Monday, August 4, 2014

Intentions - Brave City

Brave City: the hometown band with vision for bigger and better things. Intentions is the start of something big for this group. With only 5 songs, Brave City shows their potential and variety with a multitude of different sounds and vibes that are explored throughout this album. Their lead single "Avalanche" (for my detailed review of that, click here ) was just a taste of their hard work and dedication, and those aspects of the group are very present in these new songs.

The album kicks off with "Sweet Teeth", full of gritty guitars and passionate vocals. It has a nice mix of a faster tempo and a dark nature that doesn't get the listener down. I especially enjoy the build in the bridge, which erupts powerfully with cries of "I don't wanna hear about it" and "What do you want, do you want from me?" interweaving as the band's dual vocals shine through. The contrasting nature of the gritty almost screams with the more traditional, smooth singing further pushes the passion behind the track. The next song, "You, Me, and A Ghost" starts with an extended instrumental intro, but then surprises the listener by going from a more relaxed verse to a chorus that almost sounds happy, like Brand New from "Your Favorite Weapon" era.  One of the best parts of the song is the outro, which is a solid breakdown that'll make you want to get on your feet and jump around or nod your head along. Their strongest song, (in my opinion), is their lead single "Avalanche". The dual vocals shine their brightest here, with Garrett Jackman and Danny Pruit in a constant exchange of back and forth singing. The instrumental is on point, clean and crisp as it takes you from pulsing verses hinted with synths to overdriven guitars and crashing drums leading ann impassioned chorus.

Not all of their songs follow in this same vein, however; "Coming Home" is a stripped down song that utilizes clean guitars and quiet vocals to create something with unexpected maturity and depth from a band who is just getting their feet on the ground. It builds into something bigger, but does not lose the sensitivity and vulnerability created by the first half of the track. The gang vocals about 5 minutes in add another layer of depth to the song, and truly give it a beautiful sound. It is very 30 Seconds To Mars "This Is War"-esc. Their album closer "The Great White" is not necessarily a mellow song, but it is at a slower tempo and plays less on their aggressive sound found in the other tracks. It is a steady build, which they seem to do quite well, and is definitely memorable, lyrically. The line "I've got no skin, but it still crawls for you" is genius in my mind. I love how catchy and eerie and even relatable it is. This song may be longer at 7 and 1/2 minutes, but it's definitely worth the listen.

All in all, another solid piece of work from a band who is on the edge of bursting out and becoming bigger than playing local shows in the Bay. Despite the limitations of home-studios and a lack of access to huge resources, this CD has come out like something that bands with much more experience would create. Brave City, a job well done, and the best of luck to as you continue to do great things!

Rating: 9/10
Recommended: Avalanche, The Great White, Sweet Teeth
Sounds like: Brand New, Manchester Orchestra, 30 Seconds To Mars

Friday, August 1, 2014

Lowborn - Anberlin

While I may have not closely followed Anberlin from their beginnings, I have become quite familiar with their music in the last couple of years, and I was just as heartbroken to hear about their decision to say farewell as a band at the end of 2014. However, it meant that they were going to put out one final album, and the anticipation couldn't be higher for the last release from a fantastic band. Despite a delay, the final effort from Anberlin encompasses who the band was and who they have become.

Within the 40 minutes and 10 songs, Anberlin has managed to put out some of the most sonically diverse and lyrically deep music they have ever done. They move from each end of the spectrum, with songs like the explosive opener "We Are Destroyer" and the scream filled "Dissenter" to the electronically driven "Birds Of Prey" and bittersweet closer "Harbinger". The album is a ride of emotions and sounds, and a worthy end to an incredible career.

