The Dear Hunter Maintains its Record of Excellence with “Act IV”

Fire engulfs a mounted ring, and the crowd roars with excitement. The ringleader cracks a whip, cutting through the air like a gunshot. His lion roars and primes itself; its tail sweeps gently to and fro as its eyes narrow. Then it happens. The beast leaps through the flames with triumphant swagger, spinning circles as it lands. Fireworks burst through the air, and men on unicycles ride across tightropes in the sky. Every member of the audience explodes with applause. This is the level of bombast Casey Crescenzo achieves with The Dear Hunter. Since 2006, Crescenzo has been crafting one of music’s most ambitious projects – a six-part story of loss, love and redemption told over the course of six albums. If that sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. What’s also ridiculous is just how consistently good this project has been. Defying all the odds, Crescenzo’s magnum opus has gone swimmingly so far. Infectious hooks, orchestral excursions and progressive songwriting all coalesce into an unmistakable sound that’s garnered a cult status among underground music fans. Good news, then, because Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise keeps The Dear Hunter’s tradition of excellence alive and well.

Much of Act IV’s success comes from Crescenzo’s self-awareness; he seems to know himself as an artist inside and out at this point in his career. He knows he’s at his best when he goes for broke, and “The OId Haunt” is as good an example as any. Rollicking bass and tumultuous guitar leads snake beneath a solid percussive backbone before erupting into an explosive, roaring chorus. It’s a moment of exhilaration and triumph for Crescenzo, who’s fully bought into his own capacity as storyteller. Moments like these work to sell the narrative and drive it home. It’s obvious that the band has bought into this story, but standout performances like these will buy the audience in, too.  As good as that track is, I’d be remiss not to bring up “Waves,” one of the year’s finest songs. Here, Crescenzo plays to another side of The Dear Hunter’s persona: emotional resonance. Swelling strings, crashing drums and female vocal accompaniment come together into a wrecking ball of emotional force. When Crescenzo’s final lament of “but I can’t see the lighthouse” bursts through the speakers it’s a gut punch of Mayweather proportions – one that will stay with you long after the record’s stopped spinning. This isn’t the only track on Act IV to evoke a potent reaction; it just happens to be the most effective of the lot.

Despite these standouts, it’s hard to shake the thought that many listeners will grow fatigued before the album’s end. This isn’t an issue of quality, but of energy. Cresecenzo’s larger-than-life personality and sharp narrative focus may demand too much investment from casual listeners, but honestly, this album was never for them. You won’t unearth the record’s subtleties on your first listen, and you certainly won’t realize how deep its hooks have sunk until later still. Tracks like the narrative-heavy “Bitter Suite IV and V” and the nine minute “A Night on The Town” aren’t easy listening – you will expend energy to get these songs. This might sound like a hazard sign, but don’t let it deter you; the effort required here is worth it. Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise is a fantastic, ambitious record if you allow it time to spread its wings. This may not be the easiest rock album of the year, but it’s certainly earned its place as one of the most impressive.

8.7/10

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Artist Spotlight: Failure

Nineteen years is a long time to build up a fan base. Failure was a cult band back in the day, and they’re a cult band now. Though often credited as kings of the 90’s rock movement, they’ve never received the limelight like their peers. It’s a shame, too, because Failure’s second and third records stand heads and shoulders above the competition. “Magnified” proved the band could rock with heavy champions Soundgarden and Alice in Chains while “Fantastic Planet” proved they could be just as elusive as Pearl Jam’s weirder excursions (and leagues more successful to boot).

“The Heart is a Monster” finds the band picking up right where 1996’s “Fantastic Planet” left off with “Segue 4,’ a nod to the band’s in-album continuity. Lead single “Hot Traveler” kicks the album into high gear with sinister, snaking grooves and a lyrical menace straight out of the grunge era. High octane doesn’t do it justice. Of course, I’d be remiss to neglect “Counterfeit Sky,” one of the band’s best songs to date. Part alternative prog rock, part spaced-out ballad, it’s the perfect snapshot of a band rising from the ashes. This isn’t just a worn-out throwback to a time when rock reclaimed its backbone – its the sound of veterans waking up from a decades-long slumber and setting fire to expectations and amplifiers.

You can find more information regarding the artist via the band’s official website.

Faith No More Stream “Sol Invictus”

Faith No More is streaming its new album “Sol Invictus” via NPR’s First Listen. The album marks the band’s first set of new studio material since 1996’s “Album of the Year.”

Late last year, the band released its first song from the new album, the quirky, profane “Motherfucker.” Later, the band teamed up with Marvel entertainment to release its second single, “Superhero.”

Currently, the band is set to take its tour to Europe where it will play a number of dates before heading back to the United States in July, hitting Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Philadelphia and more.

The new album hits shelves May 19 in both digital and physical formats. More information regarding the band can be found via its official website.

10 Years Address Two Audiences on the Conflicted “From Birth to Burial”

One of the most respectable aspects of alternative veterans 10 Years is their refusal to release the same album twice. It would’ve been easy to ride the success of 2005’s excellent “The Autumn Effect” for years to come, but Jesse Hasek and company opted for the rougher road. Rather than give in to expectations, the band denied them with “Division” and utterly ignored them on “Feeding the Wolves.” It wasn’t until the band’s 2012 effort “Minus the Machine” that 10 Years decided to tap back into the atmospheric art rock vibes of their seminal recording, if only in sporadic bursts. Enter 2015, and here we have an album bearing that iconic hummingbird – skeletal and reflected over the eerie image of a child locked in utero. Sure, this is a blatant throwback, but it’s one that’s likely to ease fans into yet another sonic shift for the band. Sadly, this newest iteration of 10 Years seems split – much like the mirror image reflection of their logo — into two distinct halves: one embracing the band’s penchant for ethereal vibrancy and the other drowning in the ugliest recess of alternative metal banality.

