The Recoil Effect – Forever and Never Again

The Recoil Effect
Forever and Never Again

Acoustic and hardcore are two words that are not generally associated with one another. Emo is perhaps a bit more fitting, but let’s remember that yearning sentimentality and emotional outpouring are only one half of the equation. True emo is just as much about seething angular guitars and tension-filled dynamics as it is lyrical honesty and bleeding heart poetics.
The stated purpose of the Wisconsin-based The Recoil Effect is to reinterpret the spirit of hardcore and emo within an acoustic setting. To some, this might conjure up thoughts of groups such as Dashboard Confessional, but it needs to be qualified that while Dashboard mainly utilizes acoustic guitars to deliver their message, they still employ the services of a traditional band to create their music. The Recoil Effect, on the other hand, is just two musicians – Adam Reek and Sam Kovar – their acoustic guitars, and little of anything else to help fill out their songs.
Let’s keep in mind that acoustic music, generally speaking, is music stripped to its barest essence, songwriting at its most naked and personal. There is no band to hide behind, no elegant orchestration to give shape to a chorus or to help provide clarity. As such, two things are vital and necessary to the relative success of an acoustic artist or group. The first is a convincing and compelling vocalist, a voice of depth and distinction to carry and uplift the songs beyond the usual strumming and fingerpicking of the music. The second, of course, is terrific and talented guitar playing that can convey various emotional colors and textures without the assistance of effects, feedback or distortion. Unfortunately, The Recoil Effect have little of either.
Sure, things start out nicely enough with the instrumental guitar duel “Prelude,” which features some nice rhythm work, particularly in the call-and-response sections that close out the song (shades of Yes perhaps?). But things go downhill considerably once the vocals kick in on the politically charged “Liberty Martyr.” I want to make it perfectly clear that neither Reek nor Kovar have terrible voices. Both are earnest and sincere, and lyrically they approach a variety of topics from scathing commentaries on national conformity – “Children rise to make a promise that they don’t understand / hold their hearts to make a promise to bloody their hands (“Liberty Martyr”) – to your average downcast high school journal emo moping – “I’ve written a million songs and more to make you understand what it is I’m dying for, but I threw them all away – they were never ever nearly good enough to sing to you” (“Red Rose Wilting”). It’s just that their voices are not strong, bold, or charismatic enough to bolster the thin framework of their music. Put some heavy prodding riffs and some bombastic dissonance behind these guys and I believe the results would be markedly different.
Musically, it seems that The Recoil Effect have not yet grasped the intricacies and subtleties of the acoustic medium. Too many of these songs sound like emo-core songs merely played on acoustics rather than readapted for them. Chunky rhythms and thick chords remain intact, resulting in monotonous listening that lacks tension and dynamics and, therefore, remains, well, a bit boring. The lack of diversity becomes stifling, and after a while it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish one song from another. When the duo attempts to spice things up by adding some drums on “Never Again” and “Red Rose Wilting,” the results sound forced and out of place.
Forever and Never Again ends with a live recording entitled “Consider it Casualty” that has Reek and Kovar trading in their acoustics for some bright ringing electrics. As the two play, the sounds of a crowd talking, laughing, and otherwise carrying on can be heard alongside. Surprisingly it works well with the crowd serving less as a distraction and more as an ambient addition to an otherwise nondescript song. For the listener, it is a welcome departure from the rather bland, cut-and-dry proceedings that fill this album. Unfortunately, while it may be their best effort, for The Recoil Effect it is much too little and way too late.