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Hawthorne Heights, ‘If Only You Were Lonely’ (Victory)

Twenty of the best seconds in pop last year belonged to Hawthorne Heights. On the hook from “Ohio Is for Lovers,” the Dayton, Ohio quintet’s breakthrough single, a Sabbath riff kicks in like a jump-starting engine; frontman JT Woodruff whines, “I can’t make it on my own”; and guitarist Casey Calvert echos him back in gruff, barking counterpoint. Soft to hard and back. And then again.

A neat trick, but it wasn’t enough to sustain a whole song, much less an album of same, which is what their follow-up, If Only You Were Lonely, attempts. Unique only in its monochromatic affect, uniformly unsmiling in its appraisals of Self and Others, Lonely wears its formula — neatly segmented portions of emo and metal — like a Scout badge. Lacking the ragged, angsty energy of labelmates Atreyu or the cheery, self-deprecating fun of tourmates Fall Out Boy, Hawthorne Heights shun nuance altogether. Quiet equals depth; loud equals catharsis. And never the twain shall meet. The guitar pokes on album opener “This Is Who We Are” sound like, of all things, Trapt’s mook-rock anthem “Headstrong.” But seconds later they’re absolved by Woodruff’s angelic whispers. As with all the songs here, there is no release, only abnegation. Woodruff is a toothless vocalist singing blank lyrics: “You are in my dreams / Just like in a movie / The one you want to see / With a happy ending.” And while Calvert’s abrasive shriek is a welcome balance, it often approximates what a Casio grindcore vocal preset might sound like.

It’s not a big surprise that they end the album with a piano-driven ballad, “Decembers.” But it might be a sign of life that they sound so unhappy doing it. At least it suggests the humanity beneath the math. This is a band that can sing “Sleep, sleep, little darling / I swear I’m not trying to wear you out” without the slightest whiff of sexual energy. Not lust. Not frustration. Not any bother at all, until it’s time for the hook. And even then, not so much.

See also: From Autumn to Ashes, The Fiction We Live (Vagrant, 2003)