Charades is an acting game in which players act out a word by miming a similar sounding word, and other contestants have to guess the word. It’s a team game that’s usually played at parties. But despite its festive origins, charades is rigidly ruled, timed, and highly competitive.
Because you’ve probably played – or have been subjected to – charades at some point in your life, the title of Famous Last Words’ debut LP – Two-Faced Charade – will intrigue you. Something sinister must be afoot when a hardcore-screamo band announces itself with a title that puts the double-cross on a game that’s supposed to be a party pleasantry.
But before I get to the party of Two-Faced Charade, I have to introduce you to your hosts and tell you a bit about them. Famous Last Words hail from Petoskey, Michigan, and they feature JT on vocals, Ethan Osborn on lead guitar, Craig Simons on drums, Tyler Myklebust on guitar, and Jesse Maddy on drums. They’ve been playing together since 2005, and their other release is the 2012 EP Pick Your Poison.
Now that you’ve been properly introduced, you can enter the party that is Two-Faced Charade, which is really a bloody, profanity-ridden screamo musical. I don’t know what the story is (although I can make out, through all the screamed vocals, that the narrator is a killer), but I definitely know what the feeling is – and it’s one of romanticized and melodramatic violence. Think Les Misérables as performed by a band that’s aspiring to reach the heights of The Dillinger Escape Plan and you’ll get the idea.
Opening cut “Welcome to the Show” begins with melodramatic strings that seemed left over from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. But remember that the FLW guys are two-faced – the track quickly turns into a brutal screamo noise fest; before it ends with a Phantom of the Opera-like organ fade.
After this intriguing opening track, FLW launches into a two excellently executed and exciting tracks, “Victim of the Virtuoso” and “The Relentless,” which include enough musical elements and noisy blips to keep them interesting.
“Voices” is the first great song on Two-Faced Charade because it contains excellent clean-growl vocal dynamics – courtesy of JT – that make it stand out from the previous tracks. The clean vocal sections contain poppy melodies (complete with vocal harmonies) that contrast nicely with the harshness of the screamo sections. JT is a star here, a master of charades. The cool keyboard part with which the tune ends is the icing on the cake of this great song.
The next tracks – “Lust of the Lost” and “Legends and Legacies” – don’t have the chops of the records first four tracks. Despite their intricate musicianship and production, they sound stock in comparison to what comes before. And lines like “You’re fucking dead to me!” from “Legends” are sophomoric at best, as are the prog synths with which the track closes.
But these songs – and later bland songs like “Searching for a Home” and “Even a Ghost Has a Sanctuary” – are purposeful. They work to carry on the narrative.
Thankfully, Two-Faced Charade always recovers from its dips. “In Perfect Hindsight” recovers the over-the-top Andrew Lloyd Webber creepiness and provides a perfect interlude to the second great song on the record, “To Play Hide and Seek with Jealousy.” The keyboard intro is terrific, as are JT’s vocals, which show off his range. Simons also shines on this song, providing a variety of beats that work in concert with both the symphonic sounds and the guitar noise.
The closing tracks – “The Show Must Go On Prt. 1” and “The Show Must Go On Prt. 2” – need to provide the grand finale required by a screamo musical. For the most part, they do the trick. The former track features JT handing a tough vocal melody, and the orchestral parts on the latter end the record with excitement.
You have to give FLW credit for being so ambitious on Two-Faced Charade. But the record is uneven. It reminds me of David Bowie’s 1995 album Outside, which considered the doings of the serial killer Nathan Adler. Bowie’s album, as most fans would agree, was also uneven. But he made Outside almost thirty years into his career. FLW can’t be expected to be on Bowie’s level yet. It’s just good to see that they share his ambition.