Diabolical Masquerade – Death’s Design (2001)

Avantgarde Music ■ AV 55 LP

Released August 21, 2001

Produced by Blakkheim and Dan Swanö

Edited, Assembled and Mixed by Dan Swanö, Ryan Taylor, Sean C. Bates
Mastered by Peter In De Betou

Side One: Side Two:
Movements 1-9 Movements 10-20¹

It’s difficult to pinpoint the causes behind my original exposure to this release–it stemmed, no doubt, from a combination of my college friend who introduced me to the wider worlds of metal and the metal-based message board I spent a good deal of college hanging around. Dan Swanö’s endless appearances and projects (he has 293 credits on Discogs–more than Nicky Hopkins, for the moment!) surrounded his name with an aura of awe, and the release is just peculiar enough to catch my attention readily–in both sound and construction. 

As I’ve already noted,¹ the work is split into not just 20 movements but 61 individual parts that are pressed as separate tracks. You may also notice that this is listed as an “Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”, which it most definitely isn’t. There is no movie (Swedish or otherwise–there’s a making-of documentary for one of the Final Destination movies, but that’s it) with the title Death’s Design, and this isn’t really a soundtrack, though it does sound a bit like it could be. Then again, Easy Rider taught us that most any songs could be a soundtrack. But the construction and faux-soundtrack status aren’t everything: this is also a wildly eccentric, eclectic, and vaguely erratic disc. An Estonian string quartet (though five string players are credited, so something’s not right) is involved, as are both Blakkheim’s endless instruments and Swanö’s (particularly the keyboards).

Each of the tracks has a running time of 0:06-2:18, with the great majority occupying something in the realms of 0:30-0:80, and it turns on a dime at many of those changeovers, from atmospheric strings or synthetics to driving black metal. It would be a huge waste of both my time and yours to attempt to describe the thing, as we range from Blakkheim’s shrieking black metal aggression (as in the multi-part “The Hunt”) to Swanö’s clean and tuneful soaring voice (“Spinning Back the Clocks” in the 5th Movement), from the keyboard-drenched percussion of “Conscious in No Materia” in the 2nd Movement to humming strings and tension of “Revelation of the Puzzle” in the 3rd, to the etheral mystery of “The Remains of Galactic Expulsions” in the 4th. It’s a wild mix of anything and everything–not a foreign thought to black metal, which has used keyboard texturing and expanded sonic palettes throughout a lot of its existence (except when relegated to the intentional lo-fi of groups like the purist Darkthrone, though they eventually started using synthesizers and such, too).

Black metal is a curiosity in metal–as a genre, it will occasionally drift more toward early Darkthrone, or toward Immortal, but often even the biggest names will grow restless and experimental, like Emperor and Mayhem. Of course, it’s typically considered a Norwegian genre, in that it originated primarily with bands from that country, but sometimes it’s the outside iterations that feel the most freedom–Dissection managed to cram black and death metal into a single unified skin for a few excellent albums, and here Blakkheim (he of Katatonia and sometimes known by his real name, Anders Nyström) furthers that trend. In truth, you’d be hard-pressed to nail the album down to just “black metal”, as it would simply be wildly inaccurate, as it’s only that in places. Even the metallic, heavy, or aggressive parts often deviate from the sounds of black metal, whether it’s backing Swanö’s clean vocals or echoing familiar tunes in “Out from the Dark”, or chugging weirdly in “The Enemy Is the Earth”.

If nothing else, this is an album to hear just because, as it’s not like anything else you’re likely to hear–especially as it somehow maintains cohesion perfectly, through all 61 parts and innumerable genre shifts, recurring motifs, new sounds and styles. It’s actually an amusing game to play it and try to guess which part you’re on–you’ll lose track quickly, as the blends and changes are so nice and clean that it doesn’t sound at all even like the separate movements, let alone the 61 parts those are split into. And that’s a good thing, and an occasionally rare thing–tiny tracks are not unknown, nor is taping them together, and indeed rapid genre changes are also not news, but it’s rare for all of these things to be seen at once, rarer still for them all to work. Some metal bands (and some other bands, for that matter) will happily switch time signatures, but, in their excitement forget to make that change “work” for the song, and it blares out warning signs when it happens. Sometimes cobbling together a scattered set of small tracks doesn’t work (to be fair, sometimes it isn’t intended to become cohesive), or it seems like a cheap gimmick to force them in where they aren’t necessary, but, when broken down, this does feel legitimate on both counts.

I do have to note that this was a limited run of 1,000 pieces, and the doofus who solid it used to the store I bought it from apparently hung it on his or her wall, as there are pinholes in both of the top corners. Shameful! Still, it did come with the bizarre and inexplicable bonus picture disc LP I reviewed as my first entry here. I’m still not sure if that was known–even by the store. But, hey, it worked out. Mostly–both LPs  have some surface noise and light scratching. Probably better to remove two limited releases from such incautious hands!

¹The movements are split into 61 (!) separate tracks on CD, and indeed have their own grooves on the record. They are as follows:
Side One:

Side Two
 1st Movement

  1. Nerves in Rush
  2. Death Ascends – The Hunt (Part I)
  3. You Can’t Hide Forever
  4. Right on Time for Murder – The Hunt (Part II)
2nd Movement
  1. Conscious in No Materia
  2. A Different Plane
  3. Invisible to Us
  4. The One Who Hides a Face Inside
3rd Movement
  1. …And Don’t Ever Listen to What It Says
  2. Revelation of the Puzzle
  3. Human Prophecy
  4. Where the Suffering Leads
4th Movement
  1. The Remains of Galactic Expulsions
  2. With Panic in the Heart
  3. Out from the Dark
  4. Still Coming at You
  5. Out from a Deeper Dark
5th Movement

  1. Spinning Back the Clocks

    6th Movement
    1. Soaring Over Dead Rooms
    7th Movement
    1. The Enemy Is the Earth
    2. Recall
    3. All Exits Blocked
    4. The Memory Is Weak
    5. Struck at Random/Outermost Fear
    6. Sparks of Childhood Coming Back
    8th Movement
    1. Old People’s Voodoo Seance
    2. Mary-Lee Goes Crazy
    3. Something Has Arrived
    4. Possession of the Voodoo Party
    9th Movement
    1. Not of Flesh, Not of Blood
    2. Intact with a Human Psyche
    3. Keeping Faith
    10th Movement
    1. Someone Knows What Scares You
    2. A Bad Case of Nerves
    3. The Inverted Dream/No Sleep in Peace
    4. Information
    5. Setting the Course
    11th Movement
    1. Ghost Inhabitants
    2. Fleeing from Town
    3. Overlooked Parts
    12th Movement
    1. A New Spark – Victory Theme (Part I)
    2. Hope – Victory Theme (Part II)
    3. Family Portraits – Victory Theme (Part III)
    13th Movement
    1. Smokes [sic] Starts to Churn
    2. Hesitant Behaviour
    3. A Hurricane of Rotten Air
    14th Movement
    1. Mastering the Clock
    15th Movement
    1. They Come, You Go

    16th Movement 

    1. Haarad El Chamon
    2. The Egyptian Resort
    3. The Pyramid
    4. Frenzy Moods and Other Oddities
    17th Movement
    1. Still Part of the Design – The Hunt (Part III)
    2. Definite Departure
    18th Movement
    1. Returning to Haraad El Chamon
    2. Life Eater
    3. The Pulze
    4. The Defiled Feeds
    19th Movement
    1. The River in Space
    2. A Soulflight Back to Life
    20th Movement
    1. Instant Rebirth – Alternate Ending


    Depeche Mode – Some Great Reward (1984)

    Sire Records ■ 9 25194-1

    Released September 24, 1984

    Produced by Daniel Miller, Depeche Mode, and Gareth Jones
    Additional Engineering by Ben Ward, Stefi Marcus, Colin McMahon

    Side One: Side Two:
    1. Something to Do
    2. Lie to Me
    3. People Are People
    4. It Doesn’t Matter
    5. Stories of Old
    1. Somebody
    2. Master and Servant
    3. If You Want
    4. Blasphemous Rumours

    In high school, I was sent–as we could now do this–“Enjoy the Silence” in trade from someone I knew at the time (previously mentioned as responsible for the purchase of another album on my behalf), but, somewhat oddly, it had little resonance with me. This is odd, of course, because I’ve had a life-long love of synthesizers and 1980s musical styles–a sort of misaligned nostalgia, I guess you might say. It’s that much more odd when one considers how many covers of Mode songs are out there,¹ including plenty by bands I liked at the time. It gets that much more odd when one includes the fact of my rather bizarre–embarrassing, no doubt, if I were anyone but me–love of the Erasure song “Always”, established many years prior when I was all of ten or eleven years of age (I only bought I Say I Say I Say last year, despite spending every trip to a used record store in those days looking for it, simply because of that song).  If that means nothing to you: Depeche Mode’s original leader was Vince Clarke, who left after Speak and Spell to form, well, Erasure (okay, after a few other bands, but, still…)

    Covers would of course flit by–particularly Rammstein’s version of “Stripped” (which omitted the last four words of the chorus’s titular refrain) and A Perfect Circle’s nearly unrecognizable version of “People Are People”. Bands I’ve loved for years–Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral was one of the first albums I ever relentlessly pursued–would mention them as an influence, and the name continued to filter down, but I didn’t recall a single song I’d ever heard, beyond the rather glossed over single listen to “Enjoy the Silence” as I was directed to it–heck, might’ve been one of the 24+ versions of the song that the Mode have released over the years, and not the original album or single mixes.

