Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bend Sinister - Animals (2014) [Early Review]

Bend Sinister Announce 'Animals' LP, Premiere New Track

1 Best of You 8:35
2 Fancy Pants 5:07
3 I Got Love 3:08
4 Better Things to Do 4:59
5 Thunder and Lightning 4:39
6 Teacher 5:09
7 Seventeen 3:32
8 You Remind Me 4:10
9 Through the Week 4:53
10 It Will Never End 4:40

Okay, here's a brand new, clean entry that allows this review to be on it's own.

"Best of You" has this great driving chorus in the first half that really kicks off the album well. And after it comes to its climax in the middle, the piano and slowly building methodical section "When the World, it brings you down. Keep your head up high, and your feet on the ground." I love the way it continues to get bigger and bigger with layers of vocals doubling, piano, percussion. It's one of those grand, majestic epic pieces, almost like Queen. Dan's use of the same vocal lines that harmonize per a different octave and how the guitar solo complements them totally soaks me in.

"Best of You" might be the best opening track the band has ever written, and even the best song. It's really perfect and I guess time will tell, but I don't imagine getting sick of it anytime soon. I love the atmosphere.

"Fancy Pants" was the 1st single/shared track a few months ago that I've enjoyed more or less since hearing it (in fact even when they played it at the show I saw last March in Chicago). Musically it contrasts with "Best of You," in a good way as it's almost like a very catchy, dancey, energetic almost cabaret pop track. The way the hook works, the use of trumpet and the gang vocals are used works so well. It's a new side to Bend Sinister, that I am totally enjoying.

"I Got Love" is maybe the 1st high energy rocker on this album. I actually was kind of hearing a little early Rush on this song. I'm referring the blues rock era of much of the 1st 2 Rush records. The bend lets loose here, really in a stripped down, riffy and call-and-and-response way. A few tracks on Small Fame had a similar element and energy, although I'm not sure any of them were quite this tight and straight forward. But like "Fancy Pants," this is another contrasting track that allows this record to change gears in a great way.

"Better Things to Do" is nice thematic ballad that sounds lyrically about a story of a 1st date. Perhaps it's sort of response to the hopeless romantic ideal. Being that trying to find love (as opposed to *having it* like the lyrics on the last track) and failing, and thinking you do have something better to do with your time.

Musically, I think the best moment(s) of this track are about 2:30 mark or so when Jason Dana has a hyper yet short drum solo and a wicked saxophone part comes in. Then it slows and starts to gradually build again in Bend Sinister fashion; the songs builds to a wonderful climax bringing back the original chorus but in a much more layered or full sounding way.

"Thunder and Lightning" is maybe the most ballsy, heavy track on this album. A little like "Quest for Love" from Small Fame, it just gets in your face. The intro I keep thinking a little bit of the opening guitar riff from Pink Floyd's "In the Flesh." But once that sets the stage, the heavy almost Jon Lord-like organ lines just cry out with energy. Dan's vocals go from call-and-response chanting with distortion "feel the thunder, feel the lightning, feel the thunder, feel the lightning" which then leads to a guitar/vocal chanting doubling.
Which is repeated with a 2nd verse and then this great instrumental bridge that is just bombastic. Jason Dana's drum work namely, just pounds.

Then this adrenaline rush of a track concludes with another out of left-field moment with a guttural voiced phrase.

"Teacher" is the 2nd track that was initially shared and definitely differed from "Fancy Pants," but also in a good way. It really does rock hard like many of the songs on this album. However, it starts out, with I keep thinking is another Led Zeppelin-like element, using a keyboard patch that almost sounds like the mellotron intro to "In the Light." Although that only lasts a short-while, and gets right into this really energetic upbeat verses. Organs and keys receiving their share of the lead in the mix. Dan Moxon's organ-sound just goes so well with Jason Dana's tight snare and cymbal work. The recipe works so well from a layering standpoint.

Then about 3-and-a-half minutes in, this almost wall of sound of keyboards come in. It's a very 70's classic rock sounding, almost like Rainbow or Supertramp who the band have cited being fans of.

Then the chorus is repeated and ends this track with a bang.

"Seventeen" continues the heavy guitar riffs from Joseph Blood and the organ and calling out vocals from Dan Moxon. At one point it sounds like Dan Moxon sings "Act Two" in one of the phrases. Some others I've managed to notice include:

"You better take the stairs"

"Someone says she is just a tease...She was only Seventeen"

The way the organ leads to this great chromatic guitar line keeps my attention throughout this track. Dan then keeps repeating "She was only Seventeen..She was only Seventeen!..She was only Seventeen!"

"You Remind Me" takes another left turn with this opening synth patch.

This is another song about meeting a girl, in an attempt or process to find romance. It kind of has that classic pop looking-for-love lyric. But it comes across as subtle, not over-the-top and sappy.

"You remind me of a girl I once knew when I was younger. Or maybe a song I heard one night while listening to the radio"

I even enjoy the little synth bridge where Dan changes up the vocal accents to work with the tempo and add harmony.

The ending of "You Remind Me" includes a segue into the next track "Through the Week" with this gentle guitar refrain and then piano. I keep hearing dredg on that part (like Catch Without Arms). Although by the time this track kicks in as almost a piano ballad, Dan's gentler tone almost harkens back to some of the vocals he did on some earlier stuff like Stories of Brothers and especially Broken City, which I totally go for.

Lyrically, like many tracks on Animals, the words are relate-able. Although it probably refers to a relationship, but on the surface, "through the week" refers to like a supply of some resource like gas or a food or something. Or just *getting* through the week.

then the guitar refrain and piano comes back with this DREAMY chanting. I actually think of The Dear Hunter a little bit there.

"It Will Never End" then closes out this record. The verse while maybe a little faster than typically, I keep thinking Billy Joel could have sung chorus.

"Keep your head up, and your feet on the ground"

"You fool yourself again..never end"? 

The way they introduce that sad melody with the almost whistle-sounding key patch, and it gets repeated in multiple forms totally works. Around the 3:45 mark, the heavy synths bring it back with the drums, and then the guitar. I just love to bits. Because it's a really sad sounding, and emphasizes, in this case with repeated textures and sources. I think it's another classic case of Bend Sinister creating this beautiful interval pattern that is unforgettable yet it doesn't overstay its welcome. It almost reminds me of Marillion, specifically "Neverland" and the floating, dreamy closing track to a journey or trip of a record.

They really know how to create the intense yet concise idea at an accessible length and format. Which is why I think they really could blow up, but, I'm still a bit too wary and seen that situation disappoint far too many other times to have a ton of hope about it.

However, I do think this record not only is good enough but could likely even find more distribution than Small Fame did, that it may end up getting their name a lot more out there than it ever has before. I hope it does, however, I think at that point, I would not expect hordes of folks clamoring for their earlier music beyond Small Fame for some reason. Why I say that is I notice the folks who mention or know them, know them almost soley for Small Fame and sort of think of Small Fame as their debut record, and Animals as their sophomore record. Which of course is not true, but in a way, sort of makes sense given the changes in lineup, their 1st exposure really to the US and other parts came with Small Fame.

But if those folks do catch on and stay on, then those brilliant earlier records will be discovered, and as a fan of those, I will at least want to smile.

But with Animals, it's a different record in a lot ways. Very organ and keyboard heavy, yet it is quite diverse in terms of the kinds of songs. Is it their best? I'm not sure, it's not far from all their others, but in my biased fanboy opinion, it seems like trying to compare favorite children, etc.

But I can certainly say for 2014, it is the best or my favorite record thus far. So, it takes the top spot for now, and the dozens of records I hopefully will be taking-in will have their work cutout for them to matchup to it. And "Best of You" I certainly think is among their best tracks, which that alone I think will allow this record to have staying power for many years to come.

The 1st of many, or the last of 1? :p (it's currently still pending)