Rarely have I been as excited for an album as I was for “A Band in Hope”, the third full-length from Oakland based rock quartet, the Matches. After devouring E. Von Dahl and Decomposer, I anxiously awaited the new bath of catchy, hook-heavy pop-punk anthems to be served up by Shawn Harris and the gang. Needless to say, when the album finally leaked, I immediately downloaded it (don’t worry; I’ll end up buying several copies of the album anyway). Much to my surprise, A Band in Hope is so far removed from Decomposer that I could’ve almost mistaken the album for that of a different band. I found myself mildly disappointed. However, after a few more listens, I began to digest the new indie sound the Matches have developed and I can now easily tout A Band in Hope as the beast release from the Matches yet.

If you’re a long time fan of the Matches like me, you’ll instantly notice that the Matches have changed. From the opening track, “AM Tilts”, The Matches show off a much more mellow sound than on their previous albums. Where as their earlier work shows off some of the best pop-punk tunes in the scene today, A Band in Hope is of almost an entirely different genre; they’ve gone from a pop-punk band to an indie band with only one album. The tempos are slower and Shawn Harris wields a significantly more controlled voice. These changes don’t only apply to the music either. As demonstrated on their new website, MySpace, and promo photos, the Matches have completely reinvented themselves. The darkness of a group decomposing has been replaced with the optimism of a band in hope.

The title itself is an oxymoron simultaneously representing a band hanging onto hope and abandoning at once; changing but staying the same. That being said, there are still glimpse of the old Matches represented on A Band in Hope that shows they still have a pop-punk anthem or two left in them. “Yankees in a Chip Shop” and “Between Halloweens” will rank very well among some of your favorite Matches tunes. Digital masterworks like “24C” call to memory some of the awesome tunes of “Decomposer” and “If I Were You” and “Future Tense” would’ve been equally at home on E. Von Dahl as it is on A Band in Hope.

This album literally represents a band in hope. Some have theorized that the Matches may not be able to afford carrying on a band if this album does not sell well. However, in what should be a bleak and anxious time for them, the subject matter for the majority of the album is surprisingly optimistic. Songs like “AM Tilts”, “Wake the Sun”, and “Point Me toward the Morning” all represent a theme of awakening and new beginnings. The Matches don’t seem to be at all worried about their future, as stated in “Darkness Rising”; they plan to always be here. “We Are One” calls for unity within our scene and “Clouds Crash” is one of the best acoustic songs released in quite awhile. Each songs poignant theme is delivered sharply through Shawn Harris’ distinctive vocals and peppered with the near perfect harmonies of Jon Devoto.

Now, the album’s not perfect. The Matches seem to have lost some of the eccentricity that made their first two albums so brilliant. Whereas many of their older material would contain two, three, or even four hooks for one song, A Band in Hope is decidedly more focused in its song structures. While the songs are better for it, I often find myself missing how danceable the Matches used to be. Overall, it works to the benefit of the album as it takes away the Matches’ status as a novelty band and legitimizes them as musicians.

At first, some long time fans of the Matches may find all these changes to be unwelcome and unwanted. You’ll miss the pop-genius of “Dog-eared Page” or “What Katie Said” but if you’re like, all it’ll take is a second listen to be intrigued and then a third to be hooked. A Band in Hope is truly a triumph and deserves to be just as commercially successful as it is artistically.

Overall rating: 9/10

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