The once-defunct, Providence, RI-based hardcore band Verse have reformed and released a new album, titled Bitter Clarity, Uncommon Grace. There was a time when you could go to a hardcore show in any city across the U.S. and rub elbows with at least one person sweating in a Verse T-shirt, and the band’s return has been met with a positive reception thus far. But when bands come back from a breakup, the resulting material is often polarizing.
Bands age just as fans do, and generally with age comes the desire to find a more mature sound. This quest may alienate older fans, and/or earn the band an entirely new (and broader) fanbase. Verse’s former Bridge 9 labelmates, Ceremony, have pulled off this trick with their move to Matador Records and the release of the rock ‘n’ roll informed Zoo. But maturity is best counterbalanced by the “honesty” of remaining devoted to the group’s original sound. Bitter Clarity, Uncommon Grace presents a band stuck in this dichotomy.
The album features a developed storyline regarding life’s lessons that rises above a lot of the self-referential, state-of-the-scene talk a lot of today’s hardcore bands tend to deliver. There’s some growth from a musical perspective, but a few ambient segue tracks and some interesting melodic touches are not enough to keep the album as a whole from feeling musically unfocused. The lyrics sound as though they were composed separately from the music, and passages pop in and out of frame with a complete disregard for one another, making the album feel more like a collection of riffs, haphazardly strung together. Lead singer Sean Murphy’s spoken-word portions (“Setting Fire to the Bridges We Cross”, “The End of All Light”) sound contrived and immature amid the more developed backdrop of these songs.
Though the album’s lack of focus dampens its impact, there are some bright points. “The Silver Spoon and the Empty Plate” has a mid ’90s emo vibe and could’ve been a positive direction for the entire album to head in. “You and I Are the Fortunate Ones” rounds out with an excellent melodic passage that livens up the song’s chugging initial portion, and “The Relevance of Our Disconnect” finally brings the sonic aggression necessary to make the music feel truly heartfelt, complete with some Greg Ginn-approved dissonant leads and gang vocals. Though this record may represent a simple dusting off for Verse, a confident move towards a legitimately more mature sound would have been a more fitting return than the androgyny between past and future found on Bitter Clarity.
Essential Tracks: “You and I Are the Fortunate Ones”