SideOneDummy Records/New Damage Records
When a press release spits out likenesses to At The Drive In, Brand New and Crime In Stereo, you have my undivided attention. But you better make good on the promise. From experience, such assertions end up setting the bar too high and most often lead to undue disappointment. So when SideOneDummy Records trumpeted the signing of Ontario post-hardcore band, Safe To Say, referencing all of the above and more, all sorts of red flags and alarms went off in my head. Of course there was still that nagging sense that this time could be different, but my defenses were up.
I’ve never been happier to be dead wrong.
Safe To Say is one of the few bands that are truly cut from the same cloth as At The Drive In, Brand New and Crime In Stereo. Not just mirroring sonic similarities, but communicating an understanding that transcends mere mimicry, Safe To Say’s debut EP, Hiding Games, feels as if the quartet has been in the post-hardcore business for years.
Right from the opening notes, the band taps into a haunting essence sure to send chills down your spine. “Summer Sickness” offers a directness that doesn’t shy away from Brand New-esque bass distortion and a crawling, eerie rhythm with Jesse Lacey style near-whispers. From this dark stylistic descent next rises “Bracelets” shining highs. Propelled by harsh guitars that take a nod from Crime In Stereo, the band soars intensely on the wings of Grad Garcia’s agonizing vocals. Striking lyrics quickly reveal themselves as a rallying point for Safe To Say’s ominous soundscapes. “I want to hurt all the ones I love,” chimes Garcia as the duality of “When I’m Not Here’s” dark menacing passages and big gut wrenching cries erupt in a volley of explosive guitars. “Near Enough” ends the disc on a slightly grungy note (Superheaven), that artfully balances heavy and light elements.
But “Lull (Heaven Knows)” stands as defining highlight. Played with skeletal simplicity, the eerie, deadpan deliverance of the line, “Tell me did you kill your friends, poison them like I did,” sends shockwaves in its minimalism. The isolating, soft-speak moves between singular, echoing guitar and hollow percussion via drummer JJ. The later addition of a lone piano bridge fits for dramatic effect, exacerbating further lines like “hell’s digging a grave in my head.” “Lull (Heaven Knows)” is a fulfillingly vacant track that nails the sense of hopelessness that Brand New has built their career from.
Only “Zoey” makes me question Safe To Say’s potential. The track sticks out like a sore thumb against the myriad of complexities composing Hiding Games. It doesn’t sound “bad,” just really typical of the genre – lacking creative tempo, song structure and vocals of its brethren.
SideOneDummy Records did good on signing Safe To Say. Hiding Games is a fantastic introduction to what is one of the most genuine up and coming post-hardcore acts around. With this kind of first impression, Safe To Say have their work cut out ahead of them, but if Hiding Games is any indication, they’re more than up for the challenge.