Sunday, July 26, 2015

Album Review: Cryptex - The Madeleine Effect

As I grow older, and the sheer amount of music that I've heard increases exponentially, I notice two things happening. On the one hand, I find myself being grabbed by simple records that don't bring a single new idea to the table, but present back to me good songs in a style I'm already a fan of. As I get exposed to more music, and realize how much of it is disastrous, I have really come to appreciate what a gem finding a great old-fashioned album can be. But on the other hand, I have also seen my horizons spread in certain directions, notably in the more progressive/arty vein. In the last few years, I have heard plenty of records that are either all-out prog, or are avant-garde and theatrical, that have really hit me. So while it doesn't make a lot of sense, right now I love records that are either exactly what I would expect, or are something completely weird.

Cryptex does a fine job of straddling those lines, and bringing me an album that plays to both sides of my current taste. What they do on "The Madeleine Effect" is fuse catchy pop/rock with an artistic flair. Pick any song on the album, and what you're going to get is a great hook, and a hefty dose of atmosphere that wouldn't be out of place on a theater stage.

The opening "The Knowledge Of Being" shows you this right from the start, with a sneaky, sinister hook and a vocal that sounds like an actor losing himself in a role. And when the chorused vocals kick in at the end, there's no way to hear them as anything but a big chorus number that would punctuate a plot point in a story.

"Ribbon Tied Swing" has even more theatrical flair, from the rollicking piano line, to the vocals that swell in that corny way musicals prefer, but it all gets tied together with a melody that has some real teeth. Even though none of these songs stretches much beyond the four minute mark, they don't stagnate in repetition. There's always a bridge, if not an entire movement, that turns the song on its head. That's where the avant-garde influence comes in, where the band moves beyond the scope of simple rock and roll.

"Stroking Leather" is probably the oddest song of the bunch, shifting from dulcet accordion to raging hand-clapping, to ambient piano, all within the first two minutes. There are bits and pieces that are really good, but it's so disjointed a song that it fails to hold together as a cohesive piece of work. That's a danger when you're making music like this, but it's thankfully one that only pops up rarely.

After a couple of wildly oddball, but great, tracks, we get to "Orange Blossom City Girl", which appropriates the feeling (if not the riff) of "Sweet Home Alabama". It gets turned into something far different, but I'm not sure the nod-and-wink was such a good idea. It's too familiar, and takes me out of the moment of listening to Cryptex.

Ultimately, what "The Madeleine Effect" winds up being is an album that I can easily see a good portion of the people hating. It's weird, it throws a lot of non-rock ideas at you, and the vocals are going to be polarizing. All I can say is that while there are obviously flaws with the record, and it's by no means perfect, it's also quirky, charming, and fun. I had a good time listening to the record, and even if I don't foresee it becoming a staple of my listening habits, it's something that's certainly worth hearing, because it's unique. There's not a lot of music that is.

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