Acoustic EPs and reissues have gained mainstream popularity over the last few years; though Eric Clapton’s Unplugged obviously predates the trend, modern bands seem to favor it for some reason. Some consider it the musical equivalent of being naked, while others consider it a palatable alteration to a heavier sound. Perhaps it’s both to Hawthorne Heights, who celebrated the tenth anniversary of their debut album The Silence In Black And White by rereleasing it in a stripped-down version.
It’s quite a feat for a band to last two years, much less ten. With the glut of artists filling the industry, notably since the mid-2000s, it’s become less practical to depend on a band’s tenacity. Lineups change and bands break up, making the whole concept of a band seem wishy-washy and pointless. And though they were at first propelled by typical teen angst, Hawthorne Heights haven’t given up, surviving a long road of misfortunes, tours, and death to get where they are. Indeed, much has changed. JT Woodruff’s vocals are less desperate and energetic, instead possessing a reaching range that somewhat mirrors Patrick Stump’s vocal voyage from yelping emo frontman to silky-smooth crooner. That said, neither the lyrics in Silence nor the inflection are spared the emotion that was evident in the original LP. Everything sounds as genuine as it did back in 2004.
It’s interesting to see Hawthorne reimagine their songs as new creations. The soothing synth and muffled vocals of their classic “Niki FM” are a far cry from the anthemic vibe of the original. While one could draw comparisons of the 2004 Hawthorne Heights to such bands as Silverstein and Aiden, the acoustic songs sound more like Jimmy Eat World or even a slightly more experimental Taking Back Sunday during their softer moments. The band have turned Silence from a fourteen-year-old’s journal into a road-worn Moleskine. They appear identical, but the maturity is evident, and in many ways that makes the album much better.
It’s more obvious that the record isn’t the most original piece of music, as many similarities between songs come out due to the organic, acoustic nature. At some points, like the intro to “Silver Bullet,” the band attempt to make energetic passages work as acoustic ones, at times succeeding, at times seeming confused. When the songs are given new life as quieter, more meditative acoustic renditions, as in the lovely “Sandpaper & Silk,” they excel. “Sandpaper,” for instance, begins with an agreeable verse of delicate guitar lines and morphs into an almost indie chorus that retains its emo heritage and wears it proudly. “Ohio Is For Lovers” at first seems more energetic than the original, with a fast-paced guitar driving the intro, but equals out with just-right choruses and vocals.
There’s no doubt that Silence is a weird acoustic album, though that’s not an insult. Woodruff’s still-belting vocals seem to pit themselves against the more serene background, creating a tense atmosphere that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. When it works, it’s an aural revival of a long-gone scene. When it doesn’t, it doesn’t fail; it simply feels awkward. Either way, Silence should be seen as a snapshot that looks back to the past, acknowledging it and simultaneously looking forward to the future. To that end, it will please leagues of HH fans and those who remember music circa 2004 as a seminal point in their listening career.