My friend asthenia* (Ethan) and I love to talk about music. We thought it'd be fun to each choose an album every week that neither of us had heard, listen to it, and post our thoughts in a blog for (probably) no one to read. There are really no criteria for what we choose other than that it's something new for the both of us. So here it goes, enjoy!
Sometimes a hiatus is truly the best decision a band can make. Consider a basic supply and demand scenario. Midlevel band X has been releasing music consistently for the past 5-8 years, with each album getting about a year’s worth of touring and/or promotional support (billboards, commercials, adverts, etc.). Although every release has been solid, with critics and fans alike agreeing that the product is worth investing in, the band is having trouble breaking even. They scrounge up a few well-deserved opening slots, for more popular bands (normally their contemporaries) but don’t seem to draw enough people when headlining their own shows. As a result, their merch sales dip. Their albums aren’t selling both because a) they’re more expensive than larger commercial artists’ and b) the average consumer doesn’t buy albums anymore. The band is persistent, but the label’s not seeing a return for their investment so they have less money to put into the band. All of these factors culminate in the band having to work second jobs in order to fund their album and/or pay the bills.
Now, keep in mind; this is a band that has already broken through. They have a signed contract. Music is their job, but they’re forced into the daily grind to pursue their first line of work. How long could any one person maintain that lifestyle? Certainly not forever. Eventually the band calls it a day. This decision seems to come about in one of two ways. The band either graciously bows while acknowledging the realities of the industry or they are essentially forced out by any of the multiple factors working against them. This departure obviously cuts off the supply, but it also (usually) increases the demand.
People often take a band’s longevity for granted, especially if band X has been a constant presence in their scene. With bands like Thursday and Thrice, the impact they had became quite apparent with their departure. Fans were upset because they knew they were losing something special. It’s this reaction that has the potential to increase a band’s demand. Hiatus’ attract the attention of not only the established fans, but of the casual listeners: the kids who heard the one radio friendly single, the kids who saw band X when they were in the opening slot. If enough interest is piqued, the casual listener might check out band X’s last release in an attempt to understand the hype. And in doing so they might realize the ship they missed. If this happens, the band has increased their fan base simply by ceasing to exist. Although there is no immediate benefit to this per say, maybe the band can pay off debts and break even, the long-term consequences are important.
An effective hiatus can lead to an effective return to form. We’ve seen this happen again and again in the past five-ish years with varying degrees of success. Blink-182’s 2009 reunion made the unthinkable happen and helped the reunion movement gain momentum. Since then we’ve seen reunions from Yellowcard, the Starting Line, Something Corporate, Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends line up, the Promise Ring, Cap’n Jazz, Glassjaw, the Early Novemver and the list goes on. Every reunion is unique, though, and different bands apply different approaches. Some record a full length while others do a one off show. Some reissue their back catalog on vinyl and some do a greatest hits tour. There is no guaranteed method of success. But the one constant seems to be that every reunited band comes back in a position more positive than they were situated before their break, either financially or personally. How this affects the art is another question, but it at least gives us a chance to appreciate we had. If only once before it’s gone forever. Thursday was a great band and both Dan and I missed a chance to share in their music. With a little luck, though, we’ll hear from them again sooner rather than later.
Florence + the Machine [Ethan's Choice]
Dan: I never listened to 2009’s Lungs but I had always kind of been curious about Florence + the Machine after hearing some of the singles from that album. With that being said, I don’t really see much similarity between what I (barely) heard in 2009 to the FATM of 2011. Yes, the big chorus’ and signature voice are still there, but it all seems a little bit darker. There’s nothing as cheeky as “Kiss With a Fist” or instantly catchy as “The Dog Days are Over”, but it’s got its own unique appeal. Because I’m generalizing the sound of Lungs based on a few singles, I could be completely off base but that was my first observation.
I love the first four songs on this album. On opener “Only if for a Night”, singer Florence Welch’s voice soars. “Shake It Out” comes next and it’s one of the best songs of the year. It features just about every instrument you can think of, all packed into the most rousing and epic 4-minutes of music released in quite some time. “What the Water Gave Me” is almost just as good. It features a multi-layered chorus that sounds like it’s being sung by a huge choir in an enormous cathedral. The end result reminds me of a more lightweight version of “Virgin” from Manchester Orchestra’s Simple Math, but with Florence’s song coming out far on top. The fourth song, “Never Let Me Go”, is tied with “Shake It Out” as my favorite song on the release. Welch takes us to church in the closest thing to a straight-up power ballad to be found on Ceremonials. It’s both catchy and heartfelt.
The rest of the album is packed with more amazing music, with only a couple duds to speak of. “Breaking Down” and “Seven Devils”, while good, are not quite up to par with the rest of the record. “Spectrum” is another song that instantly stood out to me. Despite a quiet start, the song quickly turns into one of the most exciting songs on the album. From the second Florence begins with her typical vocal acrobatics, the song pulls you in and doesn’t let go. It quickly explodes into one of the biggest chorus’ on the record, and I’d be surprised if this wasn’t chosen as a future single. The album closes with “Leave My Body”. By the time I got to it, I wasn’t even surprised that it was as incredible as it is. It features just about everything that you’d want when listening to a Florence + the Machine album. There are the huge drums, catchy chorus, impeccable production, and the chanting background vocals to really send it over the edge. On top of that, if features an unparalleled vocal performance by Welch – especially in the final minute and a half of the song.
