Colliding by Design
It’s here, and it’s not a disappointment. Acceptance’s very-highly-anticipated (and unexpected) sophomore record, Colliding by Design, was always going to be graded on a curve. The Seattle-based group’s 2005 debut, Phantoms, is basically an underground classic, playing a style of emo/punk/alt/rock that is very out of style now (unsurprisingly, the band’s guitarist played for the most notable proponent of the style, Anberlin, during Acceptance’s absence). The songs were sweeping and melodic, but it was Jason Vena’s phenomenal vocals that stood out most. His 80s-styled hooks were so deeply implanted into the craniums of many a decade ago, that I (among others) can recall whole songs from Phantoms at will. Numerous obstacles led to the band’s underground status and hiatus, not least of which was the choice of their debut album’s single being the closest thing to a dud on Phantoms, “Different”.
That said, accepting Acceptance’s return came with a big, heaping caveat: so many damn bands are reuniting, and a large chunk of them lack the spark of what made them so interesting. So Colliding by Design had both high and low expectations. However, what’s most surprising about this album, 12 years in the waiting, is that Acceptance was able to recapture that spark that made Phantoms a treasured record, while also progressing their sound into unexpected territory. Fear not: Acceptance haven’t gone prog or chasing radio success, but their sonic shift mirrors Anberlin’s later years by embracing their 80s new wave and synthpop influences and smoothing out their sound. Instead of ballads balancing out harder-edged rockers, much of Colliding is in the mid-tempo range, with soaring choruses backed by more synth melodies and electronic-sounding percussion. “Come Closer”, “Goodbye”, and “When I Was Cursed” hit their mark the hardest, with a lovely atmosphere and seriously killer hooks. The latter even includes some neat lyrical Easter eggs for longtime fans. They, along with really the whole album, feel like the synth-y spiritual successors to Phantom‘s choicest cuts (aka most of them).
I’m sure the underlying tone of this review reads a bit biased towards Acceptance, but believe me when I say I did not expect Acceptance to be able to subtly switch up their style without sacrificing the things that made them so special. Sure, it’s easy to miss the harder edge and guitar riffs from the Phantom days, and it’s true that not everything on here is perfect – “73” lacks a punch, and, somehow, Acceptance’s lead single was arguably the weakest track on the album, “Diagram of a Simple Man”. However, a couple of minor missteps on an otherwise fantastic pop album that has no reason to exist (or be this excellent) aren’t damning mistakes. Welcome back, Acceptance, and thanks for not cashing in on a nostalgia trap.