With their Hope EP, Hawthorne Heights return with the second installment in their alliteratively titled trilogy of EPs that began with 2011’s Hate, which the band is self-releasing on their Cardboard Empire label. With Hope, Hawthorne Heights uses their previous work as points of reference while continuing to refine their sound and expressing a more optimistic message.

Hope begins with the brief “There Was a Kid (Part 2)” whose lyrics lyrics are a variation on a theme established by the opener on Hate. The music, which features a fingerpicked chord progression and some basic slide guitar, at first appears to be a departure by the band until it concludes and abruptly transitions into “New Winter,” a catchy and energetic track that captures the more familiar elements of the band’s style: melodic, occasionally anthemic vocals that feature persistence-in-the-face-of-hardship lyrics with intermittent screaming with punchy, distorted rhythm guitars with angular and ringing leads. Indeed, “New Winter” serves as a useful exemplar the EP as a whole and of where Hawthorne Heights are at this point in their career. Despite brief stylistic departures such as the aforementioned opening track and the pulsing “Nowhere Fast” that appears later on Hope, the band otherwise stays in familiar territory musically, with increasingly improving execution.

Generally, the band has developed a better sense how these familiar parts should go together. On some of the Hawthorne Heights’ older work, it sometimes felt like the screaming vocals were thrown in for the sake of throwing them in; they were there because the genre called for it. And while the band can occasionally regress to this dynamic, such as on the bridge in “Stranded,” for the most part they are able to combine these different elements to form a more cohesive whole. So while most of the songs here are stylistically similar, and even thematically similar – the song “Running in Place (NIKI AM)” references the bands earlier hit “NIKI FM” – Hawthorne Heights show that they continue to improve within this style. And just as things start to seem a little too familiar and played out, the album ends on a high note with “Chemicals,” a strong song that highlights Hawthorne Heights at their best, and concludes by returning to the same fingerpicked guitar from the opening track, which has the effect of giving the EP a unifying structure.

Depending on your perspective, Hawthorne Heights’ familiar content can feel refreshingly direct and sincere in a time when ironic detachment is in style, or overdone, a dynamic neatly captured in Hope album art: a pastiche of bloody bandages from inkless tattoos the band had done specifically for the album artwork. In short, it is unlikely that Hope offers enough catch the attention of anyone that is not already a fan of the band or the genre. However, fans of Hawthorne Heights or other groups that fall within a similar musical orbit are likely find in Hope a band that is continuing to improve and refine their sound within its established parameters.

Rating: 6.5/10

– Sean Miskell