Valencia – Dancing With a Ghost
October 12, 2010
Produced by Mark Trombino
Valencia is an alternative rock band from Philadelphia that has released two records and a B-sides EP prior to this most recent effort. Quick history lesson, these guys gained a loyal following around 2005 after their first record, This Could Be A Possibility came out on I-Surrender records. Touring non-stop, they caught the eye of Columbia Records who eventually signed them. In 2008, after a long wait by fans their follow-up, We All Need A Reason To Believe came out. While being a fantastic record, it did not meet the label’s standards and two sides parted. Shortly thereafter, their drummer left to pursue other endeavors. Like the first record, there was a ton of touring leading up to and after the release of their sophomore album. Valencia toured this record to prove their worth and make the next big step. Therefore, parting ways with a major label, losing a member, and wondering what they could have done differently the future of Valencia was very much in doubt. Lead singer, Shane Henderson, guitarist Brendan Walter, guitarist JD Perry, and bassist George Ciukurescu decided they should make another record and keep the dream alive. Enlisting their friend Dan Pawlovich on drums and signing back with I-Surrender Records the foundation was set in place for the new record.
Titled, Dancing With a Ghost, this record features 10 tracks in about 36 minutes. As noted, one of the great producers of rock music, Mark Trombino is behind the boards. Known for his work on Blink 182’ Dude Ranch, The Starting Line’s Say It Like You Mean It, and various Jimmy Eat World records Mark has been a very recognizable figure in modern rock music since the late ‘90s. For rock enthusiasts, he is one of those producers that makes you want to listen to a record just because his name is on it. The first song is the album titled song, Dancing With a Ghost. This song is a great intro to an album because of its upbeat nature and the almost call to arms type of lyrics. The chorus on this particular song is what stands out to me. As Shane sings, “Don’t say you don’t, don’t know what it’s like, try sinking your teeth in and taste the commitment…” gives the listener endless interpretations of the lyrics. That is really one of the themes of the song and for the most part the whole record.
The second song, Spinning Out starts out with a keyboard and gives way to way to a build-up rhythm and verse that is reminiscent of something Jimmy Eat World or Something Corporate would write. The rather mellow verses lead to a souring chorus that is very catchy. The bridge goes back to the bubbly keyboard part from the intro and explodes to the chorus with added layers of backing vocals. This works really well giving it the kind of climax end that the song deserves. As the keyboard from Spinning Out fads away, a clapping intro begins for Still Need You Around (Lost Without You), which is quite possibly the most personal song the band has ever written. The song is about losing family members as several of the band members were dealing with rather sick family members or lost family members during the writing process. The song starts slow, but slowly adds more and more elements giving the listener a sense of something big building up, much like a roller coaster. Just as the listener gets accustom to a slow ballad, the song builds into a crescendo of soaring instruments, gang vocals, and a couple layers of backing vocals that caps off quite a journey of a song. While many ballad-type songs can easily come off as cheesy, Valencia does a great job at writing a powerful song that anyone can go back and relate to.
How do you follow up the most personal song you have created? You make the most aggressive punch in the teeth song you have done to date, called Consider Me Dead. I will cut right to the chase here. Easily the most ambitious song Valencia has made in the sense that this is in your face. Everything about it clicks and clicks well. The distorted bass ran through a fuzz pedal, the guitar riff and drums in the chorus, the huge finish with screams that eventually just cuts out is all very well executed. The production on this track is pretty impressive as well. I especially like the way the screams were done. I think I speak for most Valencia fans when I say, you can’t help but be blown away by this track. For drummers, if you are looking for a song to hit the kit hard to this would be it. This is good straight forward rock ‘n’ roll! Losing Sleep, is next and is a more traditional Valencia song that I think, musically could have worked on past albums. However, what separates this song from others is the message the song delivers. Shane is essentially singing about the sometimes painful truths of being in band. This is a song that has been building up for years with a rigorous touring cycle, being away from family, and getting jerked around by the industry. Most people that have been in a touring band can easily relate to this song and appreciate the message. In the way Still Need You was therapeutic for the band as a whole, I think this song lyrically was therapeutic for Shane. Also, around the bridge there is a cool fade out that quickly returns with a nice guitar riff to eventually close this number out. If you like interesting guitar riffs, there are quite a few of them throughout the record as well.
