CD Reviews

BY DI ARTS STAFF | JUNE 23, 2009 7:21 AM

Modest Mouse
Autumn Beds
**** out of *****

Modest Mouse finds its cheese

Modest Mouse is a tricky band. Born in 1993, it is hailed as one of indie rock’s gods. But Modest Mouse lost a lot of fans with its last album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank — with fans claiming the music went a different, more poppy direction. The new 7-inch single, “Autumn Beds,” contains two songs, “Autumn Beds” and “The Whale Song.” It seems to be an attempt by Isaac Brock and Company to reach back to roots before We Were Dead and channel some of the sounds that made such albums as This is a Long Drive For Someone with Nothing to Think About or The Moon & Antarctica classics.

The title track “Autumn Beds” carries a conflicted tone. The steady pounding of the bass drum below the light plucking of a banjo gives the listener an initial feeling of joy. Brock’s voice counters this happiness, singing somber words such as “we won’t be sleeping in our autumn beds.” On the surface level, the song is about a man who lost a court case. However, lines such as “we’re just more laundry that they need to hang” suggest the song as a deeper commentary on the pain of loss. The track’s ability to emote both ends of the spectrum is credit to Brock’s songwriting talent.

The B-side track, “The Whale Song,” rocks for almost six minutes as only Modest Mouse knows how. It owns the band’s traditional sounds — punchy baseline driving guitar licks that are almost painful to the ear — all below Brock’s self-loathing lyrics. Words such as “I know I am a scout / I should’ve found a way out / So everyone can find a way out” shows listeners he hates his self-pity and knows how to stop feeling that way, but for some reason is refusing.

The 7-incher carries a tone much bigger than its mere two songs. After the debacle that was We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, Brock seems to have found his stride again as a songwriter.

Eric’s Pick “Autumn Beds”

Dream Theater
Black Clouds and Silver Linings
**** out of *****

Progressive-metal at its finest

After nine years and a few recent mediocre albums, it may seem as if progressive metal band Dream Theater is losing some steam. Leave it to the masters of musicianship to prove the naysayers wrong by releasing Black Clouds and Silver Linings — an album that contains some of the band’s best material in more than a decade.

The album opens in a way that only Dream Theater can — with the epic 16-minute track “A Nightmare to Remember.” The tune begins with the sound of thunder followed by ominous piano music played by keyboardist Jordan Rudders. Immediately the song picks up with some crunching guitar riffs by legendary seven-stringer John Petrucci and powerful double-bass drumming courtesy of Michael Portnoy. Dream Theater is not afraid to cross over into the realm of speed metal, and this song proves it, although there are plenty of melodic clean parts as well.

“A Nightmare to Remember” is the first and let’s face it, probably only single off Black Clouds and Silver Lining. The radio-edit version clocks in at five minutes, but the album version reaches eight and delivers the sound that fans of Dream Theater will expect. Singer James Labrie shows off his versatile vocal pipes, proving his voice rivals some of the best singers out there.

Next up is “Wither,” the type of song that people who hate Dream Theater will relentlessly mock. Labrie’s vocals almost reach pop territory here, which only proves how versatile of a singer he is. The shorter song leaves the listener with some breathing room for the all-out-prog-fest that is yet to come.

The last three tracks on the album are all more than 10 minutes in length and contain enough time-changes and solos to satisfy any music-nerd. “The Shattered Fortress” contains past elements of Dream Theater songs and is the heaviest on the album. “The Best of Times” is an emotional tune with lyrics about the death of Portnoy’s father.

Fans of the band will drool over the 20-minute closing track, “The Count of Tuscany,” and will want to listen to the whole thing again once it’s done. The song features out-of-control guitar, keyboard, and drum solos that are some of the band’s best.

Black Clouds and Silver Linings sees Dream Theater kicking ass just as it used to, and it is a must-buy for any progressive rock fan.

Eric’s Picks: “A Rite of Passage,” “A Nightmare to Remember,” “The Count of Tuscany”

A thoroughly electrified acoustic album

The Mars Volta
**** out of *****

The Mars Volta release Octahedron, its self-proclaimed acoustic album, is the group’s strongest release since its formation in 2001. This is the most electrified, drum-heavy acoustic album in history, but for the Mars Volta, it’s noticeably stripped down.

The opening track, “Since We’ve Been Wrong,” nearly convinces listeners that this actually will be a genuinely amp-free album. A punchy, percussive guitar picking line shoots out from behind an eerie, ambient synth background after building for over a minute and a half. But just past the five-minute mark on the tune, an utterly explosive drum track erupts to drive the last third of the song home, firmly defining the Mars Volta’s concept of its so-called “acoustic” album.

“Halo of Nembutals,” the third track on the album, is woven together with violent bass lines and precisely placed stereo-panned vocals. When listened to with a pair of high-quality headphones, the panning simulates a miniature Bixler-Zavala riding brain waves around in the listener’s head, giving an added thrill to the already electrifying song.

Vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s sense of melody has progressed even further from the band’s 2008 release, Bedlam in Goliath. Some would argue that the Mars Volta is steadily declining, but its progression shows that the band has polished its sound and its tools to near mastery. The precise sorts of delays and modulations heard throughout Octahedron signify guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s growth as an instrumentalist.

This is the most straight-forward rock album to come out of the minds of Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez since the release Relationship of Command, which sprung from the duo’s early collaborations in the band At the Drive-In. Enthusiasts of the Mars Volta are well-accustomed to chasing numerous tracks of instruments freaking out on top of each other throughout a song, often making it impossible to really follow a melody or do anything but froth at the mouth. This album, however, is a coherent, powerfully intricate assembly of drums, guitars, synthesizers, and vocals. The harmonies are better than ever (as needed in any sort of acoustic album) and the drums and synthesizers drive this piece of music to familiar yet uncharted melodic territories.

Ryan’s Picks “Halo of Nembutals,” “Luciforms”

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