La Dispute are—without a doubt—the most significant, divisive band associated with the New Wave of Post-Hardcore (aka “The Wave”), for one reason, and one reason alone: they’ve got one hell of a way with words. Whereas their peers galvanize the subgenre’s requisite anguish into big-tent brutalism (Touché Amoré), turgid grunge-gaze (Pianos Become the Teeth), and wide-eyed alternative rock (mewithoutYou), the Michigan band play what is essentially the emo equivalent of spoken word—slam poetry at its most sullen. Listening to frontman Jordan Dreyer’s tense, eloquent monologues on 2008’s Somewhere At the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair, with their tight prose and copious references to Japanese folklore, Edgar Allen Poe, and Kurt Vonnegut, one might swear they’d stumbled in on a depressive creative writing workshop. Despite this literary bent, La Dispute never force sentiment in their stories; they simply lay out the scenery, leaving us to read between the lines.
The band’s Epitaph debut, Panorama, is a little bit of a paradox—a carefully-measured reflection on cheery topics like time, memory, death, and grief, which just so happens to feature their dreamiest material to date. Thematic and textural contrasts feature heavily across these tracks; take the two-part “Fulton Street,” which finds Dreyer describing grim roadside discoveries (hell, the very first words we hear on the album are “Found a body at the rest stop”) as sparse, faintly-strummed chords flutter in the margins. The record’s most aggressive track, “View From Our Bedroom Window,” also resembles a tug of war between the seething and the serene, propping up imagery of house fires and harrowing night drives against a delicate, pastoral backdrop. It’s definitive proof that complexity and accessibility need not be mutually exclusive.