Deep Dive: La Dispute – Somewhere at the Bottom of the River between Vega and Altar

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La Dispute’s debut full length album Somewhere at the Bottom of the River between Vega and Altar was released in 2008 on No Sleep Records, and it emanates raw power. This album is their heaviest piece of work and is the most instrumentally powerful album out of La Disputes discography, with Chad Sterenberg’s powerful quick-paced guitar playing as a key element, Adam Vass’ bass being a solid constant throughout the album and Brad Vander Lugt’s position on drums as erratic and boundless as ever. The album as a concept is based loosely on a Chinese folk tale about a prince and a princess kept apart by a river, with the main song symbolising this tale being the soft-spoken ‘Fall Down, Never Get Back Up Again’ – Jordan builds off this underlying tale to include stories of separation, betrayal and comradery.

The album opens and closes with linking tracks ‘Such Small Hands’ and ‘Nobody, Not Even the Rain’. These are softer than the majority of the album and encompass the themes of a couple broken by their relationship and being unable to rebuild and move on. The album plays on a perfect loop in these two tracks, in-keeping to the idea that this cycle is unending, and just gets worse. The songs within this album don’t tell a continuous tale but more a common thread of experiences and emotions suffered by Jordan – whether actual or imagined: an exception to this is the songs ‘New Storms for Old Lovers’, ‘Last Blues for Bloody Knuckles’ and ‘Sad Prayers for Guilty Bodies’, which tell the catastrophe of a man discovering his wife’s affair with another, which leads to the distruction of their family and their relationship. These songs are perfectly able to make the listener feel the emotions of all those involved in this betrayal of trust – you relate to the complexities the wife faces in loving two separate men, and the unbearable guilt she feels, alongside the sickening defeat of the husband in his confrontation with them, it’s a tale with no happy ending and it leaves a sinking pit in the listeners stomach.

The album speaks a lot about lost loves, being able to let go and the overwhelming fear and anger that comes alongside that, analysing different relationships with differing issues, but doing so in such a comprehensible way it feels as if Jordan has been subject to every one of these heartbreaks.

The penultimate track of the album ‘The Long Lost Continent’ follows a different theme from the rest of the album, wherein the musical style is consistent with the tracks before it – the lyrics and subject matter match more to the themes of their second album. This song focuses more on Jordan’s own portrayal of his reaction to his trauma and fear, and how his friends have also been changed in their own ways by the same emotions and situations that affect him. He attacks his own thought processes and determines that he’s adamant to move on and rebuild – building the songs message as a motivational anthem, “just keep your head up, I swear we’ll be alright”, it can be seen as a signalling that the accounts of these broken relationships and traumatic experiences may have the capacity to ruin people – but it reinforces that these experiences aren’t singular, people whom we know and love also suffer and have the ability to unite in our suffering to grow and repair.

This album is much more appealing to the post hard-core scene than their other albums through its compelling, intense instrumental skills – when played live this is the album which rises the energy in the room to a peak and enshrines a sense of friendship and shared experience among the crowd as they scream out the emotive and memorable lyrics to the stage. The lyrical composition of this album brings something unique to the table and allows La Dispute to transcend genres into a beautiful mix that makes for a completely unparalleled aura. 

Somewhere at the Bottom of the River between Vega and Altar is available now via No Sleep Digital.

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