The album kicks off with "We Are Destroyer", an energy driven monster of a song that tricks you into a false sense of serenity with the electronically lead intro that drops into roaring guitars, blistering drums, and passionate vocals that set the bar incredibly high for the rest of the record. The chorus gets your blood pumping like an anthem, with lines like "We could lose it all" and "We are the destroyer" making you want to raise your fist and shout it right back. This song is one of the best blends of electronic and rock elements that Anberlin has yet to put out in a combination of smooth and polished moments with raw rock n' roll. Later on in the album, "Dissenter" focuses more on the second element, with almost all screaming vocals in a move that is quite unlike anything the band has done. While it has a lot of energy like "We Are Destroyer", it is harnessed in a much different fashion and serves as a perfect mosh-along song. The bridge provides a more familiar soundscape for Anberlin and some striking contrast to the rest of the song. I was quite surprised by the ferocity and intensity of the song at first, but after a few listens found myself very easily getting into the energy of the song. "Velvet Covered Brick" is also on the more edgy side, with overdriven guitars leading the charge into a song that is familiar territory for Anberlin. The more mellow verses are actually my favorite parts of the song with a pronounced bass line and Stephen's almost sultry vocals floating over the other instruments.

Anberlin definitely explores their softer side within their last musical effort as well. "Birds Of Prey" is a hauntingly beautiful peace of music that mixes electronic/almost dance elements, gritty rock instruments, and polished vocals into one of the most unique songs of the album, and possibly of anything Anberlin has done. The lyrics are spot on as well, exploring an element of love and breakups that is common, but putting it in such a different light that it feels like something completely new. Lines like "Regret is nothing more than a lover's disease" and "memories circle like birds of prey, waiting for the right mind to drive insane" are on point and very much relatable, creating an instant emotional tie to the song. "Armageddon" is another song that utilizes a lot of dance-type sounds and is a bit more relaxed, but does build into a heavier section near the end. It has a sense of mystery and almost sensuality to it, thanks to the subtle synths in the background and the aggressive yet smooth guitars and steady beat that leads the verses. The chorus, however, fully embraces the aggressive undertones and erupts into an epic and passionate confession of "starting my own Armageddon". "Losing It All" is another softer song, but not in the same sense as these other two tracks. It is upbeat, but it takes on a lighter tone in terms of the instrumentation. Acoustic guitars, a piano line, and less aggressive drumming lay the groundwork for a more sensitive sounding piece. It is also, lyrically, a song of hope, which gives it a more positive vibe that you could almost call happy.

Two of the lead singles, "Stranger Ways" and "Hearing Voices" were songs that took a little while to grow on me, but they did and now they're some of my favorites from the record. "Stranger Ways" is on the calmer side, but still somehow manages to build without really hitting a peak moment. It doesn't erupt into crashing drums and stadium guitars; instead, it swells into something powerful that isn't loud. That is something the band should be immensely proud of that, for it is a rare feat to achieve. This was also one of my favorite songs, lyrically, because it felt personal and seems to be about a broken love, which is something that most people can relate to. "Hearing Voices" takes a different path instrumentally, with overdriven guitars and tribal-sounding drums. It is also a much faster tempo, and the band capitalizes on this. The chorus feels ready to be played in front of huge crowds, with anthem-like vocals and the drums and guitars working together to create a huge sound. I also really liked this one lyrically, for it's one of the few songs where Anberlin is very up-front about their faith. Lines like "Can't escape the ghost when the ghost's not dead" and "Everyone wants to know God, but they want to live like he died" are some of my favorite by them to date. 

I always pay close attention to album closers, because I feel that they tend to encapsulate the entirety of the album and perhaps even offer a view of what is to come next from the band. The latter aspect isn't quite so applicable in this case, but "Harbinger" certainly does work as a summing up of Anberlin's album, and perhaps even their career and time as a band. Haunting is a very appropriate word for this song, but bittersweet is a close fit as well. The chorus line "We'll live forever, forever, forever
(I don't wanna go now, but I know I've got to)" hit me hard when I finally understood what it was talking about. This song is truly a farewell from the band, a final salute to their fans and a kiss goodbye. When you realize that, the lyrics become exponentially more powerful and it leaves an impression that is hard to ignore.

All in all, this was some of Anberlin's best work, if not their best collective work they have put out. As a final effort, it was spot on. They picked their exit, and they made it an incredible piece of art and music. They set the terms for their ending, but it's just the beginning of everything that is to come in their lives. Thank you, Anberlin, for all that you've done. The music you've made, the shows you've put on, and the lives you've touched. I will see you one more time in October.

Rating: 10/10
Recommended: We Are Destroyer, Harbinger, Hearing Voices, Losing It All, Armageddon