the past. The singles built a distinct image of what I expected the album to be; something relaxing and gentle, a departure from the angst and roughness that was consistently channelled through the band’s previous efforts. Proper Dose is an album that at its core is about “finding balance between the person you were and the person you wish to be”, and with that in mind like a child taking medicine, I opened wide and took my dosage.
As I began the title track, “Proper Dose”, the opening guitar notes immediately threw me off balance. Sounding like something you’d find on a La Dispute album, I quickly made sure I was listening to the right album and to my surprise, I was. As the drums burst in and Cannon’s vocals made their entrance, any fears that existed were quickly wavered. The instrumental structures and tones that had found their way onto the band’s previous albums were all present yet the sound is fuller and more defined than ever before. Dynamic verses compliment anthemic choruses, while Cannon’s voice sounds more refined than ever before, bringing attention to lyrics like “Am I just going through the motions or is this how I’ll be?” “Proper Dose” is a two and a half minute climatic piece, perfectly laying the foundation for the rest of the album.
As the opening track fades out, my pleasant surprise at what I just heard gives way to genuine excitement. “Keep This Up” opens with a rock-fuelled guitar riff that quickly explodes into something that resonates with the sixteen year old kid that first fell in love with this band. Punchy and hard-hitting, the smooth melodies that found their way onto the album’s opening track yield to gritty pop-punk, while Cannon’s refined vocals disappear and rough and tormented singing takes their place. Listening to this song over and over it’s impossible to see how the band fit so much in to so little time; an incredible guitar solo, a rousing singalong, the song even manages to slow down before erupting into a moving finish that ends abruptly, leaving me begging for more.
Maintaining the tempo and energy is “Out Of It”, a reworked version of the single the band released in September 2017. While identical in structure and composure, the general sound of the song, from the production on vocals and the tone of instruments have all been altered to compliment the rest of the album. Whilst the production on Cannon’s vocals especially can occasionally seem excessive, the revitalisation of the song makes it a perfect fit for Proper Dose. A welcome inclusion on the album despite its release almost a year ago, “Out of It” is a nugget oozing pop-punk goodness.
The most recent taste of the album for fans, “Take Me As You Please”, is a comfortable change from the upbeat beginning of the album. Starting as a simple combination of vocals and acoustic guitar, it is a calming song for a rainy day before the introduction of gentle bass and percussion wraps around the song like the warmest of blankets. As was the issue with “Out of It”, the obvious production on Cannon’s vocals can feel over the top; most predominately in sections where his voice is particularly isolated. Regardless, the song is loving and positive: A warm memory of days spent in bed with a loved one. Torf’s percussion is the standout element to the song, adding a layer to the song that makes you wonder how more artists aren’t utilising its vast capabilities.
From rainy day to a sunny paradise, the mood transition into “Let It Go” is as quick as the flick of a light switch. Released alongside the album announcement, the song’s introduction seems to take influence from Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me”, (no seriously, listen to both and tell me you don’t hear it), before an all-encompassing summer-feel takes over the song. It is similar to its preceding track in many ways, the percussion returns while the relaxing temperament continues to soothe listeners. Cannon sounds almost angelic, whilst the work of his peers, most notably the guitar work of Geyer and Levy compliment him perfectly to create one of the album’s highlight tracks.
Like a traffic light, the colours of the album continue to change, with every single song transitioning like a new chapter of the same book. Another single from the album, “Upside Down” is no exception. As the dark grey clouds roll in exposing a very vulnerable side to the band, the song feels reminiscent of the band’s cult-classic “Clairvoyant”, the lyrics emanating an overwhelming feeling of loneliness while the instrumentals feel typically gloomy. Citing The Beatles as a major influence in the songwriting process for the album, the poppy inspiration is evident on the song and shows a monumental maturation in the band as song writers and artists. A truly heartbreaking ballad, “Upside Down” will undeniably bring on the tears.
As the halfway point of the album passed, I couldn’t help but stop to take in and reflect on what I had heard up until this point. Any expectations of the album I held had been torn to shreds; every new track was mind-blowingly brilliant while the singles were even more effective when listened to in the context of the album. With genuinely no idea of what to expect, I ventured into the second half of the album.
