Fierce, with a touch of monkeys...
I've been a fan since their inception in 2002, and rumors of their breakup after leaving their major-label in 2011 had me concerned - they really did seem to drop off the planet. I'm left now thinking that they were locked away somewhere, creating this independent masterpiece of an album. It is SO exceptional that I feel the 5-star system doesn't quite cut it (I've tended to give them the maximum rating on every album - deservedly so...but this one breaks entirely new ground, and shows an additional maturity in the musicianship).
The album starts with a very-short, but majestically stark and haunting solo acapella piece that showcases the natual beauty of Kimberlina's dark alto. This launches into one of the band's darkest sounding tracks; "Trapped in the American Dream". The refrain gives a wonderful sense of hope, but the overall mood of this song hints that a lot went on during their hiatus. They still manage to have an unbelievably catchy hook, while playing like they are at the very end of their rope.
The next section of the record is a bit more of what I'm used to hearing from them - upbeat, interesting alterna-rock/pop, with singable choruses, and witty lyrics. The highlight of these kinds of tracks is called "My Favorite Disaster", a love song that blends 90's shoegazer, 80's new-wave, 70's punk, 60's surf, and 50's do-wop into a singularly ear-worm driven track that is equal parts funny and endearing. With different lyrics, this easily could have been turned into a theme for a spy-cartoon circa 1979.
As always, they find a way to bring in a softer-side to showcase Kimberlina's unique voice. On this album we have two incredible acoustic ballads, on opposite ends of the musical spectrum. One is a song of hope (played with what I assume is a ukele) called "Looking Toward the Sun". The other is an expertly crafted break-up song titled "Memory Fades"...currently my all-time favorite song by this band.
The album closes with a very fun and strange song that is seemingly about a monkey. Seriously. There is something unbelievably compelling about Kimberlina's vocal delivery - she sings these ridiculous lyrics with complete earnest - making the joke even FUNNIER. Even the band plays this track with an enthusiasm that belies the tounge-in-cheek subject matter. Jeffry-Wynne Prince takes a rare, extended guitar solo that would rival most any guitar hero, and new-comer Michaelandrew plays a funk-bass-solo over Bractune's powerful and subtle percussion that brings a new dimension to the band. After a few listens to this song, I think there might be more to this lyric...I *think* the monkey in the story might be a metephor for the uninvited that tend to muck up the works. After the rumors of the band turmoil of the last 18 months, being able to turn those experiences into a song about a monkey seems just like something this criminally underrated band would do.
-Aaron Samuel Powell