Tag Archives: alternative rock

Modern Concepts: The Dear Hunter’s Act I: The Lake South, The River North

There’s no way I wasn’t going to like The Dear Hunter from the get-go. Look no further than the title of the first album: “Act 1”. If that doesn’t bode well for a concept album-loving nut like me, I don’t know what will! In fact, the reason that I looked this band up in the first place is that, much like Coheed and Cambria, all of of their output (at the time) was devoted towards following a single narrative over multiple albums. This was all I needed to hear – and I was not disappointed.

“Battesimo del Fuoco” has the honour of being the third-most listened-to song in my iTunes (it has stiff composition), and opens the album, in my opinion, perfectly. A majestic modern Greek chorus announces the protagonist, born into the world amidst serious strife, as we will find out in two songs or so as the story opens. An interlocking chorale with no instruments to be found, each vocal line interlocking with the array of harmony vocals behind it as we are told “the flame is gone/the fire remains.” This, combined with the somewhat gentle instrumental that follows (“The Lake South”), both about two minute introductory pieces, would not nearly prepare me for the onslaught of the rest of the album, as I thought I might be getting some standard orchestral prog flare to this tale, so I sat back with my cocoa and prepared to soak it in. I was not ready for “City Escape.”

A rhythm section barrage starts off the proceedings as a guitar comes needling in, and then sets the rhythm, barely able to keep itself under a breakneck pace, clenching its fists as more harmony vocals come in, masking the assault of the chorus that is about to come. Casey Crescenzo screams the song’s refrain, both aggressive and verbose – “plagued by practical/and a mercenary lust/they tear at her skin” – while the bass rumbles and the drumsticks are finally let loose to wander as they please. The song the weaves back and forth, switching from piano, to electronic effects, to more choral vocals to slow the tempo down before unleashing the chorus once again, showing off an impressive arsenal of instruments for what is essentially a solo project. We even hear some animated trumpet lines in “The Pimp and the Priest”, which has a vague New Orleans feeling about it, with the brass, jaunty piano and shuffling 3/4 time.

As the story is detailed of the protagonist’s mother raising her son in a whorehouse, we move through a number of almost uniformly muscular six-minute songs. Each has its own little facets and tempo changes and a killer hook; out of the chaos of just about every song on here, comes a melodic phrase that’ll lodge itself in your head for days at a time. For me, Crescenzo’s voice was the initial stumbling block. Far from your classic prog singer, his voice has a timbre heard in a lot of punk bands, and “City Escape” had me worried that there was going to be a significant amount out and out screaming vocals on the album, which is one of the few things that will get me to turn an album off immediately. Luckily, he remains just on the edge of it the entire time, which I actually find gives the album a little excitement – he has incredible restraint, but gives the illusion of none.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure of the scope of the story just yet, for a few reasons: a) only half of the albums in the story cycle are out as of right now b) Acts II and III are Leviathans compared to the scant 40-minute running time of this album (I initially heard it described as an EP, which I goggled at, but made more sense once I saw the length of the other albums) and c) I can’t stop listening to this one. Top to bottom, there’s not a duff track here, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Always one of my go-to albums. Not that Casey Crescenzo is making it easy to pick one.

Since releasing the first three acts, The Dear Hunter has taken a break from the narrative and has produced both a standalone, non-concept studio album (Migrant), and a set of nine EPs based on the colour spectrum called The Color Spectrum, each EP carrying with it its own distinct style of music, but all thoroughly enjoyable. I’m eagerly anticipating his next release, but will be listening to this pretty constantly  until that arrives.

“Battesimo del Fuoco”:

“City Escape”:

“The Pimp and the Priest”:

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#11: The Flaming Lips – Clouds Taste Metallic

(Warner Bros., 1995)

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(Image from Wikipedia)

I’ve been a fan of The Flaming Lips for quite some time, but I had never gone very deep into their discography – mainly stuck to The Soft Bulletin/Yoshimi/At War With the Mystics (their critical success and immediately following). In anticipation of their upcoming album, The Terror, and having sampled their previous Embryonic (whose raucous sounds I attributed to going ‘back to their roots’), I thought I oughtta go back and check out some of their older albums and get a better feel for their earlier sound – I enjoy being able to ‘contextualize’ a sound/album within a band’s discography, and the more albums I hear of them, the better. Clouds Taste Metallic seemed to be viewed very favourably, so, I started there (I’ll admit it, I’m a cherry picker. Usually, when delving into a new band/new ‘era’ of a band, I will start with what appears to be the most-favoured rather than the first).

As I cued up the first track, “The Abandoned Hospital Ship”, I turned down the volume and put some distance between myself and the speakers, expecting an aural assault of high, piercing notes and feedback (these, after all, were the ‘early days’, before their commercial success and they were well-known as a noise-rock outfit). Much to my surprise, what I heard first was acoustic guitar, piano and Wayne Coyne’s searing, but gentle vocal. Even when the electric guitar enters the fray, it calmly echoes the vocal melody (though, soon after, its distorted cousin attempts the same thing and ends up being a funhouse mirror held up to the first). This album is not simply an aggregate of noise blasts stitched together but a display of excellent songwriting and musicianship throughout. The distortion is present much of the time, but never unseats the core of the songs happening.

Usually at that core is the unbelievable rhythm section of Michael Ivins (bass) and Steven Drozd (drums). Ivins plays in a wonderful flow, never boring, incorporating swells in his basslines like waves washing up and down the fretboard. Even in a straight one-note run, he manages to wobble it up with the occasional note to either side. Drozd, similarly, scarcely sits on a backbeat when he can be peppering in hi-hat or tom fills, and menacing everyones ‘phones with his distorted bass and snare, doling out rock-solid, rich rhythms without losing a drop of the beat.

That’s not say that all your hear is the sound of a four-piece band throughout the album. In addition to overdubbed guitars and the occasional swell of backing vocals from Coyne, sound effects are used on this album to great success. The sound of a filmstrip reeling runs over “The Abandoned Hospital Ship”;  “Psychic Explorations of the Fetus With Needles” begins with synthesized ‘nature sounds’; “Guy Who Got a Headache and Accidentally Saves the World” has a cheering crowd, shouting ‘yeah!’ throughout, as well as a narrator describing the ‘scene’; “They Punctured My Yolk” begins and ends with what sounds like police radio chatter. The sparing, subtle way it’s done gives the impression that the album takes place in a slightly larger world apart from one just inside a studio.

Just a fantastic collection of songs. Each seem to have a simple enough centre to it, but at the same time, each is richly textured between the interlocking performances and the additional clangs, beeps and squeals coming from every direction. Totally at home in the alternative rock scene of the mid-90s from which it was birthed, but distinct from it as well – there is much more of a psychedelic edge to the proceedings that most groups had at the time. There’s a little touch of whimsy mixed in with the noise – all is not lost.

9/10

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