Review Summary: Record of the Year. Unexpectedly.White Pony
was an important album for me. During my early adolescence, I was big into nu-metal and its most aggressive moments (think of the relevance to a middle school boy, antagonized in understanding girls, of "Elite"'s treatment of female fertility "When you're ripe, you'll bleed of control"). There was some appreciation for the beauty of the album, but it was mostly about puerile aggression and heaviness. Then, as i started playing guitar more, and definitely grew out of my need for heavy music, I craved music that had technical prowess. Some of Carpenter's guitar riffs took me by surprise and I was excited to hear that underneath the chugging there were really cool time changes and attacks. Most importantly I was taken aback by Chino's singing. I never realized how precise he was in his purposeful imprecision. He was completely level-headed at being insane. Also, his emotive lyrics and vocal presentation perfectly tied in with the Thrice/Thursday/Glassjaw scene I was getting into simultaneously. Then, at the end of high school, as I got more into electronica and hip hop, I started to recognize the relevance of Delgado in the construction of Deftones' atmosphere. Their most memorable songs are also their most atmospherically oppressive and powerful. "Digital Bath," "Knife Party," and "Change" are all defined by the ghostly samples in the background that perfectly matched Chino's vocals and the wonderful harmonic phrasing on those songs. White Pony
is a classic. A 5/5. There are few, if any, blemishes, each song being memorable and powerful.
And we all know the self-titled Deftones
did not live up to the standards that were set on White Pony
. "Hexagram" was great, but felt like a rehashing of the aggression and angularity of "Elite." "Good Morning, Beautiful" had some, well, beautiful verses, but fell trap to its really meatheaded, hamhanded nu-metal sections as well. "Minerva" was great but a little tepid at its heights. Overall, it was a good album, but not great. I attribute a lot of the failings of this album to its consciousness of recreating the variety of White Pony
. There was the token sampled song, "Lucky You," to match "Teenager" and "Digital Bath" and the typical metal songs "Hexagram" and "Needles and Pines" to match "Elite" and "Korea." I wanted to love the album, and I did for a while, but over time, it's fallen trap to its own replicative design. So I, and many other fans, are still unwittingly waiting for White Pony II
So, how does Saturday Night Wrist
fulfill the expectations set by White Pony
? It doesn't, and that's why it succeeds. Excepting the miserable "Pink Cellphone" and the unimportant "Mein" and "Rapture," this album is flawless, and in ways I could have never predicted. First off, Deftones have moved away from just using heavy riffing for the sake of heaviness. Thick, meaty riffs do appear, but they are usually always accompanied by cool melodies or time signatures, such that one doesn't just enter a nu-metal section for the sake of itself, but enters a well-transitioned section that is wonderful within itself, but also serves the song as a whole. Secondly, Deftones aren't shy around major keys. Some of the best moments on this album come from the prettier, brighter moments, rather than the haunting, dark moments that were on White Pony
(think of the great chorus of "Cherry Waves" and the cool major third gestures and end guitar on "Xerces" versus the screams of "Knife Party" or the repressed, suicidal tones of "Teenager"). Saturday Night Wrist
marks a Deftones that isn't afraid of sounding triumphant, uplifting, or happy at times, which makes their more brutal and dark songs ("Rats! Rats! Rats!" and "Beware") all the more compelling. Thirdly, this album feels more expansive than White Pony
. Tying in with White Pony
's darkness and depression was the sense of claustrophobia I got from the whole album. Most of the songs feel doomed in one way or another and use a lot of repeating motifs to narrow the soundscape, giving the impression of the album closing in, rather than expanding. Saturday Night Wrist
, makes me feel almost agoraphobic. There is a huge diversity of sounds being used here both in the instrumental tones, as well as the sampled tones. Would the metallophone percussion at the beginning of "U, U, D, D, L, R, L, R, A, B, Select, Start" have a place on any other Deftones album? Would the weird, transmission-sounding introduction to "Combat" be taken seriously if it prefaced "Knife Party?" Not at all. Here, the variety of sampled sounds is really diverse and suits the album. It's even, dare I say, fun?
