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Soccer Team - "Real Lessons In Cynicism" | Album Review

by Jonathan Bannister (@j_utah)

Some bands are full representations of their label. Soccer Team is a Dischord band. Ryan Nelson and Melissa Quinley who started the band both at one time worked for Dischord. Five-seconds into listening to their new album Real Lessons in Cynicism you know that there is no other label that the record could've come out on. I’m tempted to leave my review there. Every Dischord release is worthwhile and most are just flat out excellent. However, it’s worth marveling that this record even exists. 

When you’re a fan of Dischord you get used to discovering new bands who may only put out one record and then dissolve and move on to form two other bands who might put out an album or two and then on to the next thing. Soccer Team first formed in 2005 after Nelson was a member of another outstanding Dischord band Beauty Pill. They put out their first record “Volunteered” Civility and Professionalism in 2006. Then Nelson decided to go back to school and get his degree and begin teaching. This put the band on hiatus but they did manage to put out a 3 song 7-inch back in 2011 before going quiet again. I had assumed this was the end but here we are in 2015 with a new Soccer Team album.

And what an album it is. Now a four piece with the addition of Jason Hutts (from another Dischord band The Aquarium) and Dennis Kane the songs are rich and full. Each part of the songs vital to it sounding how it does. No bass line or keyboard part is frivolous or unneeded. If any part of the songs were removed, they would be lesser songs. Nelson and Quinley trade off vocal duties but they all trade off instruments depending on when and where the songs were recorded. 

Being called Real Lessons in Cynicism you might think the album takes on a dark tone and it’s definitely there in the lyrics. The subject matter isn’t always the brightest. Nelson has stated that a lot of the songs stem from conversation topics between him and Quinley. Also, the songs tend to take the point of view of the characters in the songs as a way to show the flaws in their thinking and therefore they perform a kind of “character assassination” of the characters in the songs. As a result, the album feels more like a critique on cynicism instead of an all out endorsement. 

"Nose to Chin" is my favorite track on the album. It showcases how strong of a four piece they’ve become. The song drives and pulses with urgency as it takes a James Joyce short story (Clay) as its source and writes a song from the perspective of the main character. Showing her inner strength as she has to deal with those who would look down on her. If unfamiliar with the story, it’s worth looking up the synopsis to lock in the references in the song.

From "Nose to Chin" the album goes right into "Short-term Expectations" which is a beautiful and heartbreaking song that sounds like a letter to a child never born. Over on bandcamp, the band has released all the demos for the album along with notes about the songs. With "Expectations" they were going to release the demo version which is just Quinley on keyboard and Kane applying minimal drums. It’s an even more intimate version of the song, but compared with the full band arrangement on the album illustrates the strength of the four piece.

"Too Many Lens Flares" hangs out on the back end of the album and speaks to my film loving inner being. In an interview Nelson has stated that the song is “a cry for why do we keep making the same trite, maudlin film when we have the tools to make things that push the art.” The song is driven by the bass while the guitars provide their own tangents. “It’s too bad when genre falls prey to its fans. It’s degrading to subject us to boring test-group demands” Nelson sings. A statement that can easily be applied to music as much as films.

There is no filler on the album. Be it a Thompson Twins cover ("If You Were Here"), a re-do of a song from their first album ("Here’s Why Dancers Smoke"), or a song about the universal feeling of jealousy told through the story of Francesca Di Rimini ("Fits of Jealous Rage Are In This Year"), the album lives up to its title. This is one of my favorite releases of the year. Nelson has stated they are writing new songs together and want to continue putting them out. Here’s to hoping more lessons from the band reach our waiting ears soon.