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Envy - Recitation Album Cover

Envy - Recitation

Reviewed by
6.8
Envy - Recitation
Record Label: Temporary Residence Limited
Release Date: October 12, 2010
It’s common to associate a band with a historical event. Examples can occur by explicit purpose of the band, such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Ohio,” or by a band member’s non-musical action, such as original Les Rallizes Dénudés bass player Moriaki Wakabayashi’s participation in the hijacking of Japan Airlines Flight 351. In situations where a band does not, through lyrical evocation, direct the listener toward a specific extra-musical focus, the listener has a measure of control over associative developments. In other words, because there is no key to experience a given song or album in the manner idealized by its creator, the listener can choose some of the peripheral factors s/he brings to a musical experience. And, in this listener’s opinion, there should be a reason for doing so. Preliminary questions might include: Does this event augment the emotion of x song? Is this track effective because it’s well-written or because I can’t separate it in my mind from such a pathos-inducing subject? Is my coupling of x occurrence organic to a given song’s mood/thesis/objective?

I use this admittedly abstract gambit as a way to confess my own musical associations with Japan’s Envy. I feel conflicted about the particular event I correlate with the band both because of the historical moment’s unspeakable horror (the severity of which caused it to be so much more than a “moment” and more an indelible curse) and because Envy needs no outside influence in order to achieve maximum success—to pummel, emotionally surprise, and, ultimately, inspire the listener. No, through technical mastery, undiluted passion, and a healthy dose of human spirit Envy transcends any language barrier and rekindles initiative in even the most self- and world-weary. But, unlike the aforementioned Les Rallizes Dénudés incident, my (originally instinctual) connection of Envy’s music with the tandem nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (an event that amounted to roughly 140,000 casualties) not only increases the enormous gravity of Envy’s music, the connection seems suggested by the band—if only because vocalist Tetsuya Fukagawa’s palpable anguish is so vast it must surely encompass this significant incident (and concomitant aftermath) in his country’s history. So the question becomes, is it wrong to bring one’s outside associations to bear on a band even if it means enhancing the music’s overall effect—an outcome achieved because of something the listener attributes (because of evidence) to the band.

Regardless of what real life event Envy’s dark, Weltschmerz-channeling, symphonic compositions might conjure up, the cumulative power is undeniable. Fukagawa’s lyrics are rendered in a foreign tongue, yet as he annunciates in his distinctive individual units of phlegm-dragging, there’s no doubting the passion for an overarching cause. He’s virtually breathing in that nuclear miasma, that cataclysmic scorching, so he might translate it to an aural palliative—a crucial redemption of earth’s oft-blind and careless citizens. Fukagawa’s vocal thesis (and indeed the band’s), even in the Envy’s nascence as an anger-led, straightforward hardcore band, seemed a plea for change; never an expression of mere complaint, derision, or hate, it was an appeal for the cessation of injustices—a logical extension of love for one’s fellow man/woman. His sacrifice of vocal chords, for the sake of Envy’s music and message, never wavered—it was mandatory, incumbent—it could happen so it should.

But what happens when the familiar fire is simply not there? Or when it’s there but too familiar? When the songs are birthed but seem unsure of their existence? When the listener finds moments on Recitation enjoyable but questions that enjoyment—wonders if it’s enough—if it’s fleeting, insubstantial—if many of the songwriting choices seem unnecessary—something previously unthinkable for this band with seemingly all the right answers. To be sure, there are moments on Recitation that justify the roughly four-year wait since Insomniac Doze. But other than the unexpected pop-punk approach of “Dreams Coming to an End” and doom-influenced trudge of “0 and 1,” there just isn’t enough evolution to call it a total success. For any other group purveying hardcore-influenced post-rock (or vice versa), Recitation would be a career-defining moment; but for the band that created All the Footprints… and A Dead Sinking Story (releases introducing a new language in aggressive independent music), and to a lesser extent Insomniac Doze, Envy’s latest is a bit too middling. We’re used to Envy making major strides from album to album—witness the almost entire reinvention from A Dead Sinking Story to Insomniac Doze—and Recitation offers nothing as effective as even the best moments of the Abyssal EP or the split with Jesu.

Yes, Recitation creates a form of dread in the listener, but it isn’t the intended mood of earlier records; it’s an uncomfortable sensation that Envy veers dangerously close to the maudlin, obligatory heartstring-pulling strains of Explosions in the Sky and their myriad imitators. The chiming, twinkling, uber-post-rock guitars are present; so is the compulsory spoken word. Miraculously the listener never questions whether Envy means any of it; if ever there were a band incapable of calculation or passion legerdemain it’s Envy. Instead, one wonders why Envy has elected to “mean” it this way—this familiar way. With Envy, the listener not only craves fresh ways to induce fervor and excitement, s/he expects it—s/he’s used to it, not used to being able to predict the trajectory of the songs themselves. Envy has streamlined their approach when they hardly needed to, and as a result the listener is left remembering the band’s songwriting greatness, and clinging to the intermittent glimpses of it on Recitation. “Rain Clouds Running in a Holy Night” not only boasts an inspired, poetic title, it possesses a subtle command of melody and an upbeat approach that was jettisoned on Insomniac Doze; the same can be said of “Pieces of the Moon I Weaved.” But songs like “Light and Solitude” commit the worst sin a band playing long-ish songs can: the content does not justify the duration—a mistake foreign to fans of Envy. The buildups that once so excited the listener now feel rote and perfunctory; instead, s/he enjoys only the payoffs rather than both them and the anticipation. “A Hint and the Incapacity” is one of Recitation’s few numbers that teases effectively and for a reason. Somehow the band creates its usual explosion of sentiment without Fukagawa’s tortured caterwaul by layering spoken word on the frantically ascending drums during the song’s climax.

