Much of today’s comprehension in music relies in the familiarity between listener and artist. There is a legitimate reason to believe that like most other forms interaction, our willingness to connect is based on our level of comfort with said medium. In music, popular artists remain popular by repeating familiar processes within the creation of their product; resulting in the sameness that permeates the vast majority of ears. There are of course, many aspects to this sameness – we have many artists adopting the “same” song structures, the “same” on-stage personas, and the “same” lyrical perspectives – a process that essentially feeds itself (only because the vast majority lets it).
Perhaps it is because general audiences are “afraid” to venture from this zone of familiarity that such a process continues to fester (and it will do so for what looks to be eternity). We have created genres and subgenres of music we do not understand or feel comfortable with; all while chastising those who follow blindly into the glare of pocket-lining opportunities and pop culture triviality (it is fun to ridicule the hopeless leading the hopeless). So what happens when a group of musicians comes along and blurs these lines of distinction; a collective creating an indiscernible haze that clouds perceptions of what is merely reproduced tripe and those who long to challenge constantly? The majority of those who encounter This Is A Process Of A Still Life will enunciate that the group is an instrumental outfit, and yes, while accurate the assessment merely augments this trivial understanding of music.
Does the lack of lyrical accompaniment really become the sole distinction of the artist? While the answer to that is a mere click away on music television, we cannot simply dismiss artists who forgo the instrument of voice as “background” music, or music “to do other things to,” or God forbid, elevator music. And while mainstream instrumentalists have seemingly set back their craft a good century or so, it would be unfair to dismiss quality purveyors as uninspired creators; especially considering our current crop of ‘lyrical geniuses’ and the dark, dark clouds suburban America has been responsible for in the past few years.
While the likes of Don Caballero and Man Or Astro-man? paved the way in indie rock circles, they bore one distinct quality that always detracted them from general audiences; they were critically lauded, but their depth ultimately made them difficult to listen to. And it isn’t a criticism per say, their music was profound, but like most of their counterparts, they remain confined to specific audiences. This Is A Process Of A Still Life is at a tangent to these aforementioned groups. Their brand of word-less art takes flight in more cloudless territory; sweeping across blue skies in a majestic blend of dreams and serenades that while capable of enthralling the most general of listeners, is no less profound than those who choose to walk the graceless path.
From the grand lengths of the beautifully mystical “No Memory of the Airshow,” to the more swaying nature of “The Thing We Learned About Neptune,” This Is A Process… captures many stages of mood-driven music. A brief calm-before-the-storm is swiftly swept aside by the aforementioned “No Memory of the Airshow” – a seemingly grandiose gesture of rising tides and a crashing on the rocks; a palette of simplistic instruments (guitar, bass, percussions) constructed in such a way that the song becomes the album’s lone sense of deep tension; an uneasy anxiety that slowly washes away in all its 8+ minutes. Surprisingly, this early peak in apprehension becomes the vocal mood shift of the album. The rest of the material is a far subdued downwards straying (downwards as in an indication of movement, not in describing quality); almost as if the songs have become in tune to the motions of a graceful descent, spiraling elegantly towards stillness in which it has not yet encountered.
In the unlikely situation that This Is A Process Of A Still Life is cast as “headphone music,” the probability that one can simply go about other tasks while the music cheaply softens the atmosphere would be difficult. If anything, their work is vastly absorbing; as if we too have been drawn into this episode of spiralling wonder. The harshest critics may deem this their biggest weakness – that listeners are merely absorbed to hypnotic levels; but when you think of it, is that such a demeaning quality? Considering that most of what is offered borders on insulting, I certainly do not mind being thoroughly mesmerized on occasion. And as the album’s flight drifts into its desired conclusion, we are reminded of the most enchanting part of it all: that this falling seems endless.
Pretty Vicious – Beauty of Youth
Beauty of Youth is what happens when raw talent and a knack for writing great songs finds itself surviving the hype
The perils of industry hype and stardom have been unforgiving for many young bands. The brutal nature of the rock n’ roll whirlwind is both an inescapable thrill, and the overdose that has claimed the scalp of many. Welsh rock band Pretty Vicious are no stranger to the often destructive nature of record label glory and lofty expectations. The band members were mere teens (15-17) when they signed their mega-deal with Virgin EMI in 2015. What followed was a roller coaster ride of failed recording sessions and the burden of unmet expectations that come with signing big-money deals at such a young age. But the remarkable truth is, Pretty Vicious seem to have come out of the industry slog having survived their initial foray into the fire with an album that is quite a remarkable achievement.
