Most fans of hardcore music generally point to the late ’90s as the high watermark for skramz. This scene produced some of the most engaging and provocative punk bands of the decade, and among them was Jeromes Dream. While they didn’t attain the same celebrated status as some of their contemporaries, they remained a cult favorite. Their debut album, Seeing Means More Than Safety, is commonly listed among the most influential screamo albums, right next to Pg.99’s Document #8 and Orchid’s Chaos is Me. Perhaps taking a cue from Pg.99s triumphant reunion a few years ago, Jeromes Dream reunited in 2018, and after a successful crowdfunding campaign, they were able to release their first album in almost twenty years; they aptly named LP.
Hardcore bands generally mellow out as their members get older, and Jeromes Dream is no exception. It’s doubtful that anyone expected the band to sound exactly the way they did pre-breakup, but fans might not be so forgiving of the more drastic changes they’ve made to their sound. Jeff Smith’s unconventional vocal style was one of the things that helped set Jeromes Dream apart from their contemporaries back in their heyday. Instead of the husky bellowing or full-throated shrieking generally associated with screamo, he employed a frantic in-your-face falsetto screech. However, on LP, he’s switched up his style to a cleaner monotone delivery, slightly reminiscent of Mike Kunka from the sludge rock band godheadSilo. While this comes as a welcome change of pace initially, it starts to become just as abrasive as his old vocal technique, but not in a good way. More than anything else, he sounds bored. This has a significantly negative impact on the tone of the album, which is a bummer because the music itself is pretty killer.
One of the things Jeromes Dream has going for them on this album is the harmonic complexity; they have a solid handle on balancing the brutal with the beautiful. This is best exemplified in the song “With Ash to Breath,” which incorporates twinkling guitar phrases customarily associated with midwest emo in between blasts of percussive noise. Another song worth mentioning, “Marrow in the Circuitry,” is a straight-forward emo flavored hardcore punk jam, and Jeff’s vocals actually kind of work in this context. Track ten, “Cognizing Mechanics for Deliberate Machinery,” is a gorgeous (albeit uneventful) little interlude consisting of some gently plucked notes from a clean guitar against a droning backdrop, which then bleeds into the claustrophobic and dissonant instrumental, “In Memorium: Be.” This would have been a solid way to round out this album, but for some reason, they felt the need to tack on the bland and formulaic “Half-In Bantam Canopy.”
The name of the album alone begs the question: are they out of ideas? Unless we’re talking about an art-punk band like Flipper, naming an album something meta like “Album” or “LP” comes off as lazy more than conceptual. It just feels like a missed opportunity; this is their first album in almost twenty years, one would think Jeromes Dream would want to come back with a statement, at least something a little more significant than “this album is an album.” LP would pass as a decent post-hardcore record had it been entirely instrumental, but these vocals are so inexpressive that it makes listening to this album feel like a chore. It is worth noting that their live performances, something they’re renowned for, are stronger than ever. Should they decide to make another album, hopefully, they can figure out how to bring that live energy into a studio setting.