As part of an ongoing New Year’s Resolution to expand the breadth of musical knowledge, I am listening to a discography of a band each month.
Previous entries I have posted directly to my Facebook. Those entries were for Witchcraft (January), Mastodon (February), The Mars Volta (March), The Darkness (April), Reverend Bizarre (also April), Sum 41 (May), Rise Against (June) and Alice in Chains (July).
For August, I accepted the suggestion of Amplifier.
Background: A had very little knowledge of the band prior to this listen through. I recall seeing them once, years ago, on a show like Later With Jules Holland (or something similar) and not being frightfully impressed. Still, they fall squarely across some genres/sub-genres I can quite get into (I do like some prog, space rock and a few others that they are described as covering).
Motorhead is a good opener. Reminds me of Alice in Chains had a warmer, fuzzier guitar tone. It has a nice catchy riff, and is a good first track. Airborne continues the good quality, while Panzer plods a little but had a tasty brooding tone to the whole thing. Old Movies is fine, but the next few tracks are total filler material. Things pick up again part way through On/Off. The Consultancy and One Great Summer aren’t bad. The album treads water a bit until the very good/catchy Half Life. Last couple of tracks are fine, though not overly memorable.
Overall: A good debut, if a little bloated. They could easily have cut 3-4 tracks from the mid-section.
Best tracks: Motorhead, Half Life
Gustav’s Arrival is a good instrumental opening (very tasty opening riff). O Fortuna is a good, relatively heavy track. Insider is of a similar quality (and, for some reason, reminds me of Opeth). Next couple of tracks are filler. Strange Seas of Thought is better and has some excellent guitar work. The entire back half of the album can be categorised as ‘fine, with the odd standout moment, but nothing overly memorable as a whole’.
Overall: More of the same. I kind of wish they’d do 40 minute albums instead of 50+ as I don’t find there’s is enough interesting things happening to keep my undivided attention. Not quite as good their eponymous debut.
Best tracks: Gustav’s Arrival, O Fortuna
– The Octopus (double album)
The Runner is a quirky, otherworldly intro track. Sound effects are mixed into the tune – they are nicely ambiguous as to whether they are meant to be space or oceanic based as they flit between the two. This track gives away to best songs on the whole album, Minion’s Song and Interglacial Spell. While not on the same level, the run of tracks from The Wave to Planet of Insects is all pretty good! The title track may seem less exciting to the casual listener, but it has some great, subtle, subdued riffs lurking. White Horses at Sea // Utopian Daydream is probably the weakest track on disc 1. The piano outro is really sweet though. Closing track Trading Dark Matter on the Stock
The Sick Rose is a pleasant, if unmemorable opener. Interstellar is probably the best track on the second disc – much more old school space rocky (which you’d probably expect with such a name). The Emperor is frustratingly semi-interesting, as is Golden Ratio. Fall of the Empire signals a darker mood, with the guitars a smidge closer to stoner/doom. Nice use of psychedelic effects. I’m not sure how memorable Bloodtest will be in the long run. Oscar Night // Embyro is an odd one, and the back half of it is quite dull. Forever and More is a decent denouement.
Overall: Their most ambitious album to date. First disc is the best thing they’ve done to date, sort of in the 4/5 range. Disc 2 is less interesting on the whole and in places threatens to show the band up as a poor man’s Porcupine Tree/Katatonia.
Best tracks: Minion’s Song, Interglacial Spell
– Echo Street
Matmos has a warm guitar tone and is a pleasant, sort of uplifting opener. A little lacking in bombast for an opening track. Next couple of track do not stand out, both sort of laid back and with a mesmerising quality. Where the River Goes is the first track on this album that I nodded my head/tapped my foot to. It’s not a bad tune, with a some nice guitarwork in the back half. Paris in Spring is like the second and third tracks – pleasant but without any standout quality. Between Today and Yesterday is a pretty decent stripped down acoustic effort. I could see it working well live as a pause for breath between more bombastic efforts. The title track is in the better half of tracks on the album, but – by this point – that isn’t actually saying much. Mary Rose starts off a bit like everything else on the album (easy on the ear, but unoriginal). However, it gets little bit of a kick half way through and it becomes something more. An uplifiting more radio friendly track – a better effort.
Overall: Despite me saying most (if not all) of the tracks are ‘pleasant’ and ‘nice’ this was a slog to sit through. Very little variety and it all felt a bit lightweight. It was almost like they wrote an EPs worth of material and decided to stretch it to an album. Even then, the better tracks aren’t up to the standard of the best on their previous releases.
Best tracks: Where the River Goes, Between Today and Yesterday.
Magic Carpet is a cracking opening track, with more tasty riffs in the first 90 seconds than was on the entire previous album. Black Rainbow continues the nice riffage, even if the song itself is just fine. Named After Rocky is a good album track, with a slightly doomier stoner vibe to it. Cat’s Cradle is difficult to describe as it is sort of pop-rock but not. It’s fine enough. Bride and Open Up are middling. OMG is what I’d expect a space rock playing homage to Sabbath to sound like. A significant step up from the previous two tracks and one I genuinely like. The Meaning of If is the better kind of short, foot tap worthy filler track. While a little bland to start with, I enjoyed the instrumental work (with whale song!) of Crystal Mountain. Crystal Anthem is a decent, catchy closer.
Overall: The gits! I was ready to round off my thought on the band as being one I could appreciate, but probably not overly seek out/enjoy after the debacle of Echo Street, but then they drop this! A very enjoyable album, and the shorter, heavier tracks seem to suit them much better.
Best tacks: OMG, Magic Carpet
Definitely a band that’s better when dropping more diverse albums. Personally, I think they pull off the heavier, doomier, grungier side of their sound better than the sort of Porcupine Tree-esque prog/post-metal that they do a fair bit of. Critically, their best disc of music is probably Disc 1 of The Octopus, though I found Mystoria more accessible, enjoyable and to my taste.
My order of preference:
01 Mystoria (most accessible/likable)
02 The Octopus
05 Echo Street