Critically adored for a sound that combines screamo, jazz, blues and spoken word, as well as the three albums worth of poetic lyrics which draw upon influences such as Asian folklore, Kurt Vonnegut and Vladimir Nabokov. La Dispute are perhaps the best band you’ve never heard of.
I admit that there’s a certain redundancy to writing an introductory feature about a band with three full length releases under their belts. But La Dispute have never really reached audiences larger than their small, but dedicated, core fan base. Their work exists within the vague genre of post-hardcore; it combines the intricate guitar work and vocal style of Hardcore Punk, with the lyricism and imagery of the post-punk movement. Think Black Flag by way of Joy Division.
But part of what makes La Dispute such an interesting band is their willingness to adapt their sound. Their first album, Somewhere At The Bottom Of The River Between Vega and Altair, is primarily a mediation on relationships and a good introduction to the bands lyricism. The second song on the album – “Said The King To The River” – is an angry attack on a failed relationship played out over screeching guitars. But what separates La Dispute is how this theme is explored through the imagery of Chinese fairytale; the processes that cause relationships to break down are made literal by the river that separates prince and princess in the tale. Similar themes are explored in the later, softer track “Fall Down, Never Get Up Again”. For a long time this track reminded me of the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and in doing my research for this I discovered it is literally an adaption of the Poe poem “Annabelle Lee”. Here a narrator tells the story of two lovers struggling to survive a storm until the Angels, jealous of their love, drowns the woman; now the unnamed narrator sits by the sea and laments his lost love. Whilst this works on a literal level, I believe it is meant to be interpreted on a figurative one. Here La Dispute present a man who is unable to move on from a lost love, and instead sits around and blames the forces that caused them to part. But this album doesn’t just use metaphor to explore romantic relationships. The song “The Last Lost Continent” is a twelve minute long angry manifesto that starts with the imagery of pulling depression out of a persons head and violently smashing it to pieces on the rocks. It is the song of a man who is sick of mental health issues ravaging his own head and the people he cares to about. It is a call to arms for togetherness.
La Dispute then became much more focused on their sophomore album Wildlife. Jordan Dreyer, La Dispute’s front man and lyricist, intended the album to be less explicitly personal and instead explore specific themes and imagery. Conceptually it is an album of short stories about Michigan, split by monologues from a nameless hypothetical author. These monologues split the album in terms of theme. The first – “A Departure” – outlines an inability to rationalise your headspace following a change of some description. What follows are tracks that deal with feeling out of tempo with your surroundings, imagery of physical and religious decay, and a lament for the friendships lost when your friends leave for university. This leads into the next monologue – “A Letter” – where the narrator realises his mental health is getting worse, and begins to self-reflect on how it’s affecting his life, and how he can get better. I can think of few tracks that deal with this subject matter with such honesty, it’s refreshing. The songs that follow all focus on introspection: one song is about running away from the place you associate previous good memories, the other about an inability to enjoy casual sexual relationships. “A Poem” is the monologue when the mental health themes goes into a darker territory; an example of the lyrics – “I’m increasingly aware I’ve been painting things in grey, I’m increasingly alarmed by the pain”. Appropriately, the album goes into its darkest songs exploring themes like: gang violence, suicide, schizophrenia, and the death of a child. This leads into the last monologue – “A Broken Jar” – which asks once a jar has been smashed you can fix it but won’t the cracks always show? As such Wildlife is an album that thematically explores mental illness from the outset to the difficult attempts to get better.
La Dispute has a third album, Rooms Of The House, which is a concept album concerning Dreyers’ grandparents lives in the 1960s. This overarching theme is perhaps best seen in “Woman (In Mirror)” and “Woman (Reading)” respectively. “Woman (In Mirror)” is one of the most touching, intimate explorations of love I’ve ever heard. It argues that love is not the big gestures but found in the mundane actions like watching someone put their make up on. “Woman (Reading)” seems to conform to this view, with the narrator writing a sonnet about his wife reading on the sofa, before undercutting this imagery with the reveal that his wife isn’t there. Instead the narrator sits, haunted by her presence in the house they shared, wondering if she’s haunted by him too.
So there we have it, my love letter to my favourite band – La Dispute. I can’t pretend they’re the easiest band to listen to, but hopefully you can see that once you give them a go you find songs that open up to wonderful imagery. The best part about a band as poetic and lyrical as this? What I’ve written here is just my interpretation. These songs are ripe for people to break them down in search of their own personal meanings if they are willing to put the work in.