Stalemate - We Will Carry You Out to Sea
Record Label: n/a
Release Date: December 23, 2009
Though Stalemate had been around for more than five years and even recorded an album’s worth of material in high school before releasing We Will Carry You Out to Sea at the close of 2009, this album is the Rhode Island band’s real debut. It has many marks of a debut; it’s eclectic, energetic, forward-looking and quite promising. While the record is a lot to take in, multiple listens do yield many treasures underneath the dense surface.
After the introduction of “The Pyre,” Matthew DeMello’s nervous vocals begin “Will For President.” Cory Waldron’s harmonized backing vocals add an interesting texture before the band kicks in. Drummer Kevin Pereira proves to be a subtle yet powerful presence here, and maintains a professional, workman-like posture for the remainder of the album. With all that in mind, “Will For President” is one of the album’s definitive tracks in that it captures much of the essence of the record as a whole. The complex and inventive arrangement, DeMello’s cracked yuppie paranoia, Waldron’s smooth vocals, are all major components to the album and the band.
However, that is only a fraction of what is going on in We Will Carry You Out to Sea. While “Will For President” leans more to DeMello in its performance, “You’re Not a Morning Person, Are You?” is Waldron’s piece. Even if they share writing credit for every song on the album, “Morning Person” exudes Waldron’s metal influence (more than readily apparent in his outrageous guitar work). DeMello provides his 70s progressive rock organ touches through the piece, and the duo make it not quite metal and not quite prog but something entirely their own. Plus, Pereira provides a strong backdrop for these two iconoclasts, featuring some double-bass pedaling and dramatic fills.
DeMello’s “Maybe Tom Cruise Has a Point” might be his best moment on the album. It’s a ranting, spastic track that tackles the difficult issue of medicating children who have little knowledge of what what’s going on, among other things. His passionate delivery isn’t faked, and his lyrics handle the subject with great tact and aplomb—it’s never ham-fisted, even with his wild performance. Considering the specificity of the subject, there are few musicians who could write a convincing song about it, but DeMello gets it just right.
The heart of the record is the contrast between DeMello and Waldron, which peaks during “Faded Velvet.” It’s the album’s set piece, especially in the break towards the end where Waldron begins a countermelody that weaves with DeMello’s singing. The two are at their best here on their instruments as well, with Waldron’s metallic guitar sharing the fore with DeMello’s excellent piano. It’s an odd mix of Queen and Springsteen, but the two make it work in such a way that’s altogether fascinating and wholeheartedly original. One has to wonder why the group never quite made it out of New England.
If there’s one thing that the album lacks, it’s a strong bass presence. Bassist Geoffrey Rush feels largely absent from the record, and the album’s mix has him fairly lost, only sticking out occasionally if mostly due to the songs’ arrangements.
Furthermore, though the album ebbs and flows well, its eclecticism can be a bit much at times, especially the drastic shift from the Iron Maiden guitars of “Morning Person” to the Hall & Oates white-boy soul of “When I Sing.” The band’s ability to do both should be applauded, but the sequencing on the album is a little misguided here.
DeMello’s prog leanings occasionally get the better of him when his synthesizers take on some strange, almost science fiction film sounds. The weird synth sounds through “Dig the Well” and “Afraid of the Dark” don’t seem to serve much purpose texturally except other than to simply stick out, poking at the ears.
Though the band churns out some excellent performances from each member, Waldron, Pereira, and Rush often sound very stiff compared to the loose and often wild DeMello. Waldron, despite his talents as a singer and guitarist, feels detached at times. As passionate a song as “Dig the Well” is, Waldron doesn’t sound like he's living it. His ballad “When I Sing” suffers similarly, except in his layered harmonies where his dynamics push and pull emotionally and sparingly. Even if those harmonies might be a little too layered, he seems to dwell there in phrases like “Let me know” than in the chorus, “… I can still hear you laughing.”
The album’s one major sore spot is the obvious filler “Afraid of the Dark.” Coming after DeMello’s powerful, emotionally charged “(I Will Give You) $10 (If You Know My Name),” the track sounds like kid’s play, ultimately wasting space.
Lastly, where the album features Troop of Echoes saxophonist Peter Gilli, feels painfully out of place. Instead of Waldron taking an extended (and what could have been more nuanced) guitar solo on “Morning Person,” Gilli’s sax seems to take up space. Perhaps it should have been DeMello’s solo. The same issue is faced on “Dig the Well.” That song’s emotional peak is in Gilli’s hands during the solo, explicitly pointed out by a rather hammy, albeit brief, harmony line. It’s a very, very odd choice considering it’s the song’s emotional peak. The same can be said of his presence during “Faded Velvet,” the album’s climax. The Pink Floyd/Roxy Music inspiration was there to include a saxophone, but the direction is a bit off.
It’s not perfect, but it’s proof of a band that should have hit it big.