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Music Rewind: The Academy Is … was ‘Almost’ perfect on debut album

Maija Gustin | Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Academy Is … is a hard band to define. Once dubbed emo, thanks to some concerts played with fellow Illinois rock band Fall Out Boy, sometimes called pop punk, and now considered a part of the broad “alternative rock” movement (and what does that really mean?), these spunky rockers have mostly been on the back burner lately, recently playing a special concert in Chicago featuring only songs from their first album “Almost Here.”

But that’s a good thing. Their first album is an awesome tribute to unadulterated fun and upbeat music, while their more recent efforts have gotten lost in efforts to be more musically sophisticated, or something like that. Too bad their original formula was just fine as it was. No one ever said good music has to be clever or highbrow, it just has to be good. Just ask Ke$ha.

The Academy Is … has that great ability to create rock music you just want get up and dance to. “Almost Here” is full of that. I dare you to listen to “The Phrase That Pays” and not bob your head to it, at the very least. And William Beckett’s oddly soaring vocals add that something special to all their songs.

While many of his emo contemporaries also tried to utilize the high male falsetto to create something (was it supposed to be emotion?) in their songs, ala Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy, Beckett is actually good at it — in real life too. While Stump’s vocals are positively ear-bursting in live concert (no offense, man) Beckett pulls it off with swagger in performance. For more evidence of this, check out Beckett’s cameo work on Cobra Starship’s “Bring It,” that song from “Snakes on a Plane.”

“Almost Here” is a compilation of awesome tracks, none of which sound all that similar. Or at least not similar beyond reason. This isn’t Nickelback, after all. “Attention” is pretty much just unadulterated pop fun. “Season” is a little slower, but has a killer guitar hook and some brooding, but not too brooding, vocals.

The Academy Is … takes on a slower, more melodic tone in “Slow Down,” at least until the second verse. Then they pick things up in a lament about “Hollywood hills and suburban thrills.” Like I said before, “The Phrase That Pays” is a head-bobber, pure and simple. And though short, “Black Mamba” ups the ante with a little acoustic guitar love.

“Skeptics and True Believers” opens on a different note, highlighting Beckett’s vocals above all else. And “Classifieds” is just awesome, running through a range of different sounds in one song. “Checkmarks” is one of their “harder” songs. It relies on heavier guitars and drums and has Beckett singing in his lower register.

But “Down and Out” totally changes things up, sounding something like what you might hear at an intimate acoustic set. Except that it’s not acoustic. But that’s beside the point. It’s one of those show-closing songs that seems to wrap up a perfect night. “Almost Here” ends with, appropriately, the song “Almost Here.” Another quick one, it seems to sum up, in the best way possible, the entire album as a whole. Definitely one of their best songs ever recorded. Another instant toe-tapper.

If you’re really interested, check out the band’s other albums, “Santi,” released in 2007, and “Fast Times at Barrington High,” from 2008. The Academy Is … also has an early EP from 2004 called “The Academy” and an EP released in 2009 called “Lost in Pacific Time.”
Feel free to give these other albums a chance. But do yourself a favor and just take some time soaking up the greatness that is “Almost Here.” Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t be guilty. Just do it. You won’t regret it. Allow yourself to float back to the yesteryears of high school when all you cared about was cruising the highway, blasting some sweet tunes. The Academy Is … will definitely do it for you.

Maija Gustin can be reached at mgustin@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.