For the positives, 10 Years still knows how to play 10 Years. Album closer “Moisture Residue” makes this abundantly clear, running through a slew of plaintive piano chords and sighing strings beneath Hasek’s trademarked croon. It’s enthralling when Hasek’s voice pierces through the thickening soundscape and singlehandedly underscores why he’s the group’s greatest asset. It’s as deflating of a closer as one could hope to ask for, playing out like a bleak epiphany in slow motion. “Vertigo” is yet another winner for 10 Years, channeling the band’s signature stylistics into a mid-tempo rocker replete with a soaring chorus and downtrodden, uncomfortable verses. Here, the band fires on all cylinders to deliver one of its finest songs in years; it’s concise, engaging, and meanwhile manages to retool the band’s established sound into a new, edgier angle. “From Birth to Burial” is at its best when it reinvigorates established concepts with a murkier slant. It does this often, but not often enough to save the record from numerous wasted minutes.

Problems begin to surface when the band deviates from its own blueprint. Rather than opt into a total consolidation of its strengths, roughly half of “From Birth to Burial” plays into the least engaging aspects of the alternative metal scene. Tracks such as the feverish “Triggers and Tripwires” totally eschew any hint of the band’s personality in favor of mundane exercises in musical weightlifting. Riffs abound, but the band’s muscle seems far more atrophied than in their less metallic recordings. Rare exceptions snap the listener back to attention, such as the simplistic, energetic crunch of lead single “Miscellanea” and the rollicking head-smasher of the title track. For the most part, however, the least engaging moments on “From Birth to Burial” come from its loudest. It’s a shame, really, because these surges of muddy force come far more frequently than on previous albums.

Unfortunately, the album’s cover says a lot more about the state of the band than they probably realize. That split image reflection of the hummingbird, the band’s logo, shows two distinct entities – two bands. With “From Birth to Burial,” 10 Years and 10 Years are playing to two separate, contradictory audiences. Half of the album winds through darkened permutations of the band’s atmospheric tendencies while the other half fights for the adoration of head-bobbing alternative addicts stuck in the mire of nu-metal. It’s unclear whether or not 10 Years will consolidate itself, but one thing is certain: 10 Years will always stay 10 Years, for better or worse.

6/10

Artist Spotlight: Built to Spill

If someone had told me that Built to Spill would release one of their best albums in 2015, I would’ve laughed it off. Sure, the band has been competent lately, but none of their recent releases have come close to the heights of 1997’s “Perfect From Now On” or 1999’s “Keep It Like a Secret.” 2009’s “There is No Enemy” was a solid, but relatively uninteresting entry into the band’s canon — and still a better record than the two that preceded it. But, here we are in the last days of April with “Untethered Moon,” a stunning revival if there ever was one.

The band’s latest album finds them roaring back to life, louder and leaner. Album opener “All Our Songs” carries a distinct garage vibe as it rolls onwards, guitars set to blaze against the minimalist production. It’s a clear statement of intent: we’re back. Indeed they are. The album continues to churn out catchy tune after catchy tune before culminating in the final, exasperating rush of “When I’m Blind,” a fiery eight-minute jam that leads to one of the band’s most triumphant closings. It may not be album of the year in a year of monumental releases, but it’s surely earned a spot on any respectable list.

More information regarding Built to Spill can be found at their official website.

Mew Premiere “+-” at NPR

Danish prog-pop quartet Mew are streaming their new album, “+-,” via NPR’s First Listen. “+-” marks the band’s first studio recording since 2009’s “No More Stories…,” which scored favorable reviews from critics.

The band is currently set to tour Europe in May, beginning with a show at the Botanique in Brussels, Belgium. Mew’s tour is set to run through a number of European cities including Glasgow, Paris and Berlin.

More information regarding the band can be found at their official website.

Artist Spotlight: Mike Vennart

The name Mike Vennart probably doesn’t mean much to most music listeners, but for fans of rock, electronica and progressive music, it certainly should. Best known for his work with the now-defunct Oceansize, Vennart and his bandmates blazed a figurative trail of fire across the progressive music scene, carving out a cult niche for themselves as one of the underground’s best-kept secrets. From the energetic curiosity of “Effloresce” to the abstract excursions of “Frames,” Vennart and the Oceansize collective tore down barriers that few rock bands even knew existed.

Since the band’s split in 2011, Vennart has funneled his creative energies into the post-progressive electronic soundscapes of British Theatre with the help of former Oceansize guitarist Richard “Gambler” Ingram. Together, the duo crafted a pair of remarkable EPs, hitting an early stride with “Dyed in the Wool Ghost,” a poignant mixture of alternative rock and “Amnesiac”-era Radiohead. Recently, Vennart has begun a funding campaign for his first solo record — a project that seems primed to consolidate the artist’s talents into an expansive compendium of his ambitions. It may be too early to say if the record will be an Oceansize-level classic, but one thing is clear: Mike Vennart isn’t going away anytime soon. And we’re all better for it.

More information regarding Mike Vennart can be found at his official bandcamp page, and details regarding his upcoming solo record can be found here.