CD Review: The Academy Is… takes another step forward with Santi

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When I spoke with frontman William Beckett in a July 2005 Rock River Times exclusive, his band The Academy Is… was playing to a half-empty convention room at a Freeport Ramada Inn. Though his band was relatively unknown at the time, he spoke about having clear visions for the future that included increased visbility and appeal that crossed genre lines. Few would call Beckett a clairvoyant—but with this month’s release of TAI’s latest record Santi, he’s proven his visions weren’t far off.

Santi is a finely-crafted effort that broadens the scope of their melodic punk debut Almost Here exponentially, drawing it closely toward the realm of classic rock. Brought to light by super-producer Butch Walker, the latest release focuses on exploiting the guitar prowess of Michael Guy Chislett and Beckett’s wide vocal range. Beckett seems like a puppy cut loose from a leash for the first time on tracks like the opener “Same Blood” and “Everything We Had,” a ballad unlike anything currently in the TAI catalog. Underutilized on their previous effort, Beckett’s vocal chords were certainly well stretched this time around.

Chislett, who only joined the band’s lineup last year, brings with him a classically trained electric guitar sound that reverberates loudly and consistently throughout. “Neighbors”—which might otherwise seem ordinary—is turned into a blistering, yet fluid, track, and his haunting distortion on “Seed” makes it more than standard pop fare. His guitar solo on “Sleeping With Giants (Lifetime)” adds a new dimension to the track, giving it flair and adding to its sincerity.

Once confined to simple harmonies and vocally-unchallenging verses, the band significantly expands its use of gang vocals, including contributions from drummer Andy Mrotek and Walker himself. The multitude of voices is powerful, though tastefully utilized.

Santi’s first single, “We’ve Got A Big Mess On Our Hands,” is a surefire pop hit, which illuminates the band’s talents and is bound to catch the ears of both Fall Out Boy fanatics and their Rolling Stones-loving parents.

It is the combination of wide-ranging accessibility and quality songwriting that take TAI from the realm of successful Chicago punk rockers to that of America’s brightest up-and-coming acts. If you didn’t jump on The Academy Is… bandwagon nearly two years ago, you may want to do it now…because with the release of Santi, any space left is bound to fill up quickly.

from the May 2-8, 2007, issue

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