My Ticket Home - unReal
Rating: 7.9/10 | 8/10 | 9/10
My Ticket Home have taken their fans on a ride in the four years since Strangers Only. Receiving little to no support from their label, the band put their heads down, severed ties with Rise Records, and set about the two-year job of establishing--and reestablishing--a fan base with back-to-back tours and self-promotion. They began teasing new music along the way, signed to Spinefarm Records, hunkered down to record, and then scrapped what they had and started over, attributing this abrupt change of heart to a general feeling that they were no longer the same people who wrote Strangers Only.
My Ticket Home were right: this is not the band we heard in 2013. The vivid blend of nu-metal, alternative, and metalcore that defined Strangers Only has cooled into something less definable as the band shed most of their former nu-metal trappings for a different set of them--on a scale from Iowa to Morning View, for illustration’s sake, the meter is much closer to the moodiness of Around the Fur and the catchy angst of Year of the Spider, tempered with an influx of mid-nineties grunge influences and punchy alternative rock. For the most part, Nick Giumenti’s scream is a thing of the past as he makes use of his much-improved singing voice, complementing Derek Blevins’ tenor with his gritty counterpoint. Despite a lack of radio hooks, the changes My Ticket Home make on unReal are ironically similar to what most nu-metal bands did to keep afloat commercially while the aggro-rock ship sank in the early ’00s; but where those bands ended up at the bottom, My Ticket Home sail by on a timely mix of hindsight, experience, and a scene inundated in the same nostalgia for the period My Ticket Home are so fond of referencing.
There’s an anguished chill running through the album that manifests as a lot of fairly daring experiments, from the Katatonia-isms of “Joi,” with its black-cloud vocals and rainy disposition, through the lush gloom of “Down Life,” “We All Use,” and “Melancholia.” The band’s mastery of atmosphere is unReal’s real draw. In particular, the guitar tone on “Cellophane” stands out--like the sound of Dale Cooper peeling the plastic back from Laura Palmer’s face transmogrified into a sinister rock riff, it’s unlike anything they’ve done before, which can also be said of the druggy “Down Life” and “We All Use,” the latter of which lobs a curveball of a chorus just when it seems poised to dive into melodic treacle. These songs shows us the extent to which My Ticket Home are in control of their influences, but every so often, it does get away from them. It’s telling that the least exciting songs on unReal are the ones that take inspiration from the same font as Strangers Only. Case in point: while both “Flee the Flesh” and “Flypaper” are good heavy songs in their own right, the latter almost on equal footing with “Painfully Bored” or “Teenage Cremation,” they lack the detail of “Gasoline Kiss” and “Down Life,” better examples of what My Ticket Home can accomplish with an aggressive angle on this sound. “Redline” fares the worst with its lifeless riffing and pseudo-antagonistic vocals. It’s hard to take seriously, but rescued from total skippability by its chorus.
Elsewhere, “Time Kills Everything” starts out so eerily reminiscent of Holy Wood-era Marilyn Manson that you half-expect to hear his patented croak, and while moderately entertaining, the song goes nowhere and winds up sounding more like an extended introduction to “Hyperreal” than a proper song. “Hyperreal” is a good single that works best in context and conveys the gist of the record well, lifting the mood and expanding the sonic palette early on with its update of Meteora-era Linkin Park, but it’s hard to say why it merits the distinction of the [almost] title-track. Finally, as evocative as “Visual Snow” is, both as a song and a phrase, it’s so focused on fulfilling its role as a hushed, pensive moment that it’s over before it’s quite begun. Like “Thrush,” it not a bad song so much as a misplaced one; but in the context of the album, its opener and closer put unReal in a strange limbo. It’s a record that doesn’t start or end nearly as well as it follows through.
That’s where My Ticket Home are, now. Musically, they can’t seem to sit still, and they’re fortunate to have gotten so far on this creative restlessness. The way the band continue to build on past successes in the pursuit of more personally meaningful music should be celebrated and admired, even if unReal is more a step toward their future than it is a step into it.
- Brian L.
Strangers Only is one of those very few albums that latches onto you instantaneously, takes you through every beat without fail, and when it finally lets go at the last second, you beg for more. Saying it’s incredible is selling it short, because in every way imaginable, I believe Strangers Only is perfect; every song has been my favorite at one point and I could never pin any as the weakest. The four-year wait since has been agonizing, with news that a follow up had been recorded but scrapped when My Ticket Home’s contract wasn’t renewed. Even more frustrating was knowing that it was essentially going to be Strangers Only 2.0 since I had managed to hear some of those songs live. But something happened in the last two years: the band grew as people and musicians, and were vocal about that when unReal was announced.