Initially touted as the “next Oasis”, Pretty Vicious have thankfully shunned that tag and done away with writing the next Definitely Maybe for something more visceral. Beauty of Youth is what happens when raw talent and a knack for writing great songs finds itself surviving the hype. If Beauty Of Youth is a record signaling Pretty Vicious’ convalescence after their initial break down, then please, feed this medicine to all the bands.
There is no Oasis, but rather the furious, feverish unpredictability of rock music that we had seen with early Biffy Clyro, early Idlewild, packed with the dangerous uncertainty that came with The Libertines. It’s immediate too; from the raucous riff-heavy opener “These Four Walls” to the vagabond “What Could’ve Been”, much of the album channels frenzied palettes of distortion and beautiful noise. “Force of Nature” is a little Josh Homme, while “Someone Just Like You” is what Dave Grohl sounds like when he’s trying, but the album’s best moment is perhaps the gorgeous, slow-burning “Playing With Guns”. A song that’s composed of great wistful melodies that slowly incinerate the ears with infectious songwriting that makes Beauty Of Youth sound massive while being personal at the same time.
You can’t go past songs like “Move”, with its buzzsaw guitars and wall of energy, without thinking of all the best rock bands we’ve heard over the past decade. It’s got it all- to a T- but its urgency and hectic nature make it feel all the better. “Something Worthwhile” has got the bright lights and big stages of Glastonbury written all over it. And while their 2015 stint at the festival saw them on the “Introducing…” stage, this song is headlining main stage material.
It is quite an achievement to be as accomplished as Pretty Vicious at such a young age. Even more remarkable that they’ve survived the industry machine to release such a damn good debut album. Beauty of Youth is a composed, compelling, high energy debut that answers the question, “what became of the likely lads?”. They went on to write one of, if not the best, rock records of 2019.
Sum 41 – Order In Decline
Long gone are the days of All Killer, No Filler
Canadian pop-punkers Sum 41 have been remarkably consistent over the course of their last few albums. And while we have never stopped calling Sum 41 a pop-punk band, their last few albums have been less about being fun and bouncy, opting instead for a far more serious flavor of rock music. Long gone are the days of All Killer, No Filler, replaced instead with songs that do their best to mimic Muse’s big stadium anthem feel while not forgetting their penchant for metal licks and hefty solos. Truth is, it’s quite a shame because when Sum 41 were more about being fun and silly, their songs had this incredible likeability to them. Forget All Killer, No Filler, they were at their most fun with their often silly 2000 debut Half Hour of Power.
So what to expect with Order In Decline, their 7th full length? Well, if you like easy-to-digest pop-punk anthems, you best look elsewhere as much of the album spends way too much time taking itself too seriously. Not that the results are bad; songs like “A Death in The Family” and “Out For Blood” do the faux-hardcore/melodic punk thing really well. The chugga chugga riffs, toe-tapping melodies, and Deryck Whibley’s snotty vocals continue the band’s well-refined sound. Opener “Turning Away” doesn’t shy from being a little metal, a little rock, a little punk, and sets the high energy tone for the album. The return of Dave Brownsound for 2016’s 13 Voices has solidified the album’s two-pronged guitar attack, and Order In Decline’s production helps on that front- it’s a loud album, it just doesn’t seem to say a whole lot at times. “45 (A Matter of Time)” is the band’s anti-Trump song, and while it tries to provoke, sounds loud, its cheesy protests of “You’re something to few / But nothing to me / Someone so twisted and sick as can be / It wasn’t the plan / We gave it a shot / You’ve proven a real man is something you’re not” won’t exactly inspire a raging fire within the listener. I suppose if you’re turning to Sum 41 to change the course of the future, we’re all in trouble.
Sum 41 love their ballads too- and Order In Decline’s lighter in the air moment (phones in the air for you kids) is the piano-strewn ballad “Never There”. It’s OK, but doesn’t quite reach the heights of effective balladry they showed with “With Me”. The album’s best moment is the blitzing “The People Vs…” which trades the stadium rock for more melodic hardcore/thrash that a little akin to some of the goofy stuff they did on Half Hour. The meaty riffs, a great solo and the soaring chorus pumps much needed old Sum into Order In Decline, and it’s only a shame there isn’t more of it on the record.
As the album closes with the radio-ready “Catching Fire”, listeners are left with one of these two thoughts. For those who enjoy Sum 41 when they’re trying to be the best big band they can be, there is plenty to like on Order in Decline. They’ve found a consistent, polished, and well-produced sound they first hinted on with 2002’s Does This Look Infected?. For those who found their juvenile, snotty attitude on Half Hour of Power and All Killer to be the quality they most enjoyed will respond to Order in Decline with indifference. At least I don’t hate it.