    It was during one of my most adventurous musical phases that a fancy version of a DM album appeared in front of me and I decided to gamble on it all–1986’s Black Celebration, which was packaged with a short DVD documentary and DVD-A of both the album and a few associated tracks, most importantly including the rather unusual (for them) non-album single “Shake the Disease”. That was the song that finally clicked with me–and the album followed not far behind, and then so did the rest, and the remixes and b-sides, and all sorts of other madness, eventually leading to the more casual but deliberate purchase of Some Great Reward on vinyl, no more than a year and a half ago.

    “Something to Do” makes it immediately apparent that this was an electronically driven band–all synths, drum machines, keys–and one oriented, as often happens with that make up, on beat and “danceability”. I’m not a dancer–not even in the “go out to a club” sense, so it may only be theoretical, but it’s definitely at least that. Strange sounds actually precede the track proper: weird burblings that turn to a nervy, deep beat. Dave Gahan’s voice is a smoother sound over it, though it has the slightest cracks of desperate tension in it. Martin Gore’s backing vocals are rapid and even more openly cracking–the song focused on boredom with sexual undertones, but a big hint of quiet desperation of a kind (“I can’t stand another drink/It’s surprising this town/Doesn’t sink[…]Your pretty little dress is oil stained/From working too hard/For too little”). There is a peculiar bridge of flattened horn sounds that, if they had been untouched, would’ve seemed quite incongruous, yet the flattening of their sound works them in perfectly to the rather frenetic opener.

    The beginning of “Lie to Me” is a bit more refined, a mix of unusual sounds that form a melody and texture that is built on a distinct beat but works more toward the atmosphere than the beat. It’s a peculiar layering of airy hisses and repetitive keyboard lines. It’s typical Mode in many senses: vaguely dark, vaguely sexual, but reliably comfortable in themselves for this, while also avoiding any extreme movements in either direction to really push away those who would not be drawn to either (or both, especially in combination). Martin’s backing vocals are somewhat harmonized and lay in the song easily but without disappearing completely into the frame of it all. It’s largely his voice that drew me to the band via “Shake the Disease”. He has a very tremulous quaver in his rather high voice that just exudes a kind of sincere vulnerability, put to even greater effect as a lead on appropriate songs (one of which appears on this very album!).

    Almost guaranteed the most famous song on the album (though actually one of three singles released from it), “People Are People” is one of the first Depeche Mode songs I ever knew, though I knew it in a severely altered cover form, as mentioned previously. While Martin is credited with writing it, he’s been known to make clear his disinterest in it at this point–allegedly suggesting it was a bit too “on point” for him, and devoid of ambiguity. It’s a mess of peculiar, metallic sounds–many the kind that would later be identified by much of the public with “industrial music” (though typically this was a reference to early industrial metal, like Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine, rather than the more difficult and bizarre work of, say, Throbbing Gristle). Gahan’s vocal is frustrated and accusatory–appropriate in a song that’s based on what is indeed a very clear message: “People are people so why should it be/You and I should get along so awfully”. Gore’s voice, again, is the hook for my ears–be that odd or expected. His voice is, like many times it appears in their career, recorded in a fashion that gives it a few peculiar qualities; there’s a sort of closeness to his voice, and there’s a kind of clarity that is absent in Dave’s singing, though it’s not something that would fit with or make sense for his voice. It’s a deserving hit all the same, and may be a solid reference point for anyone who is a bit of a Depeche Mode neophyte (even moreso, that is, than  myself).

    Gore has not often been inclined to write terribly happy songs and has admitted this himself–and, in truth, “It Doesn’t Matter” is tinged with darker edges, but it’s largely hopeful, thoughtful, peaceful and happy. He sings the lead on it, in fact singing it alone. The music is heavy on electronic sounds–the sort of dancing electronic chimes that have been used with early CGI² to represent the relaxed atmosphere of brightly coloured aquatic life. It’s a bit like bubbling, which is why I think it was used that way–but there’s this sort of flat horn that honks its way in at the end of some of Martin’s lines and is like an elbow nudged at the ribs to grab your attention, point it toward something–though I’m not sure what exactly. It’s as if to imply the semi-broken nature of Martin’s happy thoughts: he is thankful for someone who is not quite there, thoughts he finds embarrassing. It’s a sweet song, which is intentionally “marred” by that noise, it seems, to toughen the mushiest bits, perhaps.

    In completely the opposite direction, we find “Stories of Old” and one of Dave’s most appealing vocals. Musically somewhat “mysterious” and sparse at open, it adds peculiar layers of keyboard, non-verbal backing vocals and synthetic horn stings. Gahan describes a positive desire, and the “stories of old” that describe abandoning the gains of single lives for love–and then immediately stamps out the idea of replicating them, suggesting neither he nor the person he sings to is or should be moving toward such a compromise. It’s most evident in the first lines, which reappear throughout, punctuated with the horn stings, and twisted into sharp and rhythmic endings by Dave’s own voice: “Take a look at unselected cases/You’ll find love has been–wrecked.”

    Interestingly, they couched Gore’s most romantically dismissive song between “It Doesn’t Matter” on the one side, and “Somebody” on the other–while both are twisted at their ends to admissions of embarrassment and self-critical eye-rolling at their very notions, their sincerity isn’t questioned even then. “Somebody” is the most acoustic of tracks–Gore sings alone to piano (which, I have to add, he apparently played naked in the studio for that extra touch of vulnerability). While the prior two tracks suggested a relationship that hasn’t blossomed (and might never), and one that was being stopped from doing so, this one is about an ideal relationship–an honest and open description of selfish desires, but manifested in a rather appealingly symbiotic and even relationship. That thing I mentioned before about Gore’s voice being vulnerable? It makes it perfect–while he wrote eight of the nine songs on the album, he clearly does not sing them all, and this helps to both clarify why he sings the ones he does and emphasize that differing vocal quality. There’s a clever addition (it’s apparently an unstated fact that most “clever additions” to Depeche Mode songs are the fault of Alan Wilder, until, of course, he left the band) in the form of sampled street noise that hovers around the track–I forget if they layered it in in the studio or recorded it “live”, but it places Gore in a real context as he sings, until it slowly transforms into an overpowering heartbeat instead: as if to say, he expressed these thoughts from the midst of the rest of humanity, but it’s an intensely personal set of thoughts–at least, that’s what I hear, in my strange little way.

    The second single from the album, “Master and Servant” is endearing and “cute” as a song can be when its subject matter is pretty explicitly BDSM (I suppose you might have guessed that from the title–else you likely have no idea what those letters are, I’ll guess). The strange vocals that open it sound as if they are sped up samples of vocal tracks that appear later in the song, but here alternate high and low: “It’s a lot/It’s a lot/It’s a lot/It’s a lot/It’s a lot…like life”. Faked whip sounds (apparently just Wilder hissing and spitting!) and metallic clangs bring the song into the same sonic arena as “Something to Do”, but with a darker edge–though a “darkness” and “edge” that remain thoroughly unthreatening. The boys sound very much as though they are somewhat new to the idea of dominance and submission, but manage to convey it reasonably well (he said, as a non-practitioner, but one who has known some), both avoiding any false sugar-coating and any fear-mongering. Gore even works in a lyric that associates it with the perversely (ahem) inverted dynamic of control through voluntary loss of control, and the contrast this has with the unavoidable submission of most lives to the demands of society (if not accurate, certainly a reasonable understanding of the appeal). I will say the single never made much sense to me–perhaps because it holds neither taboo nor personal appeal for me, or perhaps because the chorus has always struck me as just slightly awkward. Of course, the production work behind the track makes this something totally unimportant–just a strange choice for a single.

    The only song not credited to Gore, Wilder’s “If You Want” is crawling and odd, if only in the context of Gore’s songs. It’s still thoroughly accessible and appealing, but its usage of keys is strangely buzzing and hazy. It’s something like a mix of darkened, foggy moors and semi-campy (though serious) mysterious tones. It gains a beat shortly, and works it into that atmosphere, shedding a lot of the peculiarities and fitting more completely in with all of the previous songs more readily. It’s actually one of the few tracks that might place music ahead of lyrics and vocals–maybe that’s something to do with Wilder’s influence, as he is known to have been far more invested in the production angles of the group’s sound, and is given credit for much of what made them most popular in their heyday. Or, perhaps it was just a choice for the track!

    The last song on the album was also the third and final single for the album: “Blasphemous Rumours”. It’s significantly longer than any of the others (over six minutes) and runs through more serious changes–or at least a greater number of them–than any of the others. As it starts, the album version of the song is subdued keys and a light melody, enhanced by another “industrial” beat, then expanded with a synthetic bassline. Rolling metal clatter adds a splash of chaos. Gahan’s vocals are vaguely sardonic, speaking of a girl who attempts suicide, and the reactions of her mother when the attempt fails–if any of the other tracks on the album could be called dark, then this is pitch black. Of course, it’s black humour (or at least bitter cynicism), which the chorus makes clear: “I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours/But I think that God’s got a sick sense of humour/And when I die/I expect to find Him laughing…” It’s a strangely cheerful, catchy, poppy chorus, and it balances well with the darkness of the verses. If you don’t hear the words, it might sound an awful lot like a general 80s synthpop tune, perhaps one tacked onto closing credits of a movie from the same time frame. While lyrics are often not something that factors into my understanding of or appreciation of a song, it’s not an impossibility, and this is definitely an instance in which it does so quite readily–it’s clever, and it works very well.