This album truly succeeds in how it's different from White Pony
, but it's also interesting to consider how it's similar. And really, the most notable element of this album that is similar are Chino's vocals. They are still the melodramatic, tortured fare from White Pony
. As a vocalist, Chino is unpredictable. He'll leap between unusual intervals at whim, and often transitions singing to screaming in a nanosecond (think of the part on "Hexagram" where he sings "As the animals make their way through the crowd" and lets fuc
king loose on the word "crowd"). Chino also has a tendency to hit a falsetto note at just the right moment such that I literally shiver or tremble when he does so. It suited the haunting aspects of White Pony
and have made "Digital Bath" and "Knife Party" two of my all-time favorite songs. Chino's singing, which I considered a top performance on White Pony
has been matched here. He uses all of his typical tricks, which would seem stale in premise, but he pulls them off with conviction and emotion. The dull, turgid trill on the word "you" in the chorus on "Cherry Waves" echoes in my mind for hours after hearing that song. The near-falsetto on the chorus of "Hole in the Earth" slays me every time I hear it, especially because Chino's voice is mixed with a trebly quality at that moment, emphasizing the strain as he hits that high note. The ending of the bridge of "Combat" is one of the catchiest 3 vocal phrases I've ever heard in my life. "Rats! Rats! Rats!" may be the most effective screaming outburst since Daryl Palumbo's breakdown at the end of the song "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence," and when Chino erupts with the lyrics "Nothing / Nothing / Not one fuc
king thing" I am always on the edge of my seat, aching to do something physical or insane to match Chino's vocal power. All in all, Chino is masterful, and each song displays a different facet of his ability, except, I guess, the instrumental "U, U, D, D, L, R, L, R, A, B, Select, Start."
The rest of the band is great too. Carpenter's abilities with chunky riffs are apparent here. "Rats! Rats! Rats!" is simultaneously the most meatheaded song in the Deftones' repertoire, and also one of the most off kilter and angular, showing Carpenter has a lot of brains behind his aggressive brawn. His softer moments are awesome too. "Riviere" is made by Carpenter's performance. He has a really good feel for the instrument on that song and his attacks emote strongly, matching Chino's vocals. He ends the song and the album on a beautiful note with his downward guitar slide and stifled final strum, that is a fitting denouement for [i]Saturday Night Wrist[/]. Cheng's playing is also notably sweet on this album. The verses of "Cherry Waves" hit me out of no where. His lines are strikingly original and he undulates his lines in a way that perfectly suits the weird dissonances of the verses. Cunningham also has his moments. "Mein" has a sweet variety to the cymbal strikes that manages to salvage Serj Tankian's unfortunate guest appearance and propels the song. "Rats! Rats! Rats!" is an achievement in chopped up feels that Cunningham executes masterfully with his use of snare strikes and little fills that clean up the jutting transitions of the song. Delgado, too, exhibits technically here, yet in a non-traditional sense, as his samples, as I mentioned earlier, really define a lot of the tone this album takes on, producing a lot of cool, diverse samples that expand the soundscape of Saturday Night Wrist
and render some of the more plodding moments (the section on "Beware" with the chirping of the frogs) really interesting and memorable. Overall, everybody brought their A-game, and it is pulsing out of nearly every moment of this album.
That is except for "Pink Cellphone." Here, there's a wack, botched lo-fi production, absurd vocals, painful repetition, and no value to the overall arc of the album. This is really a huge blemish right on the nose of Saturday Night Wrist
, and I really question the reasons for it being here. I know Delgado and Chino both have amazing faculties with electronics and more trip hop-based material, so I really wonder who was behind this track. Other than that, the only other weak tracks, really are just subpar relative to the rest of the album. "Rapture" feels a little too meaty, and "Mein" is a little too monotonous, especially when Serj's washed out guest vocals enter, though both tracks definitely have their merits (see the gigantic breakdown in "Rapture"). Somehow they are just outperformed.
Saturday Night Wrist
is Deftones' breakaway from their prior success. They have completely reworked their sound since Deftones
and have recreated artistic success without replicating their best album. In addition, they gleaned all of the technical innovations that made White Pony
so great like Chino's vocals, and applied them to their reformed aesthetic. This album, too, is a classic, minus the unfortunate production decisions in "Pink Cellphone" and the dragging moments I mentioned above. Now, a month or so out of its release, it is really sinking in for me as the genius album it is. If only the public weren't so beaten down from the underwhelming Deftones
and expecting White Pony II
, maybe they'd go out and help Saturday Night Wrist
become the commercial success White Pony
was as well.
Recommended Tracks: All of them minus the three mentioned, but especially "Hole in the Earth," "Cherry Waves," "Rats! Rats! Rats!," and "Combat."