American rock is less of a genre as it is a way of life, a shifting landscape which gives opportunity for bands to traverse turbulent waters and turmoil in the public eye, not unlike reality television. Cascading dramatically from radio hits to crushing hiatus, Framing Hanley gained worldwide attention after bursting from the rock hotbed of Nashville, Tennessee, just to split in 2015 after three successful albums. There’s little sweeter following a breakup than a makeup, and for Framing Hanley that first returning embrace is in the form of their comeback album “Envy,” a smooth reintroduction to the love-tainted bite that brought fans swooning more than half a decade ago. While a Facebook post sounding the bell for a reunion may not have much romantic tension, the two year slow-burn of anticipation leading up to “Envy” was steamy enough for clamoring fans to be at near breaking point upon its February 2020 release.
It seems that waiting is part of being a Framing Hanley fan, given a commercially sparse three albums between their inception in 2005 and their 2015 hiatus. But the band has also sought out the most bang for their buck given such a limited discography, having their cover of Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” hit charts across the US, and earning the title of Best Modern Rock Band by Top in Rock in 2009. In the following years, the band toured not just the United States, but ventured into Europe and Australia. Searing singles and a radio-friendly charm kept the band’s image thriving even as they lay in silent hiatus, racking up millions of streams across multiple platforms. Given an already varied history “Envy” is as much a reintroduction as it is a reinvention for the band, the inclusion of two new members filling out the ranks as they proceed with the next chapter of their story. This includes new guitarist Nic Brooks and Shad Teems on drums. Front-man Kenneth Nixon still leads the charge on “Envy,” reprising his role on vocals, strong as ever in his approach to a vision of alternative rock tinged with resilient grit.
For all of the smooth waves of rock and the gristle of grunge, “Envy” has a number of surprises to keep listeners engaged from the opening track. Under two minutes long, “Say You Ever” runs the gamut from lingering strings bordering on symphonic to vocal distortion embroiled in static atmospherics. A comfortable stylistic distance from their prior work, yet not too far from what one could expect to hear from a Billboard hit, this short introduction is an attention-grabbing segue into the smooth comfort of “Bubbles.” Reminiscent of early 2000s alternative rock a la Chevelle, this track is the opportunity for Nixon’s sugar-sweet vocal charm to re-establish its dominance. Passionate shouts rise to a crooning chorus spurred by a dynamic drum arrangement, which combined make for a track that is emotional and dripping with nostalgia.
There is no question that Framing Hanley has matured in more subtle notes without surrendering the character that defined them for a decade. “Envy” attacks love and loss in a very three-dimensional sense, covering the subtleties of bargaining and pleading, then daring to tackle the many stages of heartbreak and its denial. From the varied tempo of “The Way Down” to the more conversational tone of “Baggage Claim,” this album seems to be the result of a soul born bare, naked and vulnerable in the warm embrace of a sea of tender guitars.
While Nixon may man the front line with his seductive draw, backing vocals are contributed by a number of the other band members, their voices joining in harmonization and choruses throughout “Envy.” Their efforts make Nixon’s self-assurance all the more noticeable, and enhances the cohesion among the instrumentalists throughout the album’s progression. The musicians of Framing Hanley seem unable to contribute merely a single talent each to “Envy,” but they are caught in a tremendous dance which has nary a stray foot out of place. Never do they tread over one another, a clean mix that makes for a pleasant and easily digestible listening experience.
Capturing the spirit of the album most strongly is the hard rock bite that sharpens the edges of “Forgiveness is an Art,” infectiously catchy without losing its technical depth. Nixon is as powerful as he is passionate, balancing his efforts with those of choral vocals and Jonothan Stoye’s full-bodied bass. There is a commercial, radio spirit that persists throughout both this track and the album, but a rousing chorus and richly layered instrumental offering are proof that “Envy” is not the place for creative compromises. Staying power of a number of individual tracks along with a genuine spirit make Framing Hanley’s reunion one worth celebrating.
Released By: Thermal Entertainment
Release Date: February 21st, 2020
Genre: Alternative rock
- Kenneth Nixon / Vocals
- Ryan Belcher / Guitars
- Jonathan Stoye / Bass
- Shad Teems / Drums
- Nic Brooks / Guitars
- Say You Ever
- Joke’s On Us
- Forgiveness Is An Art
- Puzzle Pieces
- The Way Down
- Throwing Knives
- Baggage Claim
Born from the roots of the breed of American rock that lives and dies for the radio, Framing Hanley’s return is one which revisits the bands roots while catering to a more nuanced modern taste. Rich in both depth and precise emotional vision, “Envy” is a heavy dose of nostalgia that doesn’t stop to pull its punches.