    This was only Depeche Mode’s third album, the first being the one previously mentioned as being written largely by the now-absent Vince Clarke, and the follow up A Broken Frame being considered a bit of a stumble as the remaining members found their feet. Some Great Reward functions very much as a progression along the way toward future monsters like Violator or Music for the Masses, as it still has the relative limitations of the band’s early work, while Gore has gained leaps and bounds at songwriting, and the sound of the band has become established; in many ways, this is sort of like the “real” beginning of the band (a sentiment I think the band itself has expressed, in fact). Depending on your taste, this might be the first or last place to start–Gahan and Gore both have strong voices that don’t date the material overmuch, but the electronic instrumentation definitely gives it a clear time of origin, and it does take a good listen to get past that, if it is the kind of thing you find offputting–and, in truth, that’s exactly the attitude I intend to spread: avoid leaping too quickly from that first impression, particularly if something is recommended. Someone has seen something interesting there–it may be worth a bit of a dig to find.

    • Next Up: Diabolical Masquerade – Death’s Design

    ¹There are two hundred and sixty-eight established covers of “Enjoy the Silence” alone. Polish death metal band Vader covered “I Feel You”–yes, the band whose leader produced Decapitated’s Winds of Creation. The Cure has covered “World in My Eyes”, and just to be ridiculous, their own song “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” was covered by Deftones, who covered Depeche Mode’s “To Have and to Hold” on the same tribute album The Cure’s cover appeared on. Heck, that album also contains the Smashing Pumpkins’ cover of “Never Let Me Down Again” (which later appeared on a soundtrack alongside Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland’s cover of “But Not Tonight”). Tangerine Dream (!) covered “Precious”. Rammstein covered “Stripped” (which was remixed enough times it might be mistaken for an actual Mode track). Jimmy Somerville of Bronski Beat covered “But Not Tonight”. Swedish melodeath co-forefathers (alongside At the Gates and Dark Tranquility) covered “Everything Counts”. Converge (!!) covered “Clean”. Honestly, there’s a whole website databasing these covers.

    ²I’m not going to claim the mental images I have will–or even could–make sense to other people, but it’s the immediate impression I get.

    Deftones – Deftones (2003)

    Maverick ■ 48350-1

    Released May 20, 2003

    Produced by Terry Date and Deftones
    Engineered and Mixed by Terry Date
    Additional Engineering by Pete Roberts
    Mastered by Tom Baker

    Side One: Side Two:
    1. Hexagram
    2. Needles and Pins
    3. Minerva
    4. Good Morning Beautiful
    5. Deathblow
    6. When Girls Telephone Boys
    1. Battle-Axe
    2. Lucky You
    3. Bloody Cape
    4. Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event
    5. Moana

    If you had known me in high school (and at least a person or two who reads here on occasion did), you would find this band’s appearance none too surprising. I normally try not to date myself, as it influences opinions about my opinions, but it’s difficult to avoid here (as it has been on a few odd other occasions)–in 2000, Deftones’ White Pony was released, their prior hit, “My Own Summer” from 1997’s Around the Fur having taken them up on the crest of the “nü-metal” wave most typified by Limp Bizkit and Korn,¹ but, as with grunge and various other genres named for reasons of simplification (in the end, often rounding up disparate genres and slapping them under a single umbrella for marketing reasons, though there tends to be something shared), many bands didn’t share the overt stylistic leanings of the flag-bearers.

