01. The Habit of Despair is Worse Than Despair Itself
02. The Illusion
04. Fact Remains
06. Rapid Succession
10. Losing Control
11. Culmination (of my life's work)
12. Between Breaths
13. Redemptive Soul
2007 Bridge Nine Records
Some of the most memorable and beloved acts in punk/hardcore history haven't shied away from melody in their songwriting. Ambitions is a Connecticut hardcore band that aspires to join the ranks of Avail, Ignite and Rise Against in walking that precarious path and they do so admirably on Stranger, their debut album. It's Bridge 9 Records' second foray into the style this fall and while not as high profile as Crime In Stereo, Ambitions has quite a bit to offer to the willing listener. Fans of With Honor will recognize guitarists Jay and Jeff Aust, here serving as vocalist and guitarist, respectively. They're not exactly virtuoso musicians and Jay is no Zoli, but the songwriting is strong and varied enough to make this a more memorable debut than most and an entirely worthwhile listen.
Disc opener "The Illusion" sets the tone for the disc fairly well but its blending of relatively straightforward hardcore with simple yet effective melody doesn't give a broad enough idea of what Ambitions is capable of at their most creative. As the disc progresses, Ambitions brings in elements of various D.C. sounds (think Down By Law and Fugazi) and really shine. It's not that the modern hardcore side of things doesn't work per se as much as it's just more intriguing when the band brings something less obvious to the table. "Postscript" has a brief moment around the middle of basic, bass-driven brilliance that I must have rewound three times during my first listen.
If Ambitions has one real weakness, it may ironically be their ambition. Coming up with thirty minutes of compelling melody, especially when most of it is flying by at breakneck speeds, has proven challenging even for most of the aforementioned veterans. Although they rarely fall entirely flat there are a few subpar segments and tracks. The overly long and mid-paced "Culmination (Of My Life's Work)" might have worked at about twice the speed and half the length but it just didn't need to be stretched out into a hardcore ballad. There's nothing bad enough to sink this otherwise strong record but just enough to keep it from being an unabashed success.
Bottom Line: Ambitions' debut album Stranger is a pleasant surprise, a genuinely good melodic hardcore record that doesn't disappoint on either count. I'd love to see these guys live and they would fit in just as well on a bill with Sick Of It All as they would with Strung Out. So let's get on making that tour happen and until then I'll just enjoy the record.