Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Album Review: The Dreaming Tree - Silverfade

Alternative rock has, for most of the time my memory spans, been a wasteland of dour attitudes and terrible music.  After the grunge movement rewrote the expectations of what rock was supposed to be in the mainstream, we were treated to band after band, now generation after generation, of what was labeled "post grunge", but what was really a facsimile of something that wasn't all that exciting to begin with.  And like any carbon copy (if you remember that process, congratulations), the results could only get worse with time.

But what the solution to our problem is can't be said to be clear.  We've seen increased heaviness, the acceptance of harsh vocals, and we've seen more than one attempt to right the ship by going back in time.  None of them have really worked, because they didn't strike at the core of what makes alternative rock as we know it so boring.  The Dreaming Tree tries a different approach, by stretching out and taking it in a more progressive direction.

"Silverfade" bounces from style to style, never staying put in a single sound, which allows the record to not become one long, dingy slog, which is a problem that permeates a lot of alternative rock.  "Yesterdays Tomorrow" opens the record, unexpectedly, with a piano figure, and when the guitars do come in, they are not the thick and low slurry you would expect.  They are still fuzzy, but they sit in the mix with a sharper bite, and they flick out washes of chords to give heft to the composition, which is clearly not written solely for the guitar to dominate.

"Heart Shaped Bruises" is a more traditional alternative song, with a bouncy beat and a synth line that pops up and recalls the short-lived video game fad that popped up during Ozma's brief foray into popularity.  The song's title also recalls an obscure song from a late-era Elvis Costello album, which is always a winner in my book.

After a bout of organ-washed poppiness, things get interesting with the eight minute "Forever Not Forever".  The song digs a bit deeper, giving the guitars more heft as they chug through the verses before lifting into an ethereal chorus.  This song shows the decided influence of prog, with riffs that twist and build like something you would hear in a Dream Theater song.  What that does is twist the normal alternative playbook around, giving us something that we probably didn't see coming.  Needless to say, it's the most engaging of the songs in the album's opening half.

There's a lot to like about "Silverfade".  The diversity of the album goes a long way towards justifying its sixty-five minute running time.  That's a lot of music, but the fourteen songs here all offer up something slightly different.  "Cherry Winters" does a great job of blending 60s vocal harmonies to a jazz chord progression, while "Higgs" has the dark atmosphere and Tool-like drumming patterns to slide into a radio playlist without a problem. 

But there are things about the record that could use improvement as well.  First of all, over an hour of music is just too much.  The record could have been two songs shorter, and better for the editing.  More than that, everything is just lacking a bit of focus.  The guitar tones are too soft and fuzzy for their own good, needing a bit more clarity to the attack to really make them feel as though they are a true rock band.  The biggest issue is in the songwriting, which while solid, lacks the true hooks that the music is begging for.  There's a lot of nice melody, but it's so soft that it never digs in.  There isn't a hook here that you know as soon as you hear it is going to get stuck in your brain.

"Silverfade" is a record that tries to do a little bit of everything, and I think suffers for the effort.  If the scope had been narrowed just a bit, there's a lot of potential here for something to have been really good.  As it stands, "Silverfade" is a fine record to put on and enjoy, but I don't see it as essential listening.

No comments:

Post a Comment