Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Album Quest, Part 4

Welcome to the fourth installment of the Album Quest! This time around I've got a pretty big line-up because I've added some artists since starting this whole thing. I'll be covering three albums from Italian-wannabe-Russian melodic death metalists Dark Lunacy, the six albums by Göteborg (that's Gothenburg for us non-Swedish types) melodeath pioneers Dark Tranquillity that I'd never heard, the massive collaboration between ex-Talking Head David Byrne and Fatboy Slim featuring the same number of guest vocalists as tracks on the "album" (no less than 22), Death Cab for Cutie's three latest albums, and finally the two albums from The Decemberists I had never bothered listening to. Yeah, it's a lot of awesome music so I'll try not to say too much even though there is a lot to be said for each. Anyways, let's get down to it...

1. Dark Lunacy

a.) Devoid

From the first epic arrangements and carefully placed Eastern-European folk sounds, you get the feeling that these Italians wished they had been born elsewhere. If not, their music strongly suggests so. Considering the second song off this album is named "Stalingrad", I think I have a case. Anyways, this is epic folk-infused melodic death metal with amazing complex arrangements and masterful instrumentation. The only weak spot on Devoid are the vocals, which don't seem up to par with the awesomeness of the music. Thankfully, the creativity and originality in the overall music of the album makes this a solid album.

b.) The Diarist

This is, without doubt, Dark Lunacy's best album. Built on the same musical awesomeness as Devoid, the vocals have massively gained in quality, strength, and emotion, perfectly matching the music. The music is of the same high caliber as Devoid and in basically the same vein but with a slightly different sound - dare I say perhaps more polished. Whereas Devoid is still rough in its great arrangements, The Diarist is precise and smooth yet powerful and strong (like melodeath is supposed to be). Basically a must-have if unknown album for all those into melodic death or overall high quality metal in general. And the fact that it's a concept album with some great themes is also pretty cool.

c.) Forget Me Not

In Forget Me Not, we find traces of the brilliance that make up Devoid and The Diarist, but unfortunately, these traces are scattered all over the place. Forget Me Not feels too busy and disorganized, and although you can tell the musicians are awesome and there is much greatness to be had, it never shows through because the arrangements are just not good enough for the album to come together as a whole. It's a shame, really, but the album is still enjoyable, just not one that I would regularly return to listen to in full.

2. Dark Tranquillity

a.) Character

Alphabetical order apparently decided I start with the best in this case. Character is simply a sublime album - although chronologically it suffers the fate of being right after what I consider to be DT's finest piece of work, Damage Done. However, I will admit that's a prejudice and after listening to this album I would have to say the title of "DT's Best Album" is now up for grabs. Perhaps a few more listens of each are in order to determine the winner... In any case, Character is a combination of all the elements which had made DT's earlier albums good, solid, experimental melodic death albums. Like Damage Done, Character is an almost perfect balance between the harsh, the soft, the weird, and the epic. If you like Damage Done or any other DT album, you need, and I repeat NEED, to have a listen to this one.

b.) Fiction

Fiction was the follow-up to Character, and unfortunately it doesn't quite live up to the standards set (to be fair, neither did last year's We Are the Void). Although still great in its own right, Fiction doesn't achieve that balance, and instead delves a little more into the weird and clean. What DT achieved on this album is amazing, but it is not that perfect equilibrium attained in Damage Done and Character, and so Fiction suffers that fate of being the "not-quite-so-perfect follow-up effort to their best albums". Still, you should probably listen to it.

c.) The Gallery

This is a very interesting album, and I only really recommended to the highly musically curious/interested or true DT/melodeath fans. The sole reason is that The Gallery is not as appealing or sublime as the albums mentioned above. However, the creativity and quality of the pure melodic death metal produced on this album is beyond criticism. It's truly amazing - I especially enjoyed the tasteful use of the bass guitar, too often forgotten or under-appreciated in metal, and clean/acoustic guitar, again a sound much too rare in modern heavy music. And all of this is very understandable since DT was basically, along with In Flames, pioneering the melodic death metal genre, and this was their second album. They'd laid down the foundations of the genre and were now expanding on it, so they created what is really, along with In Flames' The Jester Race, a classic awesome melodic death metal album. It is not, however, the great Dark Tranquillity sound we have come to love.

d.) Haven

So with Dark Tranquillity, we have three kinds of albums - the classic, awesome melodic death metal ones (the early ones, basically; The Gallery and Skydancer), the weird experimental ones, and the awesome combination of the two that led to the "classic" DT sound. Well Haven is definitely the weirdest of their experimental albums; it's obvious they wanted to push the electronic influences as far as they could. Sometimes it works really well ("The Wonders at Your Feet") but mostly it's just not as good as DT's other forays into different sounds. Overall, this is (in my mind, at least) one of the weakest DT album I've ever heard, and only because they experiment a little too much without overwhelming success (experimentation is extremely hard, and DT have succeeded at it - Projector being an example, but not this time). That being said, it's still a great work of music, and very interesting to listen to (especially when you compare with DT's other work and see where it fits). Recommended if you're a hardcore DT fan.

