Review Summary: If We Could Only See Us Now-lite, less content, not as satisfying, but not bad by any means
Music can be a beautiful thing, it can make you see things in a different light, it can compliment a mood or set a tone; any great film has a stirring score that compliments it's most dramatic scenes. On the other hand, music can be one of the most frustrating entities on the planet; a band makes one incredible album, then spends the rest of its career trying to emulate its success (Are you listening Anthony Kiedis?) However one aspect of life the music can capture more than any other art form (perhaps with the exceptions of dance and drama) is emotion. The best composers wrote pieces of music that tugged at the heartstrings, conveyed chaos or just made people happy. Strangely enough; the emotional aspect has developed and grown and evolved into its own scene; where bands such as My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy can produce lacklustre albums which are adored by the music press who back this scene 100%. The result of this is; somewhat ironically; the “emo” (and I use the term loosely) scene becoming a mockery of itself; its gooey outpouring of faux- teen angst becoming almost sickly.
However, that’s not to say that emotion conveyed in music automatically herds a band in with the scene. Emotions can be conveyed tastefully, it can be put across by way of the instrumentation, or the lyrics, or both. Unfortunately, there isn’t exactly a reliable stream of bands and artists who have the ability to be emotional, yet tasteful; technically proficient, but not overly reliant on it; lyrically talented, whilst being able to wrap the lyrics around a melody. As well as this, there’s not a great deal of bands or artists today who have a distinct duality to them; there’s not a lot of bands like Radiohead; who have been comfortable in experimenting with their sound after achieving critical success. Similarly, there aren’t a lot of bands like Thrice; who are just as at ease with the distortion off and the screaming toned down or removed as they are with the guitars tuned down, the volume set to 11, the distortion on and the screaming at the fore.
The Red Sky EP shows off this duality. There’s Flags of Dawn perhaps best described as a montage of Atlantic
and Between the End and Where we Lie
from Vheissu, and four live recordings which differ – sometimes drastically - from their album counterparts. Under a Killing Moon
has been transformed from the dark monster that appeared on The Artist in the Ambulance into a simple acoustic song which – dare I say it – is far better than it’s album counterpart. For Miles
is another track that’ benefited from a little bit of tweaking. Whilst it doesn’t vary greatly from the version found on Vheissu, this version’s instrumentation has a slightly airy feel which compliments Kensrue’s vocals as opposed to the comparatively harsh piano on the original. The live version as also devoid of the song-ruining screaming at the end of the version on Vheissu, which leaves the whole song feeling as relaxing as a long soak in a hot bath.
The four live tracks are really boosted by subtle changes to their instrumentation; for example, Red Sky
is just Dustin’s vocals and a few guitar chords in the verses with an instrument which – if I’m brutally honest – I don’t know of plays in the chorus, all I know is that it sounds roughly like a mandolin and a guitar. The overall effect is a calming one, which, bar Weight of Glory
is a recurring theme throughout the EP, with Dust of Nations
having been given the same mellowing treatment in the instrumentation and having had the tempo knocked down a bit. As a whole, the live tracks all benefit from the changes made to the original versions – much like the improvements to So Strange I Remember You
et al on If We Could Only See Us Now.
If the live tracks are this EP’s “ups”, then arguably, the studio tracks are the “downs”; right? Well, almost. The two new tracks on the EP are completely different to each other. Flags of Dawn
, as mentioned earlier is like a cross between Atlantic
and Between the End and Where we Lie
from Vheissu. This is mainly because of the tone in Kensrue’s vocals and the quiet/louder/quiet dynamics of the song; it also holds one of Kensrue’s best lyrics: Sleep with one eye open/ live with both eyes shut. Weight of Glory
on the other hand, is a completely different animal; perhaps best described as a the vocals of Hold Fast Hope
from Vheissu, thrown in with the simple but crushing guitar and bