Senses Fail co-founding front man James “Buddy” Nielsen has had more than his fair share of ups-and-downs, including alcoholism that nearly got him thrown out of his own band, the near death of his wife during the birth of their daughter, her subsequent miscarriage, and the complete shakeup of his band. Nielsen is the only member involved before 2013 in Senses Fail, which originated in Ridgewood in 2001.
On a new album, “If There Is a Light, It Will Find You,” Nielsen deals with all that in the same way he would have 10 years ago, when Senses Fail were one of the most promising and successful bands from New Jersey. Now based in L.A., Nielsen has made no attempt with the new record to grow musically, opting instead to fuse the emo rock and punk pop that inspired him to follow in the footsteps of his influences, including fellow Jersey acts Thursday and Saves the Day.
I’m not a big fan of formulaic punk pop or whiny emo rock, but I have to hand it to Nielsen for retreading Senses Fail’s style and making it sound genuine, especially lyrically. The pain he expresses is real even though some of the subject is imagined, such as his wife dying and his having to raise their daughter without her. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, but in Nielsen’s warped, fragile that mind, which has battled depression and anxiety nearly all of his life, it sure makes for some strong songs, such as “Elevator to the Gallows,” First Breath, Last Breath,” and the epic closing title track.
“Gallows” is a suicidal song in which the protagonist only finds hope in music despite its many struggles because it helps deal with the pain from the loss of a love discussed throughout most of the rest of the album. “Breath” and “Light” both imagine the loss of a wife during childbirth and the self-doubt involved in raising a child alone. Meanwhile, “Orlando and the Miscarriage” and “Shaking Hands” also deal with death, which is depicted on the album’s cover with the Grim Reaper holding a baby in his arms. In addition to emo and punk pop, Senses Fail relay these heavy themes with occasional strands of metal vocally, rhythmically and with riffs.
Being a fiercely proud Jersey music guy, I also have to hand it to Senses Fail for the single “New Jersey Makes, the World Takes,” which is not about the industrious Garden State, but the prospect of being out in L.A. should more friends from Jersey succumb to the needle or the bottle. Again, music is the catharsis for all this pain, and on “Is It Gonna Be the Year?,” Nielsen looks at life and music mortality from the viewpoint of a rocker surrounded by those who think he’s a failure and don’t appreciate the courage to persevere and pursue a dream even if it has become a fantasy. “Stay What You Are” also is an ode to the meaningfulness of music, as well as a friend who enjoyed seeing Saves the Day back in the day of the New Brunswick basement scene and saved the day by helping to cope.
The best song on “If There Is Light,” however, is the most political track, “Gold Jacket, Green Jacket,” an angry look at debt, religious hypocrisy and an inept government that seems to be OK with both. The album’s best batch of lyrics includes: “I’m a millennial son of a bitch. I’d rather die poor than give in. I’m not lazy. I just don’t give a shit about material things. So take a pill to make you smile and go buy shit you don’t need. Don’t you know that Jesus loves America? That’s why we’re always winning. Don’t forget to lock the door and board up the window panes. Cause you’ve got to defend yourself from anyone who doesn’t think the same. Fuck yeah, I’ve always been anxious. I’ve always been in debt, and when I was 18, two planes flew into a fucking building. We’ve been at war ever since. We destroyed the environment. Fuck the government, it’s an embarrassment! We’re all going to die in debt!”
Should “If There Is a Light, It Will Find You” not be nostalgic sounding enough for Senses Fail fans, the band are performing the 2002 debut EP, “From the Depths of Dreams,” on a tour with Pure Noise label mates Reggie and the Full Effect, Hopeless recording act Have Mercy, and Equal Vision recording act Household. Area dates include March 17, Starland Ballroom, Sayreville, and March 18, Theatre of Living Arts, Philadelphia.
Bob Makin is the reporter for www.MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at email@example.com. And like Makin Waves at www.facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.