Ceremonials is a great record, and one that will easily make it into the ranks of my favorite albums of the year. It’s highly recommended and I insist you check it out.
Favorite Songs: Shake It Out, Never Let Me Go, Spectrum
Ethan: “Sooo hipster” – Dan Zajac
Florence and the Machine was a fairly unprecedented choice on my part, which is exactly why it was my pick for this week. As this experiment keeps snowballing, I want it to be a vehicle for expanding my musical pallet. Florence is something that I, much like my colleague Daniel, would normally write off for some arbitrary reason (i.e. being too ‘hipster’ – whatever the fuck that means). More and more, though, I’ve realized that if something is popular the odds are greater that I will like it, or that I could like it. This is true of everything, from Ugg slippers (so comfy) to Apple computers (so trendy) to Nickleback (so, I’m making a point…) or even Florence and her musical mechanism. Of course, discretion needs to be implemented. A herd mentality has never helped anyone, and Nickleback’s safe, radio friendly rock doesn’t necessarily satiate the hunger of the audiophile. But Ceremonials is a tremendous effort, which unapologetically urges Florence’s contemporaries to step their game up.
‘Only For a Night’ sets the tone for Ceremonials, introducing Paul Epworth’s expansive, intricate production and Florence’s dark lyrical themes. These two features are the foundation from which Ceremonials builds and like any good base they are strong enough to let the record experiment while remaining consistent. Although Ceremonials undeniably contains darker moments, it manages to veil a handful of these in upbeat music. Songs like ‘Lover to Lover’ ‘No Light, No Light’ or ‘Heartlines’ find Florence and company making heartbreak catchy and these tracks really help even out the records mood.
With that said, Ceremonials plays like a break up record. ‘What the Water Gave Me’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’ are soundtracks for disillusionment. ‘Seven Devils’, though, is Florence at her most demonized and the track benefits from its melodies blues-ier moments and its layered chorus vocals. All in all, the vocals on Ceremonials are fantastic, the melodies are contagious and the harmonies are lush. Quite often, the verses are as good or better than the choruses. Both ‘Spectrum’ and ‘Shake It Out’ are examples of this, and are highlights of the album that manage to toe the line between light and dark perfectly. However, I should admit that some of the choruses are too sweet for my liking. The aforementioned ‘Heartlines’ exemplifies this.
Though Ceremonials is a great album, it still has a few missteps. ‘Breaking Down’s piano line sounds like an 80’s Christmas song, and I generally find the song’s chorus to be cheesy and the verses unremarkable. As well ‘Remain Nameless’ from the album’s deluxe edition earns it’s right as a B-side, seeming like a late 90s Madonna rip off. ‘Bedroom Hymns’ and ‘Strangeness and Charms’ counteract this trend though, and both songs make the deluxe edition worth purchasing, particularly ‘Strangeness…’. However, Ceremonials’ standard edition would have benefited from swapping out ‘All This and Heaven Too’ or ‘Leave My Body’ for either of the aforementioned songs, which would have helped the album end on a stronger note. However, these details are admittedly nitpicky since most will end up with Ceremonials’ deluxe version.
Ceremonials is not a perfect album, but it comes pretty damn close. Much like No Devolución the album gets more rewarding the more it’s played. Though, not (yet) as popular as contemporaries like Adele, Florence has surely erased all utterings of “one hit wonder” or “sophomore slump”. Rather, she takes both notions and turns them on their head. Though Gaga and Adele dominated the radio in 2011, neither artist’s recent release comes close to what Florence and co. have captured on this record. Ceremonials could very well be a definitive album. Unfortunately, only time will tell. But hopefully the dog days end will usher in the era of Florence and the Machine.
Favorites: Shake It Out, Seven Devils, Spectrum
Thursday – No Devolucion [My Choice]
Dan: Thursday had always been a band that polarized me. I’ve seen them live a few times and tried to get into them, but they’ve never really grabbed me. With their recent breakup and after hearing such rave reviews of this album I figured it was a good time to give No Devolucion a listen. I remember hearing “Counting 5-4-3-2-1” back in the day when I listened to nothing but The Used and My Chemical Romance and I now realize that they were maybe a little too post-hardcore for my embarrassingly emo taste in music. Taking time to listen to them now, years after I had given up trying to enjoy them, has allowed me to evaluate the band at a time when my musical tastes are drastically different from where they were years ago. Needless to say, Thursday’s No Devolucion really impressed me. It’s not only heavy and dark and complex, but it completely sucks you in to its entire atmosphere and doesn’t let go.
