You Say Party! We Say Die! retired the second half of their name following the tragic death of drummer Devon Clifford in 2010; on the first album made after they decided to carry on without him, it sounds like they could retire the first part, too. The self-titled record from 2016 doesn't have any of the rambunctious spirit of their earliest albums, nor does it have the sophisticated pop sheen of their previous album XXXX. Instead, it has all the gloomy, atmospheric depth and overwhelming sadness the cover image promises (a black-and-white shot of the band standing in the distance looking away from the camera). Since replacing Clifford wasn't an option for the remaining quartet, the songs are powered by a drum machine. When there's a beat, that is. Only a couple songs make any forward progress, the album is mostly rooted in a murky, tempo-less space with the synths creating walls of grey sound, the bass guitar clanging like a distant cousin of Peter Hook, and Becky Ninkovic's vocals sinking into the mix like it was slow-moving quicksand instead of being way out front like in the past. The songs forgo shiny hooks for atmospheres of dread, the overall sound is suffocating instead of bright and shiny, and it almost seems like the band is deliberately being as difficult as possible. It's a drastic change, and one that could bewilder fans of their previous work, but it was a record the band had to make. It's a harrowing, not always easy to listen to experience, and it's an emotional punch to the gut that has lingering effects. The songs feel like they were written while the band was in a dark place, dealing with Clifford's death and not seeing much in the world to celebrate. They don't wallow in grief, but they try to make sense of it and channel it into creating challenging, rewarding music. It's not their usual synth pop, barely even pop at all, but it is a fitting testament to Clifford, and an intriguing step toward a different kind of future for the band.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra