Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Don't Need Synergy in My Music

You want a review, you say? Fine. Read up.

Coheed and Cambria
Year of the Black Rainbow (2010)
Rating: 5.5 (out of 10)

My first experience with Coheed and Cambria came while I was still a teenager. That's the sort of statement usually used to form an excuse for liking an artist that, well, doesn't deserve to be referred to as an artist. That's not my angle here, though, so I'm getting back to my story now. When I was a teenager, I first heard Coheed and Cambria on some awful MTV Road Rules compilation disc by accident. The song I heard was "33", a jaunty, fun little bastard of a track. I heard catchy melodies, impressive instrumentation, and vocals that I wasn't sure were made by a male, female, or dolphin. The overall package interested me, so away I went to CD Warehouse to purchase the band's debut, The Second Stage Turbine Blade. I grew to love the aforementioned debut album, a furious combination of all of the elements "33" embodied and then some. To this day, I hold the album in high regard despite the fact that most people who know a good band from their asshole would scold me. Hell, I even loved the sophomore album, and I went and saw the band play three times. I've just described how my love affair with Coheed began; now that it's mostly ended (we give in to our mutual attraction every now and then still), let me detail how far things have fallen.

The problem is, Coheed and Cambria got so full of themselves and started treating me like shit. They knew how I felt about them, so she used it to their full advantage. First there was that third album and it's pointlessly-long title. They teased me with that one, giving me things like "Welcome Home" and "The Suffering". But they also got all bloated and fat, content with doing whatever. So then my love began to wane; I began to question things. But it was just one album, so I persevered. Well, I persevered until they dumped another long-titled pile on me, one with even less to appease my pathetic devotion. That's when I left them and went elsewhere, letting The Hold Steady make love to my ears instead.

Now that you have the back story, I need to tell you that Coheed and Cambria showed up on my doorstep with something called Year of the Black Rainbow, a peace offering. Turns out, though, they're still just a big fucking tease, but they at least hint at a future together. Black Rainbow starts out in pompous fashion with a big, dumb block of atmosphere before launching into "The Broken", a track I actually enjoy. The band goes back to sensibly approaching melody, and it pays off. But then I'm stuck with more filler before getting to "Here We Are Juggernaut", which itself only has moments of real coherence. The next song, "Far", may be my favorite on the album because it really throws me off the typical trail. Rather than just wank all over an overused riff, Coheed takes the time to build a cool song using moody, giant percussion and weeping guitars.

Things slow back down until "Made Out of Nothing (All That I Am)", another stomping percussion song with a nice, simple lead guitar part. The chorus missteps, but not so much that it tanks the song. "In the Flame of Error" has its moments, but moments alone cannot carry a five-and-a-half minute song, and they can't cushion the blow of the superfluous album closer.

Despite Black Rainbow's ultimate failure, there are some good signs present. The band clearly feels more comfortable embracing a moodier, more subdued sound at times, and a lot of the punchier, early-day songwriting skills manifest themselves from time to time. I'd like to say I now feel as if the band is maturing and can shed their huge, shit-rock tendencies in favor of honest-to-God well-written songs. But that's not how I feel. After all, the electro-tendencies of singer Claudio Sanchez's solo project (Prize Fighter Inferno's My Brother's Blood Machine) have only barely been realized in his full-time band's work, and that album gave me false hope already. I hate to say it, but I think they might be gone for good. If only I'd learn my lesson.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

There's All This New Music Coming Out

All the music sites I frequent keep telling me about new albums I really, really want. And I want them now. First off, we have the upcoming Deftones release, Diamond Eyes. Then we have an album I am cautiously anticipating: Coheed and Cambria's Year of the Black Rainbow. (Yes, I'm aware of everyone's opinion of C and C, but I remain a big advocate of the band's first two releases). Later on in the year my ears will also be graced by new material from Brian Vaughan favorites The Hold Steady (Heaven Is Whenever), Broken Social Scene (Forgiveness Rock Record), and The National (High Violet). So anyway, go music!