At over 50 minutes it’s no easy listen, but it is one that’s worth the trip. The song that truly sold me upon my first listen was “A Darker Forest”. Yes, the first couple songs are strong for their own reasons, but after the amazing – albeit short – outro to “A Darker Forest”, I was sold. The seamless transition into “Sparks Against The Sun” impressed me as well. SATS was a song that I didn’t instantly love, but it’s totally grown on me. The underlying piano is beautiful, and so is the chorus. It’s one of the songs that I keep on coming back to and it’s one of the most stunning pieces of music I’ve heard all year. The next two songs are great as well. “Open Quotes” is reminiscent of the Thursday I remember, while “Past and Future Ruins” is a perfect summation of where the band is today. “Past and Future Ruins” is a song that transports you to another place entirely. The band is somehow able to very subtly fit chimes (of all instruments) into one of the creepiest songs on the record, and it further emphasizes the huge attention to detail this band illustrates.
“Empty Glass” changes up the pace of the album. It’s depressing as a song can get, but it’s also stunning. Almost nothing happens, but nothing needs to. All you need is Geoff Rickly’s vocals and the deeply personal lyrics to make the song a true highlight. “A Gun in the First Act” comes next and it’s another one of my favorites. The band puts everything out on the table and leaves you with a song full of sheer energy and passion. After that, the last three songs on the album close it out on an equally amazing note. “Turnpike Divides” and “Stay True” are a more than worthy set of songs to close the album. So, with all that being said, Thursday have finally won me over. I love this album.
Favorites: Stay True, Past and Future Ruins, A Gun in the First Act
Ethan: Regardless of everything else that’s been said since their hiatus, Thursday was a great band. Although I am admittedly unfamiliar with their back catalogue, one needs look no further than No Devolución for evidence of this. As swan songs go, No Devolución is a striking testament to a band whose passion and talent had yet to peak. Although the album’s production is admittedly challenging at times, No Devolución rewards the listeners, as each listen reveals intricacies within an already strong batch of songs.
Opener ‘Fast To The End’ reintroduces Thursday, toeing the line between their post-hardcore roots and their recently discovered experimentalism. Though the song is undeniably heavy, it also is quiet atmospheric. This is particularly evident in Geoff Rickley’s vocals, as he ranges from a near whisper in the songs verses to an urgent growl in the bridge. ‘No Answers’ and ‘ A Darker Forest’ further expand the bands diverse pallet, opting to darkly brood rather than lash out. However, though the songs lack an upfront aggression the control displayed is more remarkable because it allows the music to speak for itself. Rhythm combo Tim Payne and Tucker Rule help direct the songs, and although their individual parts aren’t particularly flashy, their contribution as a whole carry the songs. In fact, this dynamic is apparent throughout much of the record.
No Devolución is undeniably a darker record, and the band implements tons of noise is conveying this. The guitar work is frantic and distorted regardless of tempo, and though the faster songs clearly benefit from this, it adds a depth to slower tracks like ‘Sparks Against the Sun’. However, ‘Past And Future Remains’ ‘Millimeter’ and ‘A Gun in the First Act’ are fervent songs displaying Thursday’s masterful use of dynamics and tempo. Both the former and the latter are tremendous songs, benefitting from Rickley’s upper register vocals. ‘A Gun..’ also makes use of both the trumpet and flugelhorn, displaying that Thursday’s experimentation has seeped into all aspects of the band’s writing. The resulting songs simply don’t sound like anything previously written by Thursday but any other band currently in the scene.
However, Thursday doesn’t rely on experimentation as a gimmick. Rather the band uses atypical instruments/production techniques to garnish songs. At its core No Devolución is founded in strong songwriting. Nowhere is Thursday’s vision clearer than ‘Magnets Caught In a Metal Heart’ and ‘Turnpike Divides’. Though the song’s structures are fairly straightforward, they encompass both their progressive nature but also their meat and potatoes strengths. ‘Turnpike Divides’ is the closest thing to a ‘Thursday song’ on No Devolución while ‘Magnets…’ exemplifies all that Thursday has become. Everything is so tight and in sync. Not only that, but the songs are catchy as hell.
If it sounds like there are few criticisms one can rally against No Devolución, it’s because in all honesty there isn’t much the record does wrong. ‘Empty Glass’ is a bit of misstep in that it’s a tad overdramatic. But it’s still a respectable risk. As well ‘Stay True’ is somewhat of a clichéd track. However, it comes from Rickley’s heart and I am not yet cold enough to shit all over it. It’s not a personal favorite, but I can respect the sentiment and musically it’s strong.
No Devolución is Spanish for ‘no returns’, and while this is undeniably an overarching theme for both the band and their album, one can only hope that it is not taken too seriously. Thursday is everything the music industry needs but doesn’t want. A band functioning as the sum of its parts, courageous enough to progress and yet managing to do so without alienating their fanbase or overdoing it. What more could you ask for but their quick resuscitation?
Favorites: Magnets Caught In a Metal Heart, A Gun in the First Act, Turnpike Divides