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Tragic Heroes 

Alkaline Trio recover from a tough two years

Alkaline Trio have made light of the dark. Originals among the guyliner pop-punk set, they've been intertwining melancholy, moribund lyrics with bright ringing melodies for 15 years. It's their signature move, one that's taken them from unknown Chicago-area trio to the brink of stardom. (Their 2008 major-label debut, Agony & Irony, reached No. 13 on Billboard's album chart.) Yet, as they return to indiedom for their follow-up, This Addiction, they continue to let more light in, and hopeful resolve runs like a thread through the album.

"Duality has always been a theme with us," says singer-guitarist Matt Skiba. "We have these dark lyrics that sound like hook-y rock music with a kind of pop edge to it. But as time goes on, you can't have darkness without light, and you can't have any of those things without the other — birth/death, good/evil. The duality of life is our biggest inspiration."

The past two years have been tumultuous for the band, from struggles in personal relationships to the sudden death of close friends. While This Addiction's songs remain gothic ("Dead on the Floor," soldier-suicide story "The American Scream," synth-abetted love paean "Eating Me Alive"), the attitude is more upbeat. Many tunes have a carpe diem sentiment — from the excited sobriety underscoring the heroin/love metaphor of the title track ("I'm trying to find my way back home/staying clean along the way/hold out for the real thing") to greeting a medical death sentence by exulting in rather than fearing those final breaths ("Dine, Dine My Darling").

"A couple of very good friends passed away pretty suddenly and tragically," says Skiba. "It was just a rough couple of years for a couple of us. But we take those things and — like alchemy — turn lead into gold. We still have those people with us in our hearts, and it inspires us to enjoy our lives."

Like many bands returning to an indie label, This Addiction takes a back-to-basics approach. While some suggest it's a punkier album, Alkaline Trio haven't abandoned the polished pop veneer. The production might not be quite as big, but it's hardly raw. Yet it does feel more immediate, a product of their new emotional outlook and a less obsessive musical mien that returns to the spirit which initially energized their writing.

"When we started the band, it wasn't a matter of necessarily being punk," says Skiba. "It was that we wrote songs very quickly, recorded them faster and never over-thought anything, because back in those days no one was really listening. [As] we've built this rather large fan base over the years, you start to pay a lot more attention and think much more about what you're doing. With this album, we put a lot of care and time into it, but we also wrote songs quickly."

While it might be argued that trifles like "Draculina" might have benefited from another editorial pass, by and large, This Addiction hits the mark. Meanwhile, Skiba remains busy with other projects as well. He's got a cover band with drummer Derek Grant and members of Kill Hannah called Them Crooked Vulvas, he released a one-off several years ago with a band called Heavens, and he's preparing to make his solo debut later this year.

"A lot of the stuff so far is not really singer-songwriter," says Skiba of his solo music. "There are beats, electric instrumentations and some electronics involved. It's got more of a dance vibe. I've been listening to [indie band] the XX, which I think are really cool, and they've definitely made me rethink my approach to this album. I don't want to rip them off or anything, but I dig that sound, and it's definitely inspired the direction and this dancey indie vibe."

music@clevescene.com

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