To kick off the second half of the record, Friday Night starts off like it could be the intro to a hip hop song. It soon becomes an abundance of distorted guitars and really turns into an anthem-type of song that anyone in a down mood can grab a hold of. This is another song where I think the production value really makes the track especially strong. I also get a sense that this was just an outright fun song to record in the studio. Lots of fun guitar parts, gang vocals, and interesting production elements are what stand out to me. Next, Somewhere I Belong starts off and immediately sounds like an interlude/intermission track as there are strings and various drums playing. Eventually the vocals start and you get the feeling this could be the one song where you take a breath and let it all sink in. However, there is a lot going on with this song, like almost all of these tracks. Whether it is the various drumming techniques in the background, the female guest vocals, the guitars sprinkled in, or the extra layers of vocals there is actually a lot to discern from this mellow song on the surface. This song sounds like it could have been the mandatory acoustic track, but these guys, along with their producer decided to challenge themselves and do something creative instead. Bravo!
The next song is where track order comes into play. I think it would have been easy to follow with a slow progressing type of song after the slowest song on the album, but they went a different route. They put one of their most upbeat songs next in Days Go By (sorry Keith Urban fans, this is not a cover). While this may not be a cover song, the first thing I thought of when I heard the quick half strums from the guitars and the gang vocals predeceasing the chorus was their take on a modern Green Day song. Quick toe tapping rhythm during the verses and catchy chorus takes a page from the pop punk god fathers and does not disappoint. I prefer not to use the term “fun” song, but that is what this is. This song could definitely find a place in their live set and that would be okay.
Keeping in the same mood, The Way is my favorite song on the record, but also the one song that makes me think about what could have been. This song the way it is on the record sounds like a slowed down Blink 182 song from Dude Ranch and is extremely catchy. This is the perfect song for Trombino to work on given his past. While simple lyrics, I love the line, “What you do defines you.” This is another example of lines that can be interpreted differently, but easily relatable for most listeners as well. My small critique is when I listen to this track, I think about how awesome it would have been to keep it as a punk song like it feels. I envision mosh pits, stage dives, and being a crowd favorite live. Regardless, I love the bass in the intro and the chorus, again is real catchy (vocally and musically).
Finally, the album closes off in an upbeat fashion with Stop Searching. What sticks out to me on this track is the punk beat in the chorus that I thought was there on the first record, but lost on the second. Also, the guitar riff in the beginning played along with the keyboard sounds great. While Valencia adds in keyboards a lot on this record and others it just really seems to work especially well here. This was another song that sounds more like a traditional Valencia song and closes the record in good fashion.
Overall, I was extremely pleased with this record and there are several songs I look forward to hearing live. The first time through, I will admit was not a blown away experience. However, this is a record that can be listened to as just another alternative rock record on the surface or you can sink your teeth into it and hear it in a completely different way. There is a ton going on with this record. Vocal layers upon vocal layers, experimental drums, distorted bass, superb vocals ranges, and stellar producing to name a few. Once everything clicked with me on this record, it easily jumped into my top 10 for the year and is in my opinion their best work to date. My only real complaint is that the B-side, Pieces is not an actual album track. The song, Airwaves is also good, but I am fine with it being a B-side. This is an album that I think should definitely be given a shot if you want something refreshing in rock music that has lots of lasting value, solid production, and energy. Certainly, if you are a Jimmy Eat World, Starting Line (RIP sort of), Something Corporate, etc. fan I think you will enjoy this a lot as well. I do want to stress, though that there is enough here for lots of different music lovers to find something they can hang their hat on. If you are an old fan, I think you will notice the progression of the band, but also hear that these are still Valencia songs at the core. If you are not yet a fan, I think there is a lot to like and draw you in as well.
** Since I already used a variation of the title track, I will share a different song. Don’t mind the video content.