Monday, August 17, 2009

Review : As Tall As Lions : You Can't Take It With You

I thought this one would be easier to review, that I would be able to say that if you liked their last album, you’ll enjoy this one just as much. But, I don’t know if that’s the case. That’s not to say that You Can’t Take It With You is in any way inferior, or that the last album was better. It’s simply difficult to compare the two. Yes, the soaring vocals are there. Yes, the pleasure of just listening is there. The creativity is most definitely there. This is an album built on mountains of texture and nuance. It’s just that we’re looking at a new topography, a new skyline with new mountains.

*It’s interesting to note that I have had the luxury, I suppose, of seeing them play several of these songs (almost half of the album, and even one or two that didn‘t make it) over the past year or so. To hear the final product is intriguing, as it’s obvious the songs have gone through some very obvious changes. It’s always curious to me how bands end up with the arrangements that they do - this band even more so.*

Where their self-titled album was an exercise in controlled yet unbridled beauty and overt sexiness (for lack of a better word), You Can’t Take It With You seems like it’s almost a de-evolution of sorts. The structural basis of the album is no where near as solid as you would expect, but what it lacks in structural integrity, it makes up for in it’s effort to create a sense of atmosphere, a sense of spontaneity. Less overtly produced and much more open, the album as a whole gives itself time to just breathe. This can take away from the urgency of listening to any record - sprawling, seemingly aimless arrangements can pull any listener out of the experience - so it’s it to their credit that they are able to keep us interested for some of their more esoteric pieces. Songs like “Duermete” and “Sleepyhead” are more or less lo-fi quasi-interludes, and I don’t think it’s by mistake that these songs were written and performed by two other members of the band (bassist Julio and guitarist Sean), as vocalist Dan Nigro takes the reigns through much of the album. The sonic difference is evident, as is the vocal delivery and lyrical content. I don’t want to take away from their contributions, as they do lend the album more personality. They just seem to want to take the album in different directions.

There are some more energetic pieces, starting with the opener “Circles,” moving on to the searing “In Case of Rapture,” and culminating in the groove laden “Is This Tomorrow?“ All 3 are great numbers that add some oomph to a mostly quiet, introverted experience. One of the most evident additions to their sound is the use, over several songs, of a small choir. They lend the perfect amount of energy and are evident enough so as to not feel like part of the background.

Reading over this, I feel like it might come off as a negative bit of writing, sort of down on itself. This is certainly not the case. There was nothing underwhelming about this album, as it is definitely an As Tall As Lions album. The difference between this and what came before is evident from the beginning, and that requires you to listen to the band in an entirely new way.

I think what I’ve found most interesting in listening to You Can’t Take It With You is that it has a lot less in common with some of the more mainstream Indie efforts (oxymoron, I know) than I was expecting. This seems to be more closely related to bands like Broken Social Scene and The Most Serene Republic, who delight in making unabashedly non-mainstream music. It’s accessible to fans of music, but much less so to those whose appreciation and understanding stops when the radio is turned off. So I’ll give credit where credit is due. For a band poised on the verge of commercial success, to make an album that is clearly the album they wanted to make is a bold move. And makes me appreciate the band and this album even more.

Album available here.

Reviewed, Written, and Posted By: Jared Bowers

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Contributing Editor: Jared Bowers
I'm into indie, rock, experimental, hardcore and post-hardcore.
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