For three years (2009-2012), I submitted reviews to MonkeyBiz.ca, a website that provided a free platform for local, independent writers. (Today, it’s just a one-person blog.) In the end, the site published all of my proposed pieces: twelve CD reviews & three movie reviews. Fourteen have since been reposted in this space. Here’s the story behind number fifteen.
Shortly after the long delayed publication of my positive assessment of Keane’s Night Train EP in July 2011, the editor emailed me asking if I would be interested in doing another CD review right away. Of course I was. So I went down to their office downtown and picked up the disc.
Like most of the acts I assessed during that period, I had never heard of Breaching Vista. Based out of Kitchener, Ontario, they were completely off my radar. Having only previously released an EP (which I’ve never heard), Vera City was their first proper album. As the editor pointed out, the band actually autographed the center spread of its liner notes which kinda freaked me out a little bit. I was worried the gesture would unduly influence my critique.
As it turned out, my concern was misplaced. Although I did praise the album (because I legitimately liked it), there were a few songs I didn’t care for. After the review was posted, Breaching Vista frontman John Maksym personally wrote two emails to the editor of MonkeyBiz which were then forwarded to me.
The first one simply expressed appreciation for my review (“It’s a nice honest perspective of the record. I can tell he actually took the time to listen to each song carefully, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for in a review.”). The second went on to explain in considerable detail the inspiration for two of the three Vera City songs I panned.
Nervous, which I found uneven and confusing, is about Maksym’s miserable experience in one of his previous bands which he doesn’t name. (“In order to keep another member content, I excused myself from the front-man/lead vocalist duties, and allowed for them to take over. It was never a move I was comfortable with, but went about it for the sake of keeping the original line up together.”) Like Edwyn in I Mother Earth, Maksym claimed that he “was completely left out of the writing process” when this unnamed band decided to do some recording. When informed that he “wasn’t needed in the studio”, he “voluntarily walked out”. Nervous was originally written in 2006, months after his departure, during his brief solo period before the formation of Breaching Vista. It was rearranged a number of times before being recorded for Vera City.
Forgive You was “loosely based on an article” Maksym read by Susan Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters. It appeared in Oprah Magazine back in 2009, a decade after the infamous high school massacre. Deeply affected by the tragedy as a Grade 10 student, years later Maksym wrote the song from her point of view as an answer to this question: “In the most tragic and devastating events, could unconditional love warrant forgiveness and trump the darkest of evils?”
Makysm never references Columbine or the Klebolds directly in the lyrics (“I had hoped the song had enough substance to leave it open for interpretation, without directly linking it to any one circumstance in particular…”) but even if he had, my dim view of Forgive You wouldn’t have changed. (I didn’t care for the arrangement.) That said, the fact that he took the time to explain the reasoning behind every verse & chorus of it was much appreciated and revealing. In all my years of writing reviews in various spaces, that has never happened before or since.
My mostly positive review of Breaching Vista’s Vera City was posted by MonkeyBiz on August 29, 2011. I was quite happy with the final edit (very few changes were required before posting) so I’ve left the original review intact. Because MonkeyBiz renovated its website a while back, all fifteen of my pieces are no longer there. You can only find cached versions now.
As for Breaching Vista, according to this January 2015 interview with the Canadian Beats blog, they’re still working on a follow-up to Vera City. Good luck to them.
Breaching Vista’s Vera City: An Album Review
Posted on August 29 2011 under Arts & Entertainment
By Dennis Earl
Is emo still a viable genre? Breaching Vista sure hopes so. According to their Facebook page, this ambitious Kitchener quartet has been kicking around the independent scene for almost half a decade waiting for a breakthrough.
Three years after the release of their first EP, Breaking the View, comes Vera City, their entertaining debut album. And yes, that’s a play on veracity which would’ve been a better title.
Imagine Johnny Rzeznick of the Goo Goo Dolls fronting Jimmy Eat World and you’ll have a basic sense of how they sound. Their unoriginal yet slick musical presentation convinces you they may not be independent for very long.
The album begins well with a tight, mostly instrumental number called We Are the Way. Is the background vocalizing of the title an unsubtle, prematurely cocky declaration to the world? Definitely.
There have been numerous rock songs about the pleasure of a deep slumber but Breaching Vista manage to add another good one to this long list.
Sleep extolls the virtues of resting over the persistent danger of drug-taking: “Give me something that my body needs/Not those chemicals that make you crazy.”
Singer/lyricist John Maksym is unabashedly open about why all of this matters so much to him: “Are you aware, of the life that I’m trying to lead?/The success that I need to achieve/Aspirations that I have conceived/Just let me get some sleep.”
A refreshing attitude, so different from most alt-rockers who pretend not to want to be famous and successful.
Run With the Punches continues the ambition theme by portraying the band as masochistic underdogs determined to make it despite constant struggles. Like all the full-on rockers here, it has good energy and thoughtful lyrics.
Romantic torment is fairly common subject matter for an emo band and Breaching Vista offer several such songs. Goodbye, So Long focuses on two quarrelling lovers who have very different views of their relationship after an exposed dalliance. It’s skillfully familiar.
Far less successful, though, are Nervous and Forgive You. The former suffers from confused lyrics and uneven music. The choruses are catchier than the verses.
Despite the use of strings, African chanting and Maksym’s usual anguish, the latter lacks an emotional pull. It also doesn’t help that it’s not entirely clear why this particular relationship died.
Was it because of an external affair? A cruel prank? The lack of revelation robs the song of a heartbreaking payoff it needs to work.
The best of all these numbers is Wrath of Nyre. Featuring a killer hook from lead guitarist Al Malnar, paired at the start with an effective acoustic counter lick, you can file this one under “can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.”
The sly use of violin and cello during the choruses really brings out the emotional ache of the lyrics. The Radiohead-style ending is a nice touch, too.
Tonight is the only love song here not dripping with bitterness and disappointment. Malnar’s guitar work, from the riff to his solo, noticeably strengthen the arrangement.
When he’s not singing about relationships and his career aspirations, Maksym’s worried about the apocalypse (the engaging Give Me a Reason), supportive of the military and their families (the underwhelming Letters) and confronting an unrepentant pedophile (the insistent W5).
Vera City concludes with Little Thoughts, a typically catchy rocker about forging ahead despite the stranglehold a traumatic past can have on your personal development: “On the brink of self-destruction/We’ll let our diligence unfold.”
Like W5, it’s as close as the band comes to sounding like the Goo Goo Dolls. Nonetheless, it’s a fine way to end an album full of polished indie pop.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, June 14, 2015