Two of these records, Diamond Eyes and Year of the Black Rainbow, have already made their way to my ears. Reviews of these two albums will now proceed to make their way to your eyes. We'll start with Diamond Eyes first.

Diamond Eyes (2010)
Rating: 7.5 (out of 10)

If the world were a nicer place, Diamond Eyes might not even exist. Deftones initially began working on a different project, an album called Eros, before a car accident sent bassist Chi Cheng into a coma. Cheng still has yet to fully recover, and while the band doesn't name Chi's condition as a reason for delaying the release of the Eros material, surely the tragedy that befell their friend and fellow musician held some sway over their decision.

While Deftones singer Chino Moreno alluded to Eros as something a bit removed from the band's general direction, Diamond Eyes feels a lot closer to home, and maybe that's what the band needed during such a turbulent time. Fortunately, Deftones happen to be a band that (for me at least) are still plenty enjoyable when they don't venture far from their wheelhouse. Sure, the one time when Deftones really tried to venture away from their tendencies (White Pony in 2000) they struck utter gold, but that doesn't take away from efforts like Around the Fur that mostly just bring the fucking pain. And I guess that's really what Diamond Eyes does and does well: it brings the fucking pain.

Things start off in punishing fashion with the burrowing, low verse of the title track. Thing is, that dark verse gives way to a deliciously smooth chorus that works well to create a sonically-pleasing duality. A lot of times, when bands (even this band on a couple of occasions) try to shift from mass to melody, things feel a bit too saccharine, but "Diamond Eyes" avoids any problems. "Royal" doesn't leave any openings for issues, as it starts out pummeling and doesn't relent until a brief pause with 45 seconds to go that gives way to even more ferocity. "CMND/CTRL" and "You've Seen the Butcher" are fairly standard-order Deftones songs; they don't offer anything new, but they're pleasant enough.

The middle section of Diamond Eyes offers a little variety in terms of anger and tempo. "Beauty School" boasts a chorus driven by jittery drums and guitars, as well as a wise to decision to head up rather than down on a key bass note by band friend and temporary Chi Cheng fill-in Sergio Vega. Unfortunately, the song's chorus gets a little too airy: think "Minerva" without the hook. "Prince" sounds incredibly like an Around the Fur outtake, and as such it succeeds wildly. "Prince" lets its wavering verse build into a big, buzzsaw guitar chorus. It's a tried-and-true Deftones tradition, so why fuck with it? Speaking of fucking with things, Chino implores us to "fuck with him" on "Rocket Skates," one of the album's most kick-ass songs and its first single. So yeah, the lyrical content of "Rocket Skates" isn't ideal, but it's hard to care, especially when Chino's shredding his vocal cords.

The last section of the album feels like its weakest. "Sextape" comes off as a bland attempt at lightening things up, while album closer "This Place Is Death" doesn't really go the places it feels like it should. It sounds like it's supposed to be the last song on the album, as if it fits that bill solely because it's kind of slow and moody. "Risk" and "976-EVIL" work better than the rest of the late album fare as a result of better songwriting, but neither holds up to the strongest material here.

Looking at Diamond Eyes as a whole makes it a little but underwhelming, though it's still quite an enjoyable listen. At its best, the album really kills. Some moments are so fiendishly badass that it's almost easy to overlook the fluffier songs that pollute the album's conclusion. And it's not like the material near the end of the record is pointless; with a few directional shifts, those songs could become infinitely more interesting. It's in these moments that it seems like maybe Diamond Eyes was rushed, which it probably was. What we're left with is a good record that I know I'll be listening to from time to time. What we don't have is any sort of definitive statement. We don't have the unsettling gaze of White Pony. We don't have the crush of "Beware"'s ending or the swagger of "Hexagram." But we do have a new Deftones record, and I wasn't sure we ever would. So cheers to that, and here's to hoping for plenty more.