“If I Fall” begins with the sound of a lighter and for a moment my nervousness continued; would my own hopes for the album be extinguished like a flame on a rainy day? Within seconds an enormous smile crept upon my face as the energetic drum beat and peppy guitar and bass lines resonated throughout my entire body. The transition between Cannon’s soft vocals and his harsher tones is infectious, his vocal flow absolutely hypnotising. While the instrumentals really take a backseat in this song, they carry the song and build a pedestal for the band to project their progression to their fans.
“If I Fall” is the standout track on the album, whilst channelling the spirit of their early releases it perfectly encapsulates the theme of the album; finding a balance between where the band have been and who they are becoming. Where the band’s early releases were relentless for the entirety of their run time, the song proves that the band have found a method to indulge fans with soft and gentle periods of calm without making them feel forced or unnecessary. The song ends with Cannon’s heaven-sent voice singing “hold me down, help me drown” leaving you with no choice but to sink beneath the weight of his beautiful voice.
Transitioning back to the band’s gritty brand of pop-punk, “Need To Know” is another fun and upbeat chapter in the album. Delectable riffs and drumming to match builds the song up to be typically cheesy before Cannon’s vocals offer a stark contrast, with his sweet-sounding melodies adding an interesting layer to the song despite sounding out of place on the track. Again, the band combat the idea of balance, setting themselves the challenge of walking a tightrope while underneath is a pit of ravenous pop-punk kids still holed up in their parents’ basements. The song climaxes in a lovely singalong, and as the band soar to harmonious and peaceful heights you can already hear crowds across the world chanting the lyrics.
Whilst too long to be considered an interlude, “Line” effectively bridges the gap between the album’s first eight tracks and its conclusion. Again, the band’s pop influences take the forefront as the electronic-dotted track utilises melodious percussion and light guitar work to take listeners to their own private utopia, whatever form that might take. For the first time in the album vocals are a passenger as repetitive lyrics fade through the background as “Line” signals the album’s impending finish line.
Beginning as just cymbals, acoustic guitar and vocals, more layers are slowly added onto “Growing On You”, building the track into an extremely special piece. The song is evocative and atmospheric, the sonic embodiment of floating on a cloud. It introduces an unseen side to Cannon’s vocals, sounding incredibly pure it shows the expansion and growth in his vocal range. Like a siren’s song it is infatuating, the lure of his voice all too hard to escape.
As Proper Dose ends, I sit waiting for my shitty internet to load the final track not knowing what to expect one final time. “Light Year” is one final curve ball thrown by the band, combining every defining element of the band’s fourth LP into something incredibly elegant. Anthemic and rocky, every aspect of the song works perfectly together to end the album on an exceptional note, each member really seems to understand their role in the band as the five-piece coexist in complete unison. Every aspect of the song is harmonious, every layer seems added for a reason and nothing feels unnecessary. Like Buzz, “Light Year” blasts off to infinity and beyond.
From underground heavyweights to a band on Triple J’s regular rotation, the progression of The Story So Far has been magnificent. This progression, culminated in their fourth album Proper Dose, has seen the band release an album that despite being about balance, has well and truly thrown me off mine. Perfecting the formula that the band tried so hard to crack on their 2015 self-titled effort, Proper Dose is an album that will have both new and old fans positively satisfied with what they’ve heard. As the band walk a very dangerous tightrope, they never seem to catch the wobbles and instead resonate confidence and a strong passion for their craft.
Asking the question “how do we stay the same but get better?”, the album proves that the band have found the answer to that question. Like a spider’s web, it is impossible to escape the angelic trap that is Cannon’s voice while the work of the band’s guitarists Geyer and Levy allow Torf and Capener to create something so much more mature than the band have ever produced. Proper Dose is a fantastic record, highlighting the extraordinary evolution of the band as songwriters and solidifying the band’s place as undisputed kings of the scene.
Proper Dose releases September 21st via Pure Noise/Sony Music Australia. Pre-order here: http://smarturl.it/TSSF.PD
Mature and progressive, it perfects the formula the band have been working on for so long. It is angsty, anthemic and evocative and fits so much in a run time of less than 35 minutes.
Cannon’s vocals can occasionally seem overproduced and out of place on the record which doesn’t always work in their favour.