    I was never much of a fan of the other two bands, indeed, rarely listening to either, but I’d not yet been introduced to “real” metal, and the strange reflexive responses ingrained in me from my father’s distaste (Iron Maiden seemed like some distant, scary-like-a-horror-movie thing for many years, for instance) didn’t encourage changing that. So this was the genre that, as its popularity was at its height, managed to ensnare my aggressive leanings, musically. Many of the bands I listened to at the time will actually make appearances here–some surprisingly, some less so, but this is one of the ones I tend to get least nervous about. If anyone really and truly outgrew the (intentionally disparaging) moniker of “nü metal” (as opposed to both not doing so or becoming the example of “the good kind”), it is and was Deftones. Indeed, they’d left most of the sound behind on their second album (the aforementioned Around the Fur) after exorcising the great majority on 1995’s Adrenaline. Small wonder–the band actually started in 1988 (!), and never really injected rap into their style, certainly not in the fashion that was so common at the time.
    White Pony established them firmly as both popular and critics’ darlings for some time to come,² releasing them (almost) completely from the derogatory shadow of the genre that is still (occasionally) applied to them. While White Pony is typically considered the masterpiece of the group, and I know that, at 16 or 17 at least, I certainly couldn’t be found disagreeing. I ended up known in some contexts for playing that album nearly to death in those days, often without realizing it–apparently earning the expectation that any time I brought an album to play in a class where it was allowed that it would be that (I surprised someone with a different one one day, apparently).
    It’s been thought of by others as their greatest work for long enough now that this opinion is starting to become old hat–but this is starting to change, and become less a consensus as time goes on. Deftones, then, is the follow-up to that, no longer constrained by the expectations of a “genre” now in its effective death-throes (2002 or 2003 was a real decline in its visibility–or maybe I just imagined that as I’d started to leap off in every musical direction at the time!). Maybe, though, it was that I was now in college and had access to both record stores in walking distance and even nice, sealed new vinyl like this very album, which the sticker on the front implies I picked up the year of its release from one of the stores in the town I went to college in.
    The album opens with what would be the release’s second single, “Hexagram”, which dances with a rather sunny set of guitars over a similarly bright low end introduction, which pounds downward after only a few bars as Abe Cunnigham’s drums smash in with Chino Moreno’s scream–“Paint the streets in white!” but there’s still an interesting edge to the music: as thumping and powerful as it has become, it’s still using that sunny riff as its primary focus, but the chorus changes that: “Worship! Play, play…” Chino sings, almost mockingly, Stephen Carpenter’s guitar and Chi Cheng’s bass hammering out staccato, halting riffs that rock and roil but stop suddenly, eventually coming back out to an open spread that re-introduces the verse’s sound. Chino works the verses up at the first and third lines to extended, periodically “catching” screams, and exhausted second and fourth ones. It’s fascinating that it hits on the down-tuned aggression of their early days and the sounds they became associated with, yet marries them to the curious sounds of Carpenter’s interesting opening riff. There’s a bridge where an electronically-affected vocal from Moreno is followed only by a lone guitar, but it all swings back to “the same sound”…
    “Needles and Pins” does not relent in terms of energy, but the sound is almost more spare, Cunningham’s ever-interesting drum style would be skittering if it weren’t too deep and low to be called that. Carpenter’s guitar seems to be stuck in a locked groove, circling around and around as if it was only a sample (not an impossibility with the talents of Frank Delgado–but he had moved to keys instead of turntables). Moreno lodges himself in his airiest mode for much of the song, pushing his voice down for the verses, half-bored, half-sarcastic, until he reaches out with it: “I’m here, if that’s what you want”–launching into the chorus, a second voice barking out accompanying answers to the empowered version of Chino’s bored vocals, which he takes to their point of dry, rasping breaking point to yell out the finish of the chorus. The song centers on that strangely alluring rhythmic guitar and metronomic but “stumbling” drum beat, which seems as though it should relent at the song’s end, but instead seems to keep cycling and repeating in the way it feels as though it would demand against expectations.
    The first single from the album, “Minerva” struck me in my then-semi-nascent post rock phase: the guitars are walled up and enormous, an absolute tidal wave against Abe’s steady, deliberate beat, Chino’s voice all curves and rounded edges, Carpenter’s guitar occasionally drifting out in anticipation of the crashing waves. Of course, now I’ve read many more comparisons that suggest, instead, the influence of shoegaze like My Bloody Valentine, and the idea makes sense, in that it sounds like that same heavily layered, shimmering guitar sound Kevin Shields fancies, but I stand by the post rock (think mid-period Mogwai, if that’s something you’re able to think) association, as the weight of the tune is beyond the appealing float of MBV’s preferences, which don’t at all attempt such heaviness. It’s a clear declaration of sound for the group–not an encapsulation of the album and those that would follow it, but a flag in the sand, a firm watershed that clarified that, even when they looked backward, it would be from at least this vantage point. The vaguely discomforted solo guitar (not guitar solo) of Carpenter slowly takes the song outward, and drifts off ambiguously.
    One of my favourite tracks on the album, “Good Morning Beautiful” hammers itself off with a riff and drumbeat that continue the heft of the Deftones’ sound but keep that shiny edge most recently heard in the opener, “Hexagram”, giving an oddly “friendly” tone to “Good Morning” that carries on through much of the track. The way Chino sings the verses is an emphatic example of why I like his vocals so much: “One of these days, you’ll break me of many things/Some cold white day, but you’re crazy if you think I would leave you this way…” an opening he uses to turn the song to not only the chorus–his vocals now more pleading and insistent, less cooled, but the throbbing guitars and drums that mark it–stripped of the high, friendly edge, but not intimidating, or aggressive. Abe throws in some wonderful fills when the verse returns, as Delgado’s keys add a peculiar skittering edge to the top of the track. The bridge manages to, interestingly, bridge the two vocal stylings Chino uses, the cooled verse and the nervous, semi-harried chorus, and works its way into a final set of choruses that is ended with a sustained version of that friendly riff, shiny and distorting into the distance.
    The first side of the album is largely focused on, if not aggression, at least uptempo and forward-moving numbers–perhaps “loud” would be a good word. But “Deathblow” seems to mark an end to this trend: an isolated and somewhat somber low-end guitar lick (low enough–the low tunings are the only retained element of “nü-metal”) that nudges at the sound of “Change (in the House of Flies)”, one of the biggest singles from White Pony, but with a more deflated, resigned atmosphere–not the ominous nature of that first song, but one that is exemplified by the sudden blare of the chorus: “And the ropes hang to keep us all awake I should have known…” But the verse returns, with its low energy, and the peculiar sounds dropped in from Delgado–whines and skipping reverberations. If there’s a “mean” to the album, it’s a combination of the sounds of perhaps “Minerva” at the higher end and “Deathblow” at the morose and low one. The way it sort of fades and dissipates at the end is as if it is slowly vibrating all of its sections out of sync, leaving finally Delgado’s electronic manipulations as the only echo past Cheng’s bass.
    “When Girls Telephone Boys” might seem to be a cap on the aggressive and louder end of the record, but it’s only a cap on the first side. A rather difficult to hear or understand sample of a woman’s voice that becomes clear enough to easily understand “It’s hella sensitive” sends the song charging headfirst into your ears (perhaps a deliberate trick with the obscure sample, while also being somewhat “meta” in its reference to being “sensitive”). It’s almost like being dropped into a song already progress, but it’s stopped short with the chugging, punctuated chorus, Chino’s scraggly screams over the song violent in sound and intention, trawling the depths of anger to convey an overt aggression that the rest of the band makes most clear in the thudding stripes of sound that define the musical backing of the chorus. It eventually squalls outward into a strange bridge of squawks from Delgado, the lovely deep, pounding drums of Cunningham and only eventually the returned descending chords of Carpenter’s guitar and Cheng’s bass. The song never relents–it just turns to cycling repetition of Chino’s cries of “And I hope we never do meet again!” and that riffing chorus that just fades off and away…
    You might think from the title that “Battle-Axe” would be a continuation of the aggression of “When Girls Telephone Boys”, but it starts with an open-ended guitar lick that quavers its way into Abe’s thumping entrance, carrying the rest of the band on able shoulders. Though now buried, that opening lick continues to define the song, before it becomes the verse’s sound just a few bars before Chino enters: focused on a bend, the riff is, like that of “Needles and Pins”, tight and restrained for the verses, open again as the chorus enters, which also smooths out Moreno’s voice, but when his words change from descriptive (“Still you love to think you have always been this way…”) to definitive (“…But you’re wrong”), the straps tighten again and the band scrunches back down into that tight bending riff.
    While many an album is front-loaded, Deftones is interesting because some of its best and most interesting tracks are those that end the album. This string begins with “Lucky You”, a heavily electronic track co-written and dominated by DJ Crook from Moreno side project Team Sleep. An all electronic beat, filled with unusual sounds and strange, warped scratching and “wubs” (for lack of a better term) backs Chino’s voice rather ominously, unease-inducing backing from guest vocalist Rey Osburn whisper out “If you feel lucky…if you feel…loved…” as Chino’s voice climbs up the chorus: “You’ve crossed the walls/Excelled/Further along through their hell…” The song is strange in its usage of multiple vocalists (not a foreign thing to the band to that point, nor since), like a strange sound collage in some ways that works more toward atmosphere than distinct tune, building on the rather uncomfortable but pleasing feeling implied by the curious beat.
    While some have called “Hexagram” or other tracks the best example of it, the way that “Bloody Cape”‘s free-floating guitar introduction suddenly turns downward into a punishingly heavy riff that is even further emphasized by the upward saw of the end of its axe-blow entrance makes this, so far as I’m concerned, the most wonderfully heavy song in the Deftones’ catalogue, even if it is not as consistently so as some others. There’s an easiness and a lightness to both the music and Chino’s voice as we enter the verse, but the jagged, focused stabs of guitar in the chorus strike their way right through it, snarling with Moreno’s cries of “First we are, ever to fall off of the Earth/We must be the first ones in the world to fall off of the earth…” but it’s that second appearance of the chorus and the way the riff suddenly gets even nastier, Abe’s drums now less flowing and more concretely rhythmic, guitars and bass stabbing violently through the track, bereft of tune, and eventually matched by the rasping screams of Chino: “God help, God help…” that suddenly end the tune.
    Seemingly an agreement with my own notions, Deftones follow “Bloody Cape” with the contemplative and piano-based (!) “Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event”, as if to relax everyone following the bloodied thunder of the preceding track. Percussion is all cymbals, tambourine, with bits of plodding bass-snare here and there to draw the essential frame. But it’s the grand piano and accompanying toy piano that define the track–but for the lovely washes of splash cymbal crescendo. “But not since you left have the waves come…” Chino sings forlornly, though the track is more bittersweet than outright sad. Perhaps it’s that toy piano, or maybe just the key they play in, maybe even the peculiar sounds inserted around it all, like the lightest fuzz in the background–I’m really not sure. I’ve listened to the song possibly more than any other on the record, as it fits the bill for the relaxed, semi-sad sound I often find appealing for much sitting and listening. It’s a beautiful track, thoroughly unexpected, but shot through with enough touches (particularly Moreno’s distinct voice, to be fair) to keep it uniquely Deftones.
    The anticipatory riff that opens “Moana” is brooding and suggestive of something to come, but Chi’s deep, resonant, and simple bassline is even more ominous, as Abe stalls it all with a single “ting”, letting the group pause before launching into a song whose closest relative would be “Minerva”, not aggressive but huge, Chino’s voice soaring but tuneful, climactic and scene-establishing: “As she walks onstage…”. The chorus is a flurry of fills from Abe between the nailings of a deep riff, like streaks through water–possibly with the impression that they are the trails of bullets. Chino’s voice is here used to its most peculiar effect: close and chilled, despite the energy of the music, yet the only appropriate match to it. Letting the last riff hang, only to drag it back in with a pick slid up the coils of a guitar string was only right as the way to end the track and the album
    While many are now finding 2006’s Saturday Night Wrist an apex moment for Deftones as a band, there’s a certain immediacy and experimental nature in Deftones that marks it as a unique stopping point along the progression of their sound. It has the hallmarks of it: atmospheric, alt-rock-cum-post-metal guitars, sharp, clear and interesting drums, deep, bassy sounds and the inexplicably not incongruous moans of Chino’s incredibly appealing voice. Yet, it also has curiosities: “Bloody Cape”‘s riff is couched as it is to sound all the more cutting, while “Anniversary” is an almost complete anomaly, yet neither of them feels out of place next to each other, nor in the album as a whole–it’s a moment that, in reflection, only seems strangely varied, even as it progresses quite naturally through a variety of moods and sounds, tinged as they are with some sun, despite the feelings of some.
    It’s not the iconic “must have” record in the sense of their place in the canon of music, nor of my own personal experience, or even any re-evaluated notions of apex in exclusively their own work, but it remains a record I’m very pleased to listen to, and enjoy having available in this format. Listening to it is nostalgic in ways music–oddly, I suppose–rarely is for me: it’s a feeling of summers and pasts and moments that could at least feel free of responsibility.
    One Love for Chi.
    Rest in Peace.
    • Next Up: Depeche Mode – Some Great Reward

    ¹Am I supposed to capitalize the “R”? I really don’t know.

    ²In large part, on into the modern day–I like to imagine the whole “Actually, they aren’t nü-metal…” intro has finally been retired–but my intention here is to be readable for anyone, so a little background is helpful, I like to think, so I included it.

    Dear Lions – Dear Lions (2011)

    Arctic Rodeo Recordings ■ ARR 033

    Released May 25, 2011

    Produced by Joe Philips, Adam Rubinstein & Dear Lions
    Engineered by Mickey Alexander
    Mixed by Daniel Mendez
    Mastered by Ed Brooks / RFI

    Side One: Side Two:
    1. Katherine
    2. Space Sister
    1. For the Kill
    2. Darling
    3. Gun

    Not long after I picked up the Burning Airlines reissues of Identikit and Mission: Control!, I unsurprisingly found myself on the rather calmly scheduled electronic newsletter for the label responsible for those: Arctic Rodeo Recordings. Early this year, they sent those of us on it notice of a sale on some of the last remaining copies of some of their releases, in bundled and discounted form. I didn’t know most of the artists in question–maybe not any, actually. Still, the bundles were attractive, and I had been thoroughly impressed with how ARR did the two releases I owned, so it seemed worthwhile. Eventually, I was left with a massive order from Germany sitting in my arms, straight from my regular mail carrier. While it was largely composed of 12″s, it also contained a handful of 7″s, and one 10″: this record.

    It was actually pressed in two different colours, mixed yellow and white and mixed blue and white. Each had a contrasting cover (yellow with blue or blue with yellow, as seen above), but I discovered on opening that the cover is actually similar to a number of 7″ packages: a single folded sheet with blue on one side and yellow on the other, held together by the clear sleeve it’s sitting in. It’s a clever idea, and appeals to my sensibility with the option to make it match if I want to (but I like colours, so I kept the contrast). But you can see the white and yellow mix makes for a rather lovely pastel yellow. But I know we’re not that interested in the colours (are we?).¹

    I know and knew little about most of the bands I ordered records from, but had faith in what I’d seen so far, and rolled the dice. I did take a brief glimpse at the groups via a “sampler” I assembled from the tracks ARR includes on their website and was quite pleased with everything I hear. I’ve been cautious about doing much listening to the records, attempting to preserve the unique experience of listening to the records–I’ve relented a few times, but most of them are still going to be new to me as I listen to them. The closest Dear Lions could come to familiarity for me is the fact that their logo for the album was designed by Patrick Carrie, who was in the band Limbeck². Otherwise? Completely new to me.³

    While that old adage about judging and covers is very true, we also all do it at least a bit–if nothing else, to decide whether it looks worth listening to or reading (or whatever it may be for a particular item). The graphic design is attractive, but it doesn’t tell you much–and it didn’t tell me much either. And, as a weird wrinkle, I semi-deliberately decided not to pay attention to which artist was responsible for the sampled tracks I listened to–just burnt them to CD and played them in the car. I couldn’t have told you which song it was on the record, let alone what it sounded like.