e.) The Mind's I

Kind of like Haven, except this is more of an experiment in melodic death metal and less electronic. It feels like they tried to stretch the melodeath genre in a weird experimental way that didn't really succeed all that well. Again, that doesn't mean it's a bad album, it's just not amazing to the standard that we expect when encountering a Dark Tranquillity album. There are some tracks here that are sublime, and there rest are interestingly creative but not great. Again, recommended if you're a really big fan because it's interesting to listen to when you have prior DT knowledge.

f.) Skydancer/Of Chaos and Eternal Night

This is the reissue of Dark Tranquillity's first album Skydancer, combined with their later EP Of Chaos and Eternal Night. Now this is a truly interesting work of music, because the original Skydancer album has none other than Anders Frìden on vocals - yes, that Anders, the one who is now known all over the world as the lead singer of In Flames. Funnily enough, although I think Anders is one of, if not the, best vocalist I've ever heard, the vocals are not the best part of Skydancer. Perhaps it's because he hadn't yet found that "touch" that brings the magic to In Flames and culminated in the phenomenal work on Reroute to Remain, but in any case, the best part of Skydancer is the instrumentation. And it's seriously awesome. Imagine a band of young guys who are completely redefining a genre. It's brilliant. Of Chaos and Eternal Night, tagged on to the end in this reissue, keeps the awesomeness going, this time with early Mikael Stanne vocals that are also not quite what we expect of him but hey, they're all allowed to start out somewhere, aren't they?

3. David Byrne and Fatboy Slim

a.) Here Lies Love

I love massive concept albums by crazy/quirky/weird people with crazy/quirky/weird/epic/awesome music. Therefore I thoroughly enjoyed this collaboration by ex-Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and veteran electro producer Fatboy Slim (a.k.a. Norman Cook). First of all, the thing IS massive - 22 solid length tracks, 90 minutes of music. Coincidentally (or not), there are also 22 guest vocalists on the album, plus Byrne himself on two tracks - that adds breaks down to 21 female vocalists (including Tori Amos, Martha Wainwright, Cindi Lauper, Santigold, Sharon Jones, and Camille) and 2 male ones. Secondly, this has an kick-ass story. The album follows the life of the former First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, and the woman who raised her, Estrella Cumpas. I suggest you listen to the album to immerse yourself in the story, basically because I want you to listen to this awesome work. The music itself is a great blend of David Byrne's spotless musical arrangement and composing and Fatboy Slim's great electronic touch. So yeah, have a listen!

4. Death Cab for Cutie

a.) Narrow Stairs

This is Death Cab's latest album, and of the three I listened to, it's probably my favourite. This is awesome alternative rock with some cool experimental moments; really refreshing sounds and interesting arrangements that keep you hooked from start to finish. Musically, it's a lot of atmosphere building through arrangements, but also spotted with really great melodies and riffs so that you have something to catch on to and get stuck in your head (probably helps to sell the album to the general public, too... I don't know if they could get the 8-and-a-half minute epic "I Will Possess Your Heart" on radio but still). Strongly recommended if you like anything by Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys, Radiohead, The Strokes, or Red Hot Chili Peppers. Alternative rock, what.

b.) Plans

I'll say it right off the bat - this is my least favourite out of the three Death Cab albums I listened to. The songs are great ("Marching Bands of Manhattan", "Different Names for the Same Thing", "What Sarah Said" and "Brothers on a Hotel Bed" are highlights) but overall it's just a little too poppy and commercial for my taste. It feels like the songs were conceived to be catchy rather than be interesting, contrary to the awesome feeling you get from the material off Narrow Stairs. Still, a solid album that's worth checking out.

c.) Transatlanticism

After Narrow Stairs, this is my second favourite album of the three. More awesome arrangement atmospheres (although this album came before!) and more awesome melodies/riffs. The title track is simply sublime and yeah, there's not much more to say. Go have a listen.

The Decemberists

a.) Her Majesty

Hmm... this is actually a very hard album to judge. I might have to have a few more listens before I can really understand my reaction to it, but for now I'll call it interestingly really good. It's classic, indie Decemberists and really high-quality stuff, but for now it hasn't struck my as "Oh my, how fucking awesome". If you already like The Decemberists, you'll definitely want to listen to this though.

b.) Picaresque

This one, however, grabbed me by the epicness of the first track, "The Infanta", and never let me go. It is, simply said, fucking amazing. It's again, classic Decemberists sound but the songs/ballads are just so enthralling that you can never get your head out of this album. Even if you don't know The Decemberists, this is a great album to listen to.

And that's finally it for this time! I'll promise to make it shorter last time, but I hope you got something out of this one. The next update will feature... Deftones, Devin Townsend, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Disarmonia Mundi, and DJ Champion.

In other news, Chris and I are going to be playing live for the first time set up as a guitarist/singer, bass player, and MacBook running Ableton Live. We'll see how it goes and let you know!



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