Least Hated: BOYSETSFIRE 'The Misery Index: Notes From The Plague Years'
"'The Misery Index: Notes From The Plague Years' was perhaps an exclamation point to finish the first wave of their career"
Here at Lambgoat we have a reputation to uphold, so we can't say that these are our favorite, time-tested, go-to albums. Let's just call them Lambgoat's least hated instead.
BoySetsFire’s second full-length album, After The Eulogy—released by Victory Records in 2000—was the group’s breakthrough moment. The mix of hardcore, emo and indie rock that composed their earlier material had been fused into a more cohesive, more mature sounding record that would propel the band to the attention of underground audiences worldwide. Led by the infectious “Rookie,” one of the standout tracks from the Victory Style 4 compilation, After The Eulogy also helped set the stage for the success of fellow hardcore/emo hybrid bands like Thursday and Thrice. Seeking to perhaps reach greater heights themselves, the group released their 2003 follow-up, Tomorrow Come Today, with Wind-Up Records, a label best known for launching the careers of pop-radio rockers Creed and Evanescence.
Tomorrow Come Today certainly had it’s moments (“Bathory’s Sainthood,” “Eviction Article”) but as a whole sounded like a lateral move; a less edgy version of After The Eulogy. Regardless of whether or not the more marketable style was a result of the band’s approach or the label’s influence, the two parties eventually didn’t see eye to eye on where to go from there. Wind-Up may have been an independent, but with major label distribution and a roster of more mainstream acts, they may not have been wise to the fickle nature of the underground scene. In 2005 BoySetsFire and the label parted ways, the band landing with longtime hardcore staple Equal Vision Records to release their fourth full-length, The Misery Index: Notes From The Plague Years the following year.
The Misery Index has the feel of a creative rebirth. It sounds like a band that had been put through the ringer, laying it all on the line and making a record for themselves. The core sound that BoySetsFire developed in the years before is at the center of the album, but the record includes an array of new ideas and instrumentation, exuding an air of confident experimentation. The tracks weave together, connected by audio samples and interludes, giving the album a cohesive narrative. There’s also touches of piano, strings and even a horn section that somehow doesn’t sound completely out of place.
In typical BSF fashion, the record jumps between loud and mellow tracks, with some drawing from both ends of the spectrum. Songs like “Final Communique” and “A Far Cry” are as heavy as any from their back catalog, and while hookier tracks like “Requiem” and “Empire” don’t quite capture the catchiness of After The Eulogy standouts “Rookie” or “My Life In The Knife Trade,” they come pretty damn close. And whether it’s the acoustic intro to “10 (And Counting),” a song reflecting on a decade of the ups and downs of tour life, or the discordant guitar attack of “So Long…And Thanks For The Crutches,” BoySetsFire deliver some of their finest material with each track.
Lyrically vocalist Nathan Gray finds a median between his political and personal convictions. Rather than separating them between songs, he blends the two together, documenting the strange feeling of the years following the September 11th terrorist attacks. There’s still plenty of anger and rage to be found, but when Gray recites lines like, “Well, I don’t want to sing about freedom anymore / I want to see it / I want to feel it / I want to know that it still sits/ beyond the lies that we’ve been told / beyond the wars that keep our families from home / I know that there’s a way,” there is a certain longing for peace, both personally and politically, that’s present in his voice.
The Misery Index: Notes From The Plague Years was the last album BoySetsFire put out before going on hiatus, perhaps an exclamation point to finish the first wave of their career. While the group may have helped revolutionize the blending of hardcore and emo in the nineties The Misery Index stood as something so much more. With it BoySetsFire stepped into a whole new realm, defying all preconceived notions and expectations, creating something truly original.