    As it turns out, I really like Dear Lions–and by the time the song I’d sampled came in, I was met with a shimmer of recognition that flowered into a very warm and pleasant familiarity (and a sense of relief–while I’m known to be very open to sounds, that doesn’t mean I like all of them, and the desire to force myself to like things is unpleasant). 

    The EP starts off very sparse, a single acoustic guitar, picked slowly and deliberately, arcing up and down somewhat somberly, Ricky Lewis singing in a comparable tone as “Katherine” establishes itself. It shifts to chords and adds keys nearly halfway through, but retains its pace until Lewis sings, somewhat unexpectedly, “So sentimental…/Oh no/Katherine, don’t come back,”–not because it doesn’t fit with the lyrics up to this point, but because a particular name in a song is not often met with something that is firmly negative without being flat out disparaging or angry. The sentiment is not unheard of, it’s just unusual in how it’s presented, the way that some people feel when Sam Beam swears in an Iron & Wine song–“Katherine” has a mournful edge to it, so you don’t really expect that. And when that line turns the song into a more upbeat stomp, adding bassist James Preston and drummer Charlie Walker, it seems even that much more peculiar, the part of your brain processing the lyrics alongside the sounds wondering what in the world is happening, while the side that just appreciates enjoyable sounds sees no reason to question or complain. The open, splayed, reverberating chords of desolate western cliché add yet another tinge to this sensibility, while Lewis’s voice takes on the timbre it rides for the rest of the EP–a cross between indie rock affectation and semi-camped croon, enunciated unusually clearly and extremely appealing. The hesitant, shimmering open end punctuates the established unusual sound, confirming any further expectations should not be held except in comparison to the entirety of the opening track.

    “Space Sister” is the one track readily available for purchase from their bandcamp site (as opposed to the free EP) and it’s quite justified as a choice to ask for money for: Preston’s throbbing bassline and Walker’s precise drumming are the backing to the tightly clutched sound of muted and controlled guitar chords. A single verse and the second guitar turns to a distant, wobbling echo, Lewis’s voice fulfilling the promise of the tangle of croon we heard in “Katherine,” the vector of his voice holding that crooning sound but shedding the kind of campiness that comes from bands that oh-so-consiously mimic the sound, instead seeming like a natural expression of his voice. It’s an incredibly pleasant voice married to a jangling guitar free of restraint and a bassline that builds the song’s actual progressions into itself, subtle but apparent.

    Preston is dominant at the open of “For the Kill”, but the bright and open chords that spread across the track from an electric seep into that dominance, the open and steady acoustic chugging along as skeleton in the background. Lewis’s voice is still in that Andrew Bird-esque range, but really shines on the chorus, the electric guitar (be it Lewis’s own or, more likely, that of Adam Rubenstein) curling in on itself from the previously open chords, but Lewis’s voice expansive, oddly screwing itself back down to drive home the song’s title at the end: “Coming through every night like a bat out of hell/Watching the city explode from the window sill/Swears like a sailor and drunk as she goes for the kill.” Indeed, this was the song that I’d heard first, though I only caught onto this at the chorus, which had always been extremely catchy, mostly thanks to Lewis’s voice.

    There’s an unpretentious streak in the sound of “Darling” that swirls into Lewis’s singing style and renders it a peculiar amalgamation of classic or familiar and modern or unusual–or perhaps all of them. The pacing and tone are again strange for the most apparent of lines: “And I’m sorry that you’re so torn up/Can I say I’ve been having some fun?/You only love my depression/It’s a wonder how I found the sun/Don’t try to tell me that you want me back/I have finally surrendered/Singing blues while your heart turned black/Don’t tell me that you want me back.” There’s an audible snarl in many of the lines, even as the “escape” that inspires it is hardly a joyful occasion. There’s a country tinge hiding somewhere in hear–lyrically, perhaps, but also sonically. The song feels like a fresh-sounding version of an established one, interestingly, and it works quite well for that.

    “Gun” takes the sounds of all the previous songs and blends them into a cautiously forward-leaning track, Walker’s drums restrained but working in the full range of that restraint–the other instruments shrugging and accepting their comparative bondage. Lewis’s voice is still open and clear, but less emphatic than on the previous tracks–it’s almost like a knowing closer, yet unsure if it is or could be that, not yet decided whether to build to climax or act as the much slower, lower waves washing back out. Electric guitars begin to strike out jagged chords in preparation for crescendo–and the song suddenly fades.

    Each time I listen to this EP, I’m struck by how good it sounds. There’s no movement toward particularly exotic choices or ideas, yet everything still manages a newness and clarity that prevents the sense of ho-hum. The little quirks and individualistic elements of the group shine through but don’t overpower the songs, which are striking for both their comfortable impression and their single-eyebrow-raising lyrics–not quite gasps of “Wait, did he just sing–?” so much as “Hold on…” and momentary pondering upon what was just heard–no need to go back and confirm, just to re-evaluate what has been heard to this point in a slightly different light.

    So far, then–Arctic Rodeo Recordings is not letting me down at all in what they’ve signed to release–small wonder, I suppose, for a small label to have a lot more control and overall unity to their taste.

    • Next Up: Deftones – Deftones (the self-titled “two-fer” is purely by chance!)

    ¹Apparently this came up when my father nudged some of his online compatriots out this way, but I’m actually aware of the sonic problems of lots of coloured and (especially) picture disc vinyl. However, as I’ve addressed elsewhere, vinyl is often plagued with issues anyway, and only has subjective superiority, not technical superiority. The appreciation (for me) stems from the “ritual”, from the appeal, the physicality–it’s not about the sound in the first place. Again, I’m not playing on a high end stereo or a high end turntable. The pretty vinyl just adds to all of this.

    ²I know them from their tour with Reubens Accomplice, Piebald, Steel Train and The Format, all but one of which will appear here later, actually–all as a result of that show.

    ³Ed Brooks has mastered some great records, of course, but considering he is part of the Seattle-based RFI and acted as part of that studio, there’s less of an implied personal association. And the breadth of RFI’s mastering is absurd anyway–mentioning R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People and Botch’s We Are the Romans should make that clear. If it doesn’t, make sure to sample some tracks from each and you will see what I mean.

    Deep Purple – Deep Purple in Rock (1970)

    Warner Bros. Records ■ WS 1877

    Released June, 1970

    Produced by Deep Purple

    Engineered by Andy Knight, Martin Birch, Philip McDonald

    Side One: Side Two:
    1. Speed King
    2. Bloodsucker
    3. Child in Time
    1. Flight of the Rat
    2. Into the Fire
    3. Living Wreck
    4. Hard Lovin’ Man

    Ah, Deep Purple “Mk. II”.

    Why, out of all the bands that have gone through such monumental lineup changes (Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, etc) they are the only ones that seem to have become firmly labeled with “version” numbers is beyond me. Perhaps it’s because the lineup change has such a drastic overall effect on songwriters–we can say “Barrett-era Floyd”¹ and “Peter Green” and “Bob Welch” and so on, to notate the controlling voice’s change. I don’t know–anything would be just a guess, and it’s likely just an indicator of the varying mentalities of fans that Deep Purple’s chose that approach.

    Still, “Mark II” has its place highest in the echelons of music, particularly for being so thoroughly entrenched in hard rock when it was rapidly morphing into heavy metal (though most of the albums at the time given that have largely sloughed off that title as it has gained higher and higher minimums of power/volume/aggression/speed/etc over the years). Indeed, if the average person can assign anything to the name “Deep Purple”, it is probably “Smoke on the Water”, their monstrous hit from two albums (and years) farther on, Machine Head. Now, of course, “Highway Star” has gained a measure of fame from its inclusion in Rock Band, so there might be that further connection, but it, too, comes from ’72’s Machine Head anyway.

    While I grew up with “Smoke on the Water” as I did with many a classic rock song, it regained strength when I came into my love of Frank Zappa, and the story of the burning casino studio in it. About four or five years ago, I happened upon the 25th anniversary edition of Fireball, the album between this one and Machine Head. The packaging, the tracklisting–it seemed intriguing, and I went ahead and got it. I quickly fell for that album and it’s peculiarities (particularly the romping and somewhat odd “Anyone’s Daughter”, which hasn’t really got an analogous partner on the other two albums, nor the non-album singles), then let myself begin to spiral outward from it and into the other albums from this particular line up of Deep Purple.

    Both of the other “Mk. II” albums were indeed released in expanded formats, with Deep Purple in Rock and Machine Head bookending the set with the fewest and greatest number of bonus tracks (Machine Head has an entire alternate mix on a whole separate disc). In my inescapable desire to partition albums under schemata entirely of my own invention but apparently quite convincing (to me, at least), there’s a progression that I think of in many bands–a spark of novelty in the first album that establishes a sound clearly and gains a lot of appreciation as a result, a second album that seems to take that sound and throw out any and all boundaries, and then a third that refines everything learned in the first two²–and that tends to, as a result, often determine and define my preferences (I usually like the second album most). Deep Purple ends up no exception to this–Fireball remains my favourite, and I tend to prefer In Rock after that, and Machine Head last, despite the obvious appeal. It’s not defiance, it just seems to work out that way.

