Troubled Coast are a budding group of Californian hardcore musicians with a handful of promising releases under their belt. The group produced a pair of albums in 2010: the introductory EP Vagabonds and the short album 100 Miles from Home. While both of these releases display that the band has a solid grasp of their sound and firm knowledge where they want their music to be, both releases unfortunately come off as slightly immature. There's certainly potential to be heard on these albums, but ultimately the band hasn't grasped how to achieve what they really want to communicate yet.
And that's actually part of what makes Letters such a compelling listen. For the first time, Troubled Coast have found a way of communicating what they could only catch bits and pieces of before. While there are still predominant elements of the punk-infused hardcore sound that dominated their first two releases, they are blended artfully in with elements of music from more experimental genres. In addition, they've extended their pieces ever so slightly, and the additional room it gives them to work with is used beautifully. This is the record of a band that not only knows what it wants to say, but finally how to say it as well.
Overall, the album sounds like an interesting case of genre eclecticism. Sure, there's the presence of the hardcore sound that dominated their first two releases, but there are also digressions into alternarock, punk, and music that would sound right at home in post-rock. There's even some experimentation with ballad writing. To be certain, the band isn't straying outside of their musical comfort zone. However, they are finally pushing up against the boundaries of it, stretching their sound as far as it will go without breaking.
The album begins with one of its shortest, yet strongest pieces, the introductory track “Amends.” This song makes great use of the band's contrasting vocal styles and newfound interest in more minimalist composition. “XX/XY” also showcases the band's varying vocal techniques to great effect, resulting in one of the more emotionally gripping moments on the album. “A Shallow Place” is also a surprisingly great piece from this album; though it doesn't stray too far from straight-up alternarock, the result is undeniably impeccably executed and effective. Their more straightforward hardcore elements are not lost, either. The track “Wolf Republic” is an enjoyable bite of high-energy thrashing, and “Drug Halo” blends some more atmospheric and melodic riffing with their traditionally cacophonous hardcore roots.
Every piece here is not a winner, however. The new diversity in sound does unfortunately bring with it a couple of missteps. The longest track on the album, “Absent Father, Holy Ghost,” unfortunately falls flat on its face. The attempt at an anthemic acoustic coda comes off as strained and whiny rather than moving or cathartic. Similarly, though “Feigned Belief” has its moments of interest, it winds up being an annoying musical distraction rather than musically engaging.
All in all, I feel this album is enjoyable more for Troubled Coast's growth as a band rather than the strength music itself. While Letters really is a strong effort, and there's no denying that it's certainly worth a listen, the exploration the band is taking with their sound and their maturing sense of musical expression seem to be of more value than the resulting music is. For all of its strengths and good moments, Letters leaves just enough to be desired that I am eagerly anticipating what will happen with their future releases rather than basking in the afterglow of this one.
6.5 / 10
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