Review: Rarity – I Couldn’t Be Weaker

rarity-i-couldnt-be-weaker-e1460484434889I Couldn’t Be Weaker is the debut full-length from Hamilton, Ontario’s Rarity. Having inked a deal with Rise Records in early 2015, this five-piece have been earning a reputation for themselves as one of the scene’s most promising up-and-coming acts. The band’s signing came as a surprise to many, not only due to the fact that it came remarkably early in their career, but also because there are quite literally hundreds of other bands in the contemporary pop-punk scene clamoring for attention from labels, making for an exceptionally competitive and volatile marketplace – one that can be especially hostile towards freshman acts who haven’t built a sizeable following both online and on the road. Clearly, Rise saw something in the young Rarity that made them stand apart from the rest of their cohort, impelling the label to get on board promptly. For over a year now, the group has had only a single, short and sweet EP under their belts, making them something of an enigma among listeners whose interest had been piqued but needed a more substantial dose of music before getting truly excited about what the band had to offer. Now, a more robust and ambitious project is finally upon us, offering a clearer look into what Rarity are all about.

One of the first things that becomes abundantly clear upon listening to this record in its entirety is that Rarity are not a pop-punk band, and probably never wanted to be one. While they were hastily labeled a pop-punk act in the wake of their EP release, garnering considerable attention with a slick music video for the infectious and accessible tune “Anne Hathaway”, I Couldn’t Be Weaker is a decidedly more eclectic and experimental affair than their inaugural outing. Rarity don’t shy away from musical exploration on this record, opting to showcase the full breadth of their diverse influences. Fortunately, this confidence pays off, with the group truly hitting their stride when they buck the conventions of their scene and delve into riskier sonic territory.

“Stranger” is simultaneously one of the album’s most rock-oriented tracks and one of its most immediately memorable. The song finds Rarity firing on all cylinders, boasting a relentlessly catchy chorus that’s nicely complemented by a set of screamed vocals, as well as intensely personal lyrics describing a long and exhausting battle with mental health issues. While the song is a major earworm and will definitely prove fruitful in winning over new fans – especially those who’ve found themselves in a Warped Tour mosh pit or two over the years – it should by no means be interpreted as the band’s mission statement or an encapsulation of their sound. Rarity want to do much more than write huge choruses, as evidenced by the uncompromising aggression of “Orchid” and the slow burning of “Exhale”, a more subdued ballad that finds the band getting in touch with their gentler side.

The former track, which features guest vocals from Josh Hanusiak of A Sight For Sewn Eyes, is a great example of how Rarity can bend their core sound in new and compelling ways. When I first learned that the song would feature an appearance from Hanusiak, who is known for his cacophonous and mercilessly hostile shrieking, I wondered how the band would make this work, and was admittedly a bit apprehensive. Suffice it to say that I am blown away by how seamlessly Rarity are able to incorporate Hanusiak’s screams into the mix. “Orchid” is a well-rounded track that allows lead vocalist Loeden Learn to shine (see the dark, haunting falsetto in the song’s pre-chorus) while also perfectly accommodating Hanusiak’s guest vocals with pummeling-yet-melodic hardcore riffing. Simply put, the song takes a potentially disastrous premise and executes it beautifully, proving that Rarity have the skills required to make an impact in their scene while pushing its boundaries.

Nowhere is the extent of the group’s ambition more evident than on the album’s closing track, “Passenger”. It does away with the poppy sensibilities that inform other cuts on the record, favouring a significantly more layered, nuanced, and introspective sound. The heavy, delay-drenched guitars on this song are reminiscent of bands like Balance and Composure and Basement, culminating in a deeply affecting climax that features effects-laden vocals soaring over an avalanche of thick riffs, producing a surreal, dreamlike passage that’s emotionally gripping in addition to being sonically impressive. “Passenger” is light-years more sophisticated than most of the material that Rarity’s more popular peers have been putting out as of late; perhaps its placement as the record’s final track suggests that this is a sound that Rarity will be delving into and elaborating upon further in the future. Indeed, I hope this is the case, as I think the sound lends itself well to the band’s penchant for experimentation, as well as Learn’s voice, which is noticeably deeper and grittier than that of most contemporary punk singers.

Rarity do many things, and do them very well. Rather than allowing ever-changing trends to dictate their songwriting, the band seem content to play the long game, pushing themselves to synthesize various elements of the genres they love, with an understanding that this is their pathway to writing great music. The band’s next release will likely be written and recorded in a narrower timeframe than this LP, enabling them to craft a more cohesive product. The defining Rarity sound may still be in the works, which is something the band and their listeners should find invigorating. Overall, I Couldn’t Be Weaker is an admirable debut full-length from a group that are more interested in exploring their diverse array of influences than committing themselves to a single, clearly delineated sound in hopes of achieving overnight success. Rarity are poised to leave their mark on the scene in a big way, and the undeniable talent displayed throughout this record makes the question of where they will go next an exciting one.

 

 

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