One of the most significant and obvious hindrances on Recitation is the drumming. At first I thought it was merely sub-par (which it often is—a fact I found difficult to believe given the dexterous, inspired percussion of old), but it became evident that mixing caused the unpleasant ponderous, labored quality—so incongruous next to the effortless triumph of the rest of Envy’s attack in its best moments. With the drums’ prominence in the mix, the snare’s unfulfilling and tinny hollowness becomes magnified. When the drums enter nearly five minutes into album opener proper, “Last Hours of Eternity,” they don’t sound powerful or commanding, they sound clunky and insubstantial. And witness the drums’ unbefitting simplicity during the verses of “Rain Clouds Running in a Holy Night” and their graceless presence during the victorious vocal entrance of album highlight “A Breath Clad in Happiness,” a track so full of a buoyant conquest that it makes you yearn for an album replete with complex jubilation—something the band has previously achieved in spades. Dairoku Seki is certainly more than capable of percussive finesse, never having had a problem keeping up with even the most frantic and flailing compositions such as All the Footprints’ “Left Hand.” So while it’s not a Pelican-esque situation where the drummer’s inability hampers the band, one is frustrated at Seki’s mid-tempo bridle on Recitation—a fetter on a steed that wants to run free.

Envy now comprises adults with families and responsibilities, and therefore it’s perfectly understandable that their latest compositions would not be predicated on ire, be born of fuming rage. But the quintet is simply too strong as songwriters to have wrought an album often overwhelmed by complacence and redundancy. It’s with relief that the band has put to rest any rumors that Recitation will be its last album, and with excitement to hear they are already working on a new record wherein they plan to collaborate with a female vocalist, because Recitation’s most obvious effect is a hunger for the sort of stirring songwriting evinced on Envy’s earlier classics. Recitation is not a bad album by any means, but it echoes with potential, a fluctuating usage of talent from a band that has made a career of assured execution.

Recommended If You Likepost-rock/screamo; Envy - Insomniac Doze; Envy - Abyssal EP; Explosions in the Sky; This Will Destroy You


http://www.myspace.com/officialenvy
This review is a user submitted review from theDrivingSnow. You can see all of theDrivingSnow's submitted reviews here.
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 82
05:09 AM on 10/15/10
#2
red8ge
@JohnxHill
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I was kind of taken aback by this review because it reads like something I'd find on Pitchfork as opposed to on AP.net (I mean this positively)

You bring up good points about this album though. Not quite sure how I feel about it yet.
07:45 AM on 10/15/10
#3
cwhit412
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Nice first review, sir.
08:50 AM on 10/15/10
#4
IWasHerHorse
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5.75 is way too low for the production value. The drums in A Breath Clad in Happiness are so tight.
09:13 AM on 10/15/10
#5
youngmountain
http://littlewaves.bandcamp.com/
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Unusual review, not sure if I'm a big fan of the writing style, but from what I have heard of this album I completely agree with your point of view. I feel like everything seems a little forced, from the 'emotional' post rocky chord progressions to the of the use spoken word sections, whereas their earlier work always seems so sincere and powerful. However, in saying all this I'm still to give this album a proper listen so my opinion may change, it will be interesting to see where they go from here.
09:19 AM on 10/15/10
#6
HeavenResign
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Keep writing, you may be my new favorite reviewer on here. I'm going to check this album out, but reading this was awesome.
09:23 AM on 10/15/10
#7
Mochem
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The review is definitely very well written. But I couldn't make myself read through the whole thing and found myself not really caring about what you were saying because it was too wordy and...I can't think of the word..."pretentious" is the closest thing I can think of but it's not exactly what I mean.

And the score seems oddly low from what I have heard about this album. I still haven't listened to it, but I plan on it this weekend.
09:43 AM on 10/15/10
#8
Sikbeat37
You like music too? Woah.
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This was an enjoyable read. Well written, sir.
09:49 AM on 10/15/10
#9
WakingTheMisery
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Good review but I don't see the need to use such complex wording, in all honesty.
10:02 AM on 10/15/10
Alex DiVincenzo
www.alexislegend.com
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Well put together review.
10:04 AM on 10/15/10
kemichels
I drove through ghosts to get here.
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Good review, Stephen. I like this album quite a bit, but I also honestly haven't listened to Envy extensively enough to make an opinion of this album as compared to their old stuff.
10:13 AM on 10/15/10
Baines on Toast
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How is this writing style at all accessible for the younger members of the site? Somebody has already mentioned the word pretentious, but stated it's not exactly what they meant. Well, it's exactly what I mean.
10:20 AM on 10/15/10
Cody Nelson
Your mouth to God's south.
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How is this writing style at all accessible for the younger members of this site? Somebody has already mentioned pretentious, but stated it's not exactly what they meant. Well, it's exactly what I mean.
I agree. A little over-the-top.
10:25 AM on 10/15/10
Matthew Tsai
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How is this writing style at all accessible for the younger members of this site? Somebody has already mentioned pretentious, but stated it's not exactly what they meant. Well, it's exactly what I mean.

Well, Envy isn't exactly a band accessible to younger members of this site in and of itself. Sometimes, it takes some bombastic words to give an album a proper review.
10:29 AM on 10/15/10
Adam Pfleider
wait. what were we talking about?
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great review Stepehen, but I really enjoyed this album, saw it as a way they've brought everything they've done together so far.

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