    Either everyone agrees with me on Fireball or no one does, as I see it least of all on vinyl, though I admit I don’t look too intently. I picked up this rather beat up copy of In Rock on a trip to a used store I frequented less than most others two or three years back, simply because I was in the depths of my affections for Deep Purple at the time. It has a kind of charm for a record like this to look like this–it’s not an ultra rare disc, so it’s nice to see one that was loved for a good few decades, not treated as a hermetically sealed idol so much as a well-loved piece of momentary joy for someone.

    And that’s really how Deep Purple works–not that they can’t be placed on any pedestals, but it’s music that demands enjoyment from listening, as it is built heavily on grooves, whether we’re talking about Gillan’s vocals, Blackmore’s riffing, Lord’s vamping, Glover’s basslines, or Paicey’s flood of fills and feel-based drumming. I have a number of records that have that cute instruction: “To be played LOUD” (eg The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars), but Deep Purple in Rock I just kind of instinctively turn up–I do worry a bit about the neighbors, but it feels like the kind of thing that your neighbors would either nod sagely at the playing of, or shrug and admit that it at least makes sense to be playing it loud.

    While “Anyone’s Daughter” has no equivalents floating about (from the band in question, I mean), the smaller hit “Highway Star” is hinted at when Deep Purple in Rock opens: “Speed King” is another boastful self-descriptive blast of groove and power. I should mention this is the U.S. issue of the album, wherein the introductory flurry of distortion and wild guitar flailing from Blackmore as well as the first snippet of Lord’s organ introduction is omitted (about a minute and a half). That is a shame, let’s be honest–but the real joy of “Speed King” is the riff that just leaps out of the gate, grounded by Glover’s deep bass, and backed by Paicey’s blasting drums. Gillan immediately makes clear the meaning of the witty description of the song in the gatefold (“Just a few roots, replanted”) as his words reference early Little Richard hits. But it’s all filtered through the riff-based power of a band that would come to define hard rock in many of the best ways. The forward movement of the song is what is most allusive if one knows “Highway Star” already–Ian Paice’s drums are fantastically thoughtful without any sacrifice of power and movement, something that is not as apparent in the later song. Lord and Blackmore³ have a brief interlude where they trade subdued and gentle licks, but it’s returned to the relentless pace of the opening, uninterested in anything more than a pause for anything else.

    “Bloodsucker” eases the pace a bit, but pumps the “groove” quotient up to compensate. Glover’s bass rides under a tangled lick from Blackmore, but controls the sound, giving the bottom end the motor of the snaking movement of the song. Paice is happy to largely just keep the beat this time, though he continues to do so with great flair. Lord gets to turn the burners back to a simmering feeling, drawing out the emanations of the groove to a stretched, low-slung rest. But he’s not left to just this, as he gets a higher end solo that is turned in for another of the same from Blackmore–neither is overly long, even as they trade back and forth, each just a few bars to show off and flutter at the song’s melody and feel. Gillan’s voice is defined primarily by the stomping shuffle of Paice’s drums, but when he lets loose on that shrieking “Oh, no no no!” (not to be confused with the song “No No No” from Fireball, of course), he really makes his, ahem, voice heard and gives the song his own little inscription.

    I suppose it’s not terribly surprising to me that “Child in Time” is the most appealing part of the album amongst the folks I know–either I know people who have no interest in Deep Purple, or I know people who like them whose taste is more readily ascribed to progressive rock bands, at least of the Pink Floyd variety, if not the more nerdy King Crimson set (this should not be taken as insulting–when we get to “K”, we’ll actually have a poll for Crimson, as I own enough). “Child in Time” is something like the amalgamation of hard rock, jam band, and progressive rock: it’s a ten minute epic song, filled with noodling, vamping, and slow, deliberate movement toward intended ends. With the heated coals of the beginning–gentle, sparse ride from Paice, majestic organs that cross the solemnity of church organs with the ominous nature of horror movie kinds–Gillan naturally chooses a lower voice to keep the song in the proper place, Glover and Blackmore largely just following Lord’s lower-pitched left hand. The mood Lord has established for us is borne out in the words Gillan sings: “Sweet child in time you’ll see the line/The line that’s drawn between good and bad/See the blind man shooting at the world/Bullets flying taking toll”. Gillan’s voice increases in power and pitch at the third line, but drops back low again after that, only to climb to an extreme with the next: “If you’ve been bad oh, Lord I bet you have/And you’ve not been it, oh, by flying lead/You’d better close your eyes/Oh! Bow your head…” and then from that extremely passionate warning turns to the shrugging, “If only you’d listened sort of tone,” as he sings “Wait for the ricochet…” His voice is gentle, singing only “Oooh-ooh-ooh…” repeatedly now, as Glover begins to push the band upward with a huge swathe of low end cutting through the track, Gillan’s “oohs” traded for “aahs” (writing really can’t do this justice, you know), which gradually expand and grow with the rest of the track, to shrieking, impassioned, wordless expression–before Paice turns the track martial with emphatic drumming, alongside Lord’s rhythmic pounding of keys. Blackmore slinks in his best solo on the album, soulful and wildly appropriate, as the entire song suddenly takes on a lolloping gait, charging forward instrumentally on the blazing fingers of Blackmore, his lead part like sparks from the flames now risen from those opening coals, the song burning faster, brighter, higher, harder, louder, sharper until it climaxes with a lead from Lord instead, which stops short, and returns to the slow roasting opening instead at just the right moment, but leaves Lord still playing a lead part.
    Amazingly, the words I typed above are the only ones Gillan really sings in the song, and he begins to repeat them here, sounding like a revelation–like new lyrics, despite the fact that they are nothing of the kind. The song climbs and climbs as before, until it collapses into a chaos of distortion and sound, a final destruction that emphatically and appropriately punctuates the song and the side.

    Side two returns us to the sounds that opened the album, though “Flight of the Rat” is a bit more at ease than the energetic “Speed King” or the groove-laden “Bloodsucker”. Maybe that’s appropriate–the title does imply a different kind of travel (be it air-travel or escape). Everyone’s a bit more relaxed, oddly, as if this is a palate cleanser following the beauty of “Child in Time”–it’s a more “fun” track, as much of the second side is.  It’s another long track (around eight minutes), but it’s more of a steady one than the rollercoaster of its predecessor, and its introspective lyrics are the opposite numbers-wise–they take up more of the left side of the gatefold than any other song, though this largely reflects the brevity of the lines. The interlude for instrumental show from Lord and then Blackmore (which eventually stops for a pretty great wah-wah “breakdown”) only furthers the feeling that this track is sheer enjoyment in a can, so to speak.

    “Into the Fire” is probably the album’s heaviest track, in that more indefinable sense: Blackmore and Glover are crushing with their strings, and chug along with immense weight. Paicey pounds out a thumping rhythm with some semi-Moon-esque fills that give it a great flavour, while Gillan ups the feeling of a relative of “Bloodsucker”, as his words are dragged along in the wake of the song’s rhythm, until that pause at the end of each stanza where he let’s loose: “Into the FI-IRE!” he yells, not the shriek of “Child in Time” or “Bloodsucker,” but a more throat-scorching bellow that seems to belch up flames of its own, throwing smoke and ash into its sound. Just foot-stomping beauty, here.

    Lyrically, “Living Wreck” is beyond odd; its witty description relates it back to groupies, while the lyrics themselves imply a groupie fallen all to pieces (“You took off your hair/You pulled out your teeth/Oh, I almost died of fright…”). So far as I’m concerned, it’s best to look past them (or take a bit of humour from them, at best). Blackmore’s riffing, particularly following Gillan’s first stanza, part muted, and hanging out firmly in the mids, is engaging and dirty in the best sense that guitars can be. The bassy bridge (a mix of Glover and Lord at the low end of his keys) booms and shakes the track under a meandering, casual lead from Blackmore, an unusual sound for him on the album, especially with its pinched, thin, mid-range tone that gives a crustier feel to the track on the whole.

    The album closes with “Hard Lovin’ Man”, which gives Glover an unusual (but brief) spotlight at open, to slide back and forth on a line that defines the arc of Paicey and Blackmore’s charging feel for the song. A burnt, crispy drone of semi-distorted keys (yep!) emanates from Lord’s fingers, and turns that chugging gallop into something different, banding itself around the other three instruments. It turns into a peculiar, semi-off lead from Lord, that, as per usual, turns instead to a lead from Blackmore, who turns in a typically sparkling performance, one that seems to rustle and shake within a carefully controlled, limited space to keep it tied closely to the song as a whole. The whole thing collapses into absolute chaos, defined by the stereo-panned howls and squalls of distortion from Blackmore.

    I have a longstanding affection for the hard rock vein of classic rock, particularly the kind that didn’t explode so completely as to define itself as itself, instead of a component of the whole (I’m looking at you, Page/Plant/Jones/Bonham!) and lose track of where it fit within the grand scheme of rock music–indeed, I have a hunger for the kind of sounds that seem to have fallen out of the 1970s approach to hard rock, lacking in pretension, dripping with fist-pumping kinds of energy and the histrionics and groove that made it so appealing in the first place, so much so that I once wrote about my favourite modern instances, and you can hear some strains of it in the last band I wrote about, Davenport Cabinet.

    Deep Purple in Rock (and, to be fair, Fireball) really sate that craving quite well–In Rock perhaps managing it more thoroughly, if not as well, thanks to the “pure rock” approach to the album as a whole. It’s always interesting to gather the different thoughts about bands like this–today, a coworker actually mentioned the band purely by chance, he of an age to know them more as former “contemporaries”, and was semi-surprised to find I’d just been listening to the band. Friends into classic rock don’t bring them up much, but tend to respect them, and my father has one of his “strange” opinions when it comes to them–his preference is for the Rod Evans era, and albums like The Book of Taliesyn, though I suppose this isn’t too great a surprise considering he and I have always differed on the “harder” and “heavier” elements of rock music (we’ll have more fun with this contrast with later artists, I think!).

