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Non-Prog CD Reviews

1997

...A Better View of the Rising Moon

Review by Gary Hill

Chicago band 1997's debut disc is one that shows promise. Their blend of alternative college rock and emo with elements of progressive rock works pretty well. The closest comparison would probably be to Barenaked Ladies or Cracker and related act Camper Van Beethoven. They utilize joint male and female lead vocals to good effect. So, why is this just a good disc and not a great one? There isn't enough variety. They come close to mixing it up, but not quite enough. There are a few points where the disc tends to become a bit monotonous due to too much similarity in the songs. The reason I say they come close is that generally the next song after that point represents a change. It's just that it comes one song too late. The music here is original and quite strong. With a little work at diversifying their sound these guys can be great. As it is, this is a better debut than most acts are capable of creating. It shows a lot of promise to great things to come from 1997.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Water's Edge
Bouncing in with an emo-like arrangement, this drops back to something that's much closer to neo-prog. As they power it back out for the verse it begins to feel like a cross between something like Lacuna Coil and some emo band. While I'm not a fan of emo the juxtaposition and contrast of musical textures works well. They add in more layers of sound as they move forward bringing in more progressive rock oriented textures. This is quite a diverse composition. While one might think of it as straight alternative rock, looking deeper reveals a complexity and dynamic texture that sets it apart.
Garden of Evil
The general emo-like motif leads this off, too, but a repeating string pattern brings in classical music textures. When they launch out into the chorus the emo sounds take over more fully than they ever did in the opener. Still, strings come in after this and they drop it into a more stripped down arrangement that shows off more progressive rock leanings. While this cut is energetic and fun, I'd have to say that it's a little more generic than the opener, and suffers for it. Still, there is enough energy and the male/female vocal arrangement is strong enough to avoid pure mediocrity.
Hey Darlin'
While the overall musical theme doesn't vary that much from the material that came before, this has a slower tempo. As the vocals and other instrumentation come in, the emo modes combine with something akin to Cracker or Camper Van Beethoven. An oddly timed rhythm section and some more progressive rock like instrumentation elevate this. They move it through a number of changes and varying modes – plenty to keep you on your toes. It's also enough to make this one of the standouts on the disc. I like this one a lot. A nearly acapella segment late is a nice touch.
In Your Car
Drums lead this one off. As the song proper enters it has more of an alternative rock ballad approach – and serves as a nice change of pace. Even when they power it out, this doesn't really feel much like emo, but more along the lines of a modern Camper Van Beethoven. It has some smoking guitar sounds and is another highlight of the disc. I actually hear echoes of The Buggles on this one at times.
Patience, Prudence
A jangly guitar chording starts off this number. As it kicks in it combines the alternative emo approach that makes up the bulk of the disc with power pop along the lines of Cheap Trick. Keyboards bring in more progressive rock leanings and the Camper/Cracker leanings show up in spades later. While this is another strong cut, the musical themes are getting a bit predictable by this point.
Grace
This is much slower and less emo-like. It has a great lush texture and calls to mind something like Mazzy Star just a bit. It's a great change of pace when one was desperately needed. This is evocative and quite pretty with just a bit of a country twang. It's a standout cut. It powers out into more energized modes later, but doesn't wander far in terms of song structure. The later modes are extremely potent before dropping back to the sedate for the penultimate movement – a ballad-like motif. This might be my favorite track on show here.
The Roads You Can Take
If the last track changed things up a bit, the opening of this one turns it all on its head. It comes in like a down-home, bluesy country jam. As they power out from there it comes closer to resembling the rest of the CD and they drop it back to a stripped down Cracker like mode to create the verse. This is another strong cut – and another of my favorites. Overall it doesn't differ a lot from the bulk of the disc, but they do it so much better here that it really stands out. They include a cool mellow segment (and an acapella folk duet) in this one for great effect.
Lovelikepoetry
Closer to a prog rock ballad, this one still showcases the sounds that are so prevalent throughout the disc. The vocal arrangement on this one has a great retro pop rock texture and this cut is good. It's just that it suffers from more of that “sameness.”
Tennessee Song
Once again, they sense that it's time for a change. Here we get a bouncing ballad that feels rather like something from the 1960's. This is folk oriented pop rock with a modern edge. It's fun, and while not really one of my favorites, does a nice job of breaking up the monotony. The retro backing vocals are nice.
Enough Is Enough
Here we get another cut that is cut from much the same mold as most of the other material here. It works reasonably well, but suffers from the lack of variety. That said, the soaring female vocals and crunchy riff help to elevate it.
Droppin' Dimes
Folky balladic sounds start this off and carry the first minute of the track. They power it up gradually from there with more of their standard sound. Without the combination of male and female vocals this one would really fall flat. The truth is the vocal arrangement alone really keeps this one from being a throwaway.
Curse or Cure
FThe most stripped down musical motif of the disc makes up the opening moments here. Layers of vocals are the centerpiece here – and work really well. As this compositional structure fills out it has more of a prog rock ballad approach – and is a great change. While there are elements of their standard sound later in the mix, this one serves as a great piece of variety and also one of the strongest cuts on the CD. While it starts mellow they infuse enough energy and emotion into the mix to make it work extremely well as a closer. I don't think there is a better song on show here to stop with.
 
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