Losing a band member is never easy, but when that member happens to be the frontman and lead singer, the results can very nearly be catastrophic. Further Seems Forever found themselves in this situation when lead singer Chris Carrabba left the band shortly after the release of their Tooth & Nail debut, The Moon Is Down. With Carrabba branching out with his own emo-outfit Dashboard Confessional, the remaining members of Further Seems Forever were forced to soldier on with a different singer for their sophomore album, How To Start A Fire.
Enter Jason Gleason. With a voice surprisingly similar to Carrabba's, Gleason tackles the vocal duties on How To Start A Fire with the same emotional style as his forebear, allowing the rest of the band to pick up right where it left off. Further Seems Forever had established an unmistakable sound on The Moon Is Down, (a rather rare achievement in an overcrowded emo genre) and despite the change, they manage to keep it intact - delivering an impressive collection of soaring (albeit Carrabba-less) emo anthems.
With a flick of a match, the album rips right into the driving title track and follows it appropriately with the album's first single "The Sound." While remaining unmistakably melodic, the term radio-friendly might not be the most apt description for the band's sound. Most of Further Seems Forever's songs sound deceptively aimless at first listen, as if they're digging for a hook buried among the meandering melodies and chimey guitars that fill each song. In fact, all of it sounds like a haphazard pile of staggered riffs and wandering verses until each chorus hits, pulling everything together at just the right time. While it appears like messy songwriting at first, there's actually a grace in the band's layered arrangements that rewards repeated listens.
On the lyrical side, most of the song meanings are rather ambiguous and tend to rely heavily on poetic imagery to convey mood. Those looking for Christian overtones in each song might be put off by the amount of digging necessary in order to uncover them. This is not a straightforward Christian album by any means.
Overall, How To Start A Fire succeeds because it proves that Further Seems Forever can carry on despite Carrabba's departure. Although there are those that will dismiss this album as an unfulfilling follow-up to The Moon Is Down, the band has continued with their sound intact, working with a singer who can hold his own without losing any of the emotional intensity that Carrabba brought. Whether this album is better than The Moon Is Down is up for debate (as most fans seem adamantly attached to the debut), but How To Start A Fire has proven itself strong enough to stand apart from its predecessor's imposing shadow. It is a compelling assertion that the band's identity can survive beyond the hype.- Review date: 2/4/06, written by Sherwin Frias