Where Strangers Only revitalizes the breakneck and disgusting side of nu-metal, unReal shows they’re moving toward a more trippy, mesmerizing, and emotional material. “Flypaper” opens with a whiplash-inducing riff that seems as if it may have been lifted from the abandoned album. There are still moments of calm and explorative guitars, but it brings a crushing, oh-so-familiar bite in contrast to songs like the slower and lower “Time Kills Everything,” which is more evident of the change with its layers of sound and drawn-out melodies. Nick Giumenti shies away from his old style completely as he favors a lighter, more wandering tone that conveys a sort of mellow depression.
These two songs are emblematic of the range the album, but they’re right next to each other in the track listing and don’t sit nicely together. The first half of the album has a lot of the higher-energy and fun tracks like “Thrush” and “Hyperreal,” while “Cellophane” and “Melancholia” make up the album’s moody, cathartic underbelly. The evolution of tone over the course of the album undeniable, but it feels as if the album is built around the singles. “Thrush,” the first single, is also the first track, but doesn’t work as well as something like “Hyperreal” might. “Flypaper” is sandwiched between “Flee the Flesh” and “Time Kills Everything,” which make it sound arguably heavier by contrast, but interrupts the flow of the album.
This aside, almost every song is strong and varied, keeping unReal fresh throughout. The constant snare, deep minor guitars, and the whispers before the chorus give “Gasoline Kiss” a panicked, angsty feel, like bursting through a dark cloud. “Down Life” is dark, moody, and so damn catchy. Really, you could go down the list and say something different and positive about every song, which saves the album on a macro level even if it doesn’t quite work song to song.
There will always be the festering parasite of “what if” in the back of my mind. Many people, myself included, have heard at least two or three songs from the scrapped album, and they definitely biased me against the singles from unReal when they premiered. I wasn’t totally on board at first, but I’ve more than warmed up to them and to the album in time for the full release. I love the album, and it’s still growing on me, but I’m tempted to put it onto a playlist and mess around with the song order until it works for me. It’ll be interesting to hear these songs next to tracks from Strangers Only live, but they all make great picks, so I’m not worried. As much as I didn’t want My Ticket Home to change, I’m excited for where they’ll go next.
- Alex B.
My Ticket Home is one of those bands that immediately resonated with me with Strangers Only, which instantly became an all-time favorite record. It’s no surprise that unReal is sticking with me too, although “Thrush” is a weird place to start. Released as the first single and up first, it seems a little out of place, although it’s hard to think what would make a better opener. I want to say “Hyperreal,” but in context, it really does fit in as the fourth track.
It took a long time before the album dropped to be okay with My Ticket Home’s change of sound, but I just had to remember that even though unReal isn’t Strangers Only, it’s just as meaningful in a different way. “Flee The Flesh” is usually where I start since I overplayed “Thrush” while I waiting for the full release, but I can say “Flypaper” is really one of the best singles, not because it’s necessarily the heaviest track, but because I know it’s the oldest track written for the record and really shows the band’s journey to the new sound, and how much time they sat with it before putting unReal out. I hate saying that “Time Kills Everything” is the weakest track, but it does nothing for me. Those were also my feelings about “Joi,” but it really grew on me over a few more listens, although it’s still a notch below the others in my eyes. “Hyperreal” is another one of those songs that instrumentally screams Strangers Only. The riffs just absolutely demolish anything in their path and Nick’s pristine vocals shine through this song and “Redline,” one of the best songs on the record.
I think that “Redline,” “Down Life,” and “Visual Snow” are the best tracks unReal has to offer, but that’s not saying any of the others are bad. They’re just outshined by these three songs. “Gasoline Kiss” and “Cellophane” work really well back-to-back, the almost seamless transition kicking off the second half of the record with a bang. I think “Down Life” and “Joi” should have been swapped spots on the record for a more harmonic experience, but they work well where they are as “Down Life” begins the album’s outro. Although I love “Visual Snow”to death, it’s a weird choice for a closer, feeling really out of place as the last song. None of that stops me from being in awe at the end of every listen to unReal. My Ticket Home have crafted another masterpiece, so here’s to wherever the boys go next.
- Dakota G.