Record label Fueled by Ramen have been responsible for getting a lot of impressive pop-rock bands into our ears. Notable artists include Panic! at the Disco, All Time Low, Against the Current and Paramore – the latter arguably the catalyst for this once indie-label later becoming part of Atlantic Records and then Warner Music Group.
Before making the big time with these notable names though, Fueled by Ramen helped kick-start indie/pop band The Academy Is by releasing their debut record ‘Almost Here’ in 2005. In the same year, the label released Paramore’s ‘All We Know Is Falling’, Fall Out Boy’s ‘From Under the Cork Tree’ and Panic! at the Disco’s ‘A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out’ – all records that went on to have more critical success but not for any musical reasons; ‘Almost Here’ is packed full of feel-good anthems and pop-rock swagger that rivals anything that their label-mates put out that year. If this record happened to pass you buy back then, it’s well worth catching up on it now.
“Attention, attention can I have all your eyes and ears?” is the statement used to kick the album off – The Academy Is… weren’t interested in being a passive fancy, they wanted you to take notice and with a collection of pop-rock tunes that dance with vibrancy thanks to the upbeat chords and lively rhythms, it’s very hard to pull your attention away. On a summer’s day with a cold beer in your hand, there aren’t many better records to lift your spirits and plant a smile on your face. ‘Almost Here’ was always one of the first records to make it onto any barbecue playlist and no matter whether it was a family or friends occasion, no one ever asked me to be turn it off!
While pop-rock is good for a little dance and good vibes in the summer, it’s common for the shine to quickly wear off these types of records. Part of the problem is that the singles are usually glaringly obvious and the rest of the songs tend to be sub-par in comparison. Paramore’s ‘All We Know Is Falling’ has some excellent singles but there’s some definite filler material on there too. What sets ‘Almost Here’ apart is that any of these songs could be singles; the album is brilliantly consistent from one track to the next. The level of quality doesn’t falter and the energy levels never drop, making the whole record a case study in how to create a long-lasting pop-rock album.
That said, ‘Black Mamba’ has always spoken to me and Mike on a personal level, so will always be a slight cut above the rest. The lyrics are the clincher, as they summarise our collective perspective on music perfectly: “Love me or leave me or rip me apart, this is the voice that I was given and if you don’t like it take a long walk off of the shortest pier you can find.” When music is created and performed with passion it speaks so much louder than when it’s borne out of an attempt to fit a mould or belong to a particular scene. The Academy Is… brazenly point out that they don’t care if you like it or not, this record is an extension of their souls and if you don’t like it, there are plenty of other bands you could listen to instead.
Ultimately this philosophy might be the reason that The Academy Is… are no longer making music, while some of their older label mates are on the covers of magazines still today. From the outset it might seem that they’ve come off a lot worse for their choices, but when you listen ‘Almost Here’ knowing that the self-confidence and vibrancy that permeates every chord would’ve been impossible without this mindset, they sound like winners to me.
Last week I looked back on Deaf Havana’s debut album. If you missed it, you can catch up here.