Planes Mistaken for Stars – Prey

5 out of 5

Label: Deathwish

Produced by: Sanford Parker

I try to do my research when reviewing a band that has history with which I’m unfamiliar. I’m not going to claim that it’s hours worth of in-depth reading and listening, but I think I do try to get some aural and historical context, especially when I don’t have an instant response to something. Having an instant response should also be backed up by such research, but it can be a little less prioritized in that case, because whatever my kneejerk feelings are are valid for a review, as long as I couch them in that description: “first-timer here, and these be my impressions.”

I got Prey when I was buying a lot of Deathwish in bulk, impressed by how much quality punk-tinged hardcore the label was able to put out. I’d never listened to Planes, but I associated them with Deep Elm and thus assumed them to be emo (read: super typical emo), which was a term often thrown around in their reviews. And I was pretty baffled by what I heard. The barroom, gravelly vocals gave the record a tinge of, like, shanty punk, and there wasn’t really a hint of emo on the thing as far as I was concerned, save maybe the acoustic moments. But even those are employed more for juxtaposition than weepy time punctuations (I am positive towards emo, yes?); elsewise I was hard-pressed to describe what I was hearing as exactly hardcore or something else.

I went and read some reviews and was further puzzled: PMFS fans were mostly ringing in, praising the album, but the takes I saw would give the album some lesser-than-perfect rating. Still great, but not top marks – 80%s; 4 out of 5s. Why? This phenomenon isn’t limited to these reviews, of course, but the difference, for me, between a 4 out of 5 versus a 5 out of 5 is literally whether or not I have anything bad to say. If I can’t think of anything bad – then why isn’t it perfect? Simply because it’s not my favorite PMFS album? But even an admission like this was lacking in what I read.

Then I went and poked and prodded at previous releases, and these were more clearly identifiable as hardcore punk. I can sense this group probably rocked socks live, such was their powerful delivery across albums and songs, but it lacked the sonic maturity I think I was hearing on Prey.

And so back to which: I cannot find a single thing wrong with it. Prey is a fascinating mash of sounds, and if I do have anything negative to say, it’s that Sanford Parker’s production puts all of it – the rattling vocals; the smash of guitars; the thundering drums – on an even plane, refusing to mix the album into peaks and valleys, and because the group is in sort of an always-on mode, that can be… combative to the ears. But the more I listened to it, the more I appreciated this as the right sound for the album, which demands all of its pieces to be forefronted as much as possible, with the brief acoustic tracks highlighting the frailty of Gared O’Donnell’s vocals, somewhat requiring them to be boosted to match the intensity of the instruments. That might also sound like a knock, but that quality is part of why the album – from my brief discography tour – bests what’s in the past: it’s affected, very literally, by years of life, and the industry. I’m having trouble reading the lyrics printed on the artwork, as they’re in script in a color that blends in to the background, but what I can decipher and hear, while slotting in to some tried and true punk anthems, comes across as earned and learned; vitriol and effects from experience.

It’s an odd listen at first, to those of us unfamiliar with the group’s stylings, but I think its bracing qualities are apparent from the start, and encourage the multiple listens that lead to it getting a permanent spot in your playlist.