La Dispute weaves emotional intricacy in songs


(Photo Courtesy of La Dispute)

Shane Miller

La Dispute is a band that defies the idea of genres. A post-hardcore band that draws influences from jazz and blues, the group is known to completely switch from slow-spoken poetry to fast punk rock within the same song. While La Dispute’s instrumentation is incredible in its own right, most critics concur that its most valuable and distinctive aspect is vocalist and lyricist Jordan Dreyer.

The band formed in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2004 when its original members were still in high school. With a round-the-clock work ethic, they aptly signed to No Sleep Records in California in 2008. Later that year, they released their debut album, Somewhere At the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair. The title pays homage to the cosmological Chinese folktale of the princess and the cowherd, wherein a disapproving emperor separates his daughter (Vega) and her unworthy lover (Altair) with a river (The Milky Way), concisely summarizing the ideas of lost, star-crossed love discussed on the album. Under the umbrella term of “post-hardcore,” the band displayed its early expertise in mixing elements of punk, progressive rock and emo.

In 2011, the band strayed from its punk roots to blossom into mature storytellers for their second release, Wildlife. This transition received acclaim from critics such as Alternative Press and Rock Sound. The band changed its musical approach to focus more on individual song meanings and rely on simpler, melodic chord changes.

“This time we tried to make each song as cohesive as possible,” Dreyer said. “We developed a story or theme and then put that to music. The idea was to base it on lyrics.”

The lyrical content of Wildlife also matured from merely discussing troubled relationships to offering unrelenting social commentary on overcoming tragedy.

Dreyer assumes the identity of an unnamed omniscient narrator that channels the voices of multiple people, each dealing with a very different problem. Point of view plays an important role in deciphering the often cryptic messages. Dreyer said he was influenced by his favorite works of fiction.

“If there is one main authorial inspiration, it’s Vladimir Nabokov,” Dreyer said. “‘Lolita’ is my favorite book, and ‘Pale Fire’ is just so intricate and beautiful.”

Lyrical topics range from losing a child to cancer and sexual frustration over casual sex to inner city gang violence. Wildlife is a poem that takes an hour to read. 

“The album can be read like a book of short stories that also includes the author’s commentary and annotations,” Dreyer said.

In the album, Dreyer’s vocals range from blistering, guttural screams to delicate spoken word, embodying the diversity of the entire band. Tracks like “King Park,” a seven-minute ballad detailing a drive-by shooting, highlight La Dispute’s unmatched ability to craft holistic, flowing songs permeated with emotion. Upon listening, audiences can realize this album isn’t something just thrown together — this is an expertly planned, heartfelt confession. 

“I guess we chose the name Wildlife because it’s just an all-encompassing word to sum everything up,” Dreyer said. “We all witness tragedy and change. It’s the summation of our existence.”  

La Dispute’s style consolidates chaotic rhythms with stabilizing messages. Juxtaposing the dullness of the Top 40 with lyrics, La Dispute is the antithesis of simplicity. The band still believes that music’s unmatched ability to connect with listeners on an emotional level is something to be respected.

“It’s great and very flattering that people invest themselves to us so much,” Dreyer said. “We really just want people to climb on top of each other and yell.”