    I think In Rock serves as a good place for anyone to go who has an attitude like mine: I don’t like being coloured by (ie, magnetically drawn to) a familiar single like a gravitational pull–the desire to hear the familiar is strong in almost all of us (if not, discounting extreme willfulness, all of us period), and it makes it hard, sometimes, to get a feel for an artist or an album when there is that point of inevitable attraction in a work. In Rock does have “Child in Time”, but this is both an extremely long track and also only the kind of track you’re likely to be familiar with when crossed fingers at the “progressive” nature’s chances of appealing to highbrow sensibilities encouraged someone to pass it on as “proof” of Deep Purple’s quality. Yeah, I’m kind of cynical–I’m wary of a lot of communities surrounding that word, and the occasional recursive interest in “proving” the value of things.

    I think Deep Purple stand pretty well on their own, without the need to prove they aren’t “dumb rock”, nor to prove that anything that is (or could be) is not inherently valueless.

    As a final note, though, I hate typing the title of the album. Is it In Rock? Is it Deep Purple in Rock? Obviously, the cover is a sort of pun and requires the whole phrase, but does that mean it was a play wherein the title was attached to the artist to make it work, or the original intention? No, this doesn’t really matter, but these things tend to stick with me anyway.

    ¹”Barrett-era”–doesn’t that just sound nice, as a phrase?

    ²This idea has been applied (quite subjectively) to numerous artists over the years. Mostly by me, and no one else. I keep it because I like how it fits together in my brain.

    ³If you don’t know this–yes, seriously, those are the members’ names. I know it sounds like some kind of fantasy heroes. I’ll admit, too, it’s less fun to refer to them as “Jon” and “Ritchie” respectively.

    Davenport Cabinet – Our Machine (2013)

    Evil Ink Records ■ 

    Released January 15, 2013

    Produced by Travis Stever and Mike Major

    Mixed and Mastered by Mike Major

    Side One: Side Two:
    1. Night Climb (Intro)
    2. Deterioration Road
    3. Simple Worlds
    4. Sister Servant
    5. These Bodies
    6. Our Machine
    1. Black Dirt Burden
    2. Drown It All
    3. New Savior
    4. Dancing on Remains
    5. At Sea
    6. Father

    NOTE: There are two obvious points here I could gloss over, or choose to address, and I’ve decided on the latter. First: It has been quite a while. I’m working two jobs now, so in the interest of not just rushing through listening, writing, or both, I’ve been simply letting things slide, and instead working out a schedule that works for the jobs and for my own sanity. I apologize all the same–I’m obviously not even close to succeeding at my original goal of “a record a day,” which has effectively become impossible without becoming Robert Christgau in writing style. And Christgau is often too acerbic for my tastes anyway.

    Second: This is also why I’ve chosen to omit the “day numbering” in the title of the entry. I should hope it was not exactly something people looked forward to (at least, as compared to actual content), so I also hope it will not be missed too severely.

    I’ll admit that part of the reason I ended up delaying at first was that I’d originally hoped to work this album in to its “logical” place, though that has long since passed. I knew it was coming, but could not nail it down in all senses, and I knew quickly it could not arrive in an alphabetically correct place (indeed, we’ve already seen three records that come after it in the alphabet). It’s such a good record though, and I wanted to give it a spot here. Of course, I say that and did not, at the time, have it on vinyl–heck, it wasn’t available on vinyl–as it was only announced then to be coming.

    I did finally snag it at a live show, pre-signed (I guess whatever you can do to cut down on dealing with a whole audience seeking signatures!) and was very pleased to do so. I’ve actually listened to both my digital copy (purchased on its release day) and the record numerous times since it was released a few months back, enough to be both pleasantly and overwhelmingly surprised by how much I like it. Davenport Cabinet (named for the “spirit cabinet” of the Davenport Brothers magicians show a good century and some change ago) has only released one other album (Nostalgia in Stereo) and a split 7″ prior to this, both released multiple years ago.

    Nostalgia is an interesting album for me–I picked it up a few years ago, listened to it a few times and let it sit on the shelf. I came back to it thinking I should give it another chance because it hadn’t made much of an impression, but realized as soon as I started listening again that I didn’t need to give it a chance and it had made an impression that had somehow slipped away. This made me pretty excited when Our Machine was announced, though I found myself feeling “not bad” was the assigned judgment of the title track, which came out with the now popular “lyric video” approach to single releases.

    The album, however, was immediate, and framed even that track into such a place that it gained leaps and bounds. As I mentioned–I really wanted this record to be something I got to talk about here, as it deserves it and is likely to, comparatively at least, slip between the cracks for various reasons I’ll get into.

    The feeling of Davenport Cabinet’s first album was almost perfectly described by its own title: it was nostalgic, and it was so with relation to stereos (a bit of a play on words perhaps–it’s playing in stereo or on one, it is nostalgia, it comes from nostalgia, and relates to music and nostalgia for it–not so much ambiguous as multi-faceted in meaning). It’s not much different from how you could describe the second album as well–now Travis Stever has involved his cousin Tyler Klose in not just performing but writing, turning it from a solo project to a duo, though of course others are involved in various performance aspects as well.

    “Night Climb” is an interesting intro, as it strikes up the mood of the album, or its source, at least: on the heels of crickets and comfortable evening sounds, very natural hand percussion is matched to guitars and lightly phasing electronics, while wordless vocals cover territory you might call “haunting”, if it weren’t all so familiar and friendly.

    I am left a bit with the notion that perhaps “Deterioration Road” might have better served as an introductory song for folks–but that may be indicative of my peculiar tastes, rather than any kind of reality. It uses an isolated guitar lead to strike a chord that takes the whole album and plops it right in front of you and gently places itself around your ears to hold your focus. Rory Hohenberger’s drums, Stever’s bass, and the clean, guitars of Klose and Stever together give it the feeling of a track that has fallen from the radio out of a past decade–and I mean that in the best way possible. It feels familiar, laid back but infused with a kind of energy despite that. I first heard Travis sing in the voice of Richard Manuel, when I heard him covering “I Shall Be Released”. He’s shakily confident, or confidently shaky–or something else that I can’t quite find the words for. Perhaps the tenor might be better described as “fragility”, as there’s no wobble or warble to it, it’s just carried at a pitch that it just seems like it oughtn’t be able to sustain–not a falsetto, just the probable high end of his range. Distorted guitars weave their way into it, but don’t overpower, instead feeling like natural, “classic” sort of guitars. The chorus makes it a more full-sounding song, that seems as though it should be a “classic rock” mainstay we’ve simply missed for some time. Maybe it’s a style from Jimmy Schultz, who contributed the distorted lead that really hammers this home, I’m not sure.

    “Simple Worlds” is quite possibly my favourite track on the album, with an acoustic intro that has a snaky lead shot through it. More the feel of a few guys on a porch blazing through a song they put together quietly and privately, with beautiful harmonies on the chorus–but then guest vocalist Laura Tsaggaris appears, and it’s more like a whole group of friends performing together, practiced and expert despite their humble choices. A cappella repetition of the chorus after her verse highlights the careful construction of those harmonies and the wonderful sounds of them. The lead slips back in, Travis’s voice layered in a second time to run through a few of the song’s other lines (including the brilliantly constructed opening ones, which appear in variation throughout: “I’m at a loss for words/But I can see you’re innocent”, the rhythm of it so perfect as to tickle me each time I hear it. It’s a “simple” song, though one shouldn’t be mistaken–it has the sound of a quality and expert recording, and there are clearly tricks only a studio could manage (in particular, the vocals–unless we’ve got a second Travis Stever hiding somewhere, a fact which would certainly not cause me to weep).

    Interestingly, Stever takes on the drums for “Sister Servant”, even as he continues on bass duty. It’s a more uniquely modern song, despite the firmly planted notion that this is a relic of decades past in feeling–the guitars that open are rhythmic despite their melody, short, blunted points that don’t blur into each other, even as the bass remains slinky and fluid. Stever’s drumming is deliberately jolting, almost tripping over itself in an interesting rhythm that seems to imply he was caught off guard and is racing to catch up. It’s an interesting contrast to those cool (in all senses) guitars, and particularly the chorus’s sudden introduction of slightly effect-ed guitars that hit a warm note that is beyond appealing. The final third of the song highlights the generally lower pitch Travis employs through much of the song, which is turned into a beautiful repetition and a final a cappella rendition that is left to hang for only a moment.

    “These Bodies” is perhaps the closest to the songs that appeared on Nostalgia in Stereo, holding its focus on neither electrics nor acoustics, and layering a variety of sounds and effects, with turns in style more familiar and comfortable, highlighting that nostalgic association of Davenport’s music. When the chorus hits and the song gains some weight to its movements, it stays in that same kind of territory–like a band that was caught between the popularity of the elitists and the populous, and then lost to time as a result, neither overtly cerebral and esoteric nor light and vapid: carefully constructed and thoughtful, but accessible and clear. The electric lead in the song is blistering, but makes no big waves about itself, even as it begins a fretboard dance through the chorus. Klose is allowed to close the song with a quiet keyboard outro that repeats the melody in a very appealing way.

    I think all it took was coming out of a song like “These Bodies” to really put “Our Machine” in the proper place–an acoustic twist into chords that follows the notable electrics of a keyboard, light whine of electronics behind it–it makes a kind of emergent sense here, a gently manifested song, not as big and bold as the prior songs, even when the chorus first comes in and Travis and Tyler’s voices begin to blend. When Travis’s drums come in, it still doesn’t make a big noise and attempt to draw attention to itself, it’s just an easy ride, those clean and lightly jangling acoustic sounds keeping it grounded, but grassy and breezy, not clumsy and stiff. Finger-picked moments (I could swear that’s a banjo) emphasize this sense of field-mounted playing to the sky, even as it speaks to another human. It makes for an excellent closer to the first side of the record, or a good, lightened sound intermission in the course of the album for a straight run, even calming to its end without any huge bursts of unnecessary crescendo.

    While he retains his intermittent drum duties (for the last time on the album, though), Stever passes the bass to Tom Farkas on “Black Dirt Burden”–I seem to recall in an interview he said the song just felt like it needed someone else’s touch on it. It starts with a subdued but suggestive beat, implying an energy not yet present, and kept low to the ground by the introduction of a banjo (this time for sure!), but then a sort of beam of talkbox appears and spreads itself across the track, and it’s kicked into gear by a soaring talkbox lead and electric riffing, which all wash out like a wave’s aftermath to leave only aftershocks of their explosion in the moments following. Travis’s voice is at its most powerful and emphatic–that chorus, bolstered by the electric guitars behind it–amazing. “Raise the curtain/They all run for their lives you stand your ground/Black dirt burden…” it’s not a boast, or any other kind of over-confident, false sound–it’s an utterly appropriate burst of energy, passion and sound, and it’s effective in all the best ways. When it slowly falls back to the ground the second time, it leaves space for an electric lead that introduces quieted vocals and occasionally reappears. When they end, the talkbox returns to for more histrionics, of the kind of showing off that is less hollow display and more the kind that leaves an engaged audience cheering–and it brings us back to that bloody amazing chorus, which could not work with a voice unlike Travis’s, which feels like it’s pushing at all of its edges, defining the highest, smoothest arc of its range possible.

    Coming out of that, it’s probably best Klose and Stever went with the more relaxed down-the-road ramble of “Drown It All”, as the clean and acoustic guitars, the harmonized vocals and the light but mobile drumming of Hohenberger keep things far more gentle than the heights of the prior song. As a song, it focuses heavily on the harmonies of our two vocalists, leads sliding, clear, and clean over the top, and guitars below flecking the flavour of the song out here and there for the best appeal, unintrusively experimenting with movements around the neck. We’re back to the porch and three guys jamming with expertise and care, recorded expertly and clearly, but without any fireworks or unnecessary frills.

    Opening with a bass line seems to suggest differing grounds for “New Savior”, and the entrance of guitar both encourages and discourages that; it’s not an out of character moment for the band, but it’s definitely a shift in style away from “Drown It All” or even “Black Dirt Burden”, the honed edge of staccato distortion not used for aggressive or loud purposes, but effected as a kind of stuttering brake, or maybe even a faltering attempt to push forward–it would seem like the kind of thing that might exaggerate the sound or energy of the song. Instead, it’s like an inverted image of an EQ “Bar chart”, as if it is flat at the top and all the variation is on the underside, keeping it from getting too loud, while remaining varied and interesting. It becomes a swirl of vocal harmonies, though, and the guitar is let loose to experience both ends of its range for a moment of ominous questioning–“Who’s that starless¹ in my fortress?” It’s a darker edge to the song, but it’s immediately freed, oddly, by a flurry of distorted lead guitar sparks, though it can’t escape the gravity of that question or the lumbering sound that backs it, as it returns to it again to end the song.

    The introductory guitars on “Dancing on Remains” are achingly beautiful, fluid and sharpened on this point. It’s not laid back like “Drown It All” or “Our Machine”, it’s more like a solo moment of introspection. Of course, Klose is accompanying Travis on keys, and the chorus brings more voices in beyond Travis’s solitary descriptions in verses. The fuzzy layer of electronics droning in the background is like another pull at the gut like the guitars, though in a different way, as if holding each part of your gut–or your heart, perhaps–in suspension so that the lyrics, the feel and the atmosphere can all reach you directly, and avoid your being in the wrong place to hear it, keeping a balanced frame to aim the final, complete intent, which includes the few solitary lines from guest vocalist Pete Stahl’s voice. The semi-a cappella moment at the end (over ringing bass line and that droning electronic) is one of the moments that is haunting, instead of seeming like a strange, comfortable aural relative.

    “At Sea” manages an interesting amalgamation of the free acoustic instrumentation and the more aggressive or loud distorted guitars, even as it shambles along through a swing and rhythm that strongly imply the title’s accuracy. There’s a tugging guitar sound to the chorus, pulling in one direction, until a shouting chorus that comes out to crashing waves of emphasis and up-front emotion. It’s an odd thought, but it almost feels like Travis standing with Tyler at the prow of a ship, shaking a fist at angered waves, defiantly expressing these thoughts and feelings at a foe that has neither interest nor concern for them, but an unexpected malicious desire for harm all the same. It’s not unknowing, of course–it feels as if these things are being expressed for himself despite that absence of chance at defeat, instead being defiance that manifests an internal confidence and need to establish self. A wash of waves and drums slowly fades out of the song and carries not so lovely implications for this interpretation–but doesn’t seem sad for that, interestingly.

    Functioning as a kind of outro, “Father” is an instrumental track, with Rory now supplying an acoustic guitar instead of drums (which appear to be electronically supplied). It’s an interesting marriage of acoustics and electronics, with a searing and wonderfully warm lead striking across it, slowing the rhythmic propulsion of the track’s beat and squalling electronic accompaniments. At the end, there’s a release of the harsher noises, and reverberating electric guitars, instead, let things float off easily.

    It was difficult to manage this properly.

    Travis Stever, as you may or may not know or have realized, is actually the guitarist for Coheed and Cambria. He released Nostalgia in Stereo around the time of their first “Neverender” tour, where they played each of their albums in succession over four nights at a handful of venues. This was five years ago, and was the last time we readily heard from his solo voice–indeed, it was video from that very tour that was the introduction I referred to. During an encore, Travis sang “I Shall Be Released” ahead of the rest of the band, and it was an eye-opening moment. Who in the world would expect a Band cover from Coheed? Somewhat cynically, I also wondered how many would recognize it–perhaps unfair, but certainly not too odd a thought, considering the chasm of difference in sound, style, and time period. But it really set the stage for the Davenport records, which do clearly echo earlier sounds than he employs even for his own parts in Coheed and Cambria.

    Of course, I didn’t hide this out of shame (naturally)–I did so because it might colour expectations, and do so quite unfairly. Because Claudio Sanchez is largely responsible for at least the overarching direction of Coheed, and has received solo writing credit on at least most of the last two albums, there’s a real lack of surprise to find that Travis’s personal sound is very different from the band he is most known for. I cringe inwardly at this, largely because I think it’s somewhat criminal that Davenport is not as immediately accepted–even if this is, to be honest, mostly a result of the natural human tendency to identify bands by voices. Particularly the less musically intense people of the world tend to do this, but I think almost all of us does in some respects unless we are devoted enough to an instrument to hear it first (or, of course, listen to largely instrumental music). There is a character to those instruments the rest of us aren’t listening as intently to, of course, and you can hear Travis’s character in his Coheed parts, but because they are blended so much more there, it’s harder to discern directly–easier to go back after hearing these and nod sagely.

    I can’t fault people–I have my own great affections for Claudio’s side project, too (The Prize Fighter Inferno), but I think Davenport’s lack of obvious connection (ie, vocals) makes it less immediately familiar and thus less immediately accessible to some fans. And then, in reverse, the strange attitudes toward Coheed and Cambria would discourage many who would appreciate this record from thinking it might ever be appropriate for them. I think that’s the brilliant thing about this album, though–it could (and should) stand outside that association, but it’s hard to escape it. Every interview I read, Travis is quite gracious and thankful when the questions inevitably turn at least to “How is this band different for you?”

    It’s a different beast, as I’ve said, from even the first ‘Cabinet record, and this is further emphasized in whatever format you purchase it in–I bought the digital release January 15th, and then eagerly snapped up the vinyl when I last saw Coheed a few weeks ago. Both versions contain digital bonus tracks–“Sleep Paralysis”, “14 Years-Master”, “Buried or Burned”, and “First Dive” digitally; “Cheshire Cat Moon”, “Letters to Self” and “Weight of Dreams” are included on the vinyl download card–and they aren’t roughs, demos, or songs that deserved to be omitted. The album is a lean and mean 42 minutes as is, and I think it does well at that length, but losing “Sleep Paralysis”, “Buried or Burned”, the stomping “First Dive”, the driving acoustics of “Cheshire Cat Moon”, the somewhat 80s inflections of “Letters to Self” and the gentle throb of “Weight of Dreams” would be a shame.

    Go and sample some of the record, maybe Our Machine’s video, or the quiet performance of Travis and Tyler alone at “Deterioration Road”, that shows off their voices and harmonies.

    ¹I’m notoriously terrible at hearing lyrics correctly, which often informs my greater emphasis on appeal in their rhythm, sound, and construction, which I know at least a few writers actually start from anyway (“Scrambled Eggs”, anyone?). It’s entirely possible, as a result, that I have that first phrase entirely wrong or partially wrong. I’ll blame it, at least somewhat, on Shiner’s album Starless, which I acquired only recently. But I hate anyone confidently asserting or spreading incorrect lyrics, so here’s my caveat. Still, they rhythm as well as the fact of the questioning nature of the lyric (I know I have the last part right, though it changes a bit each time–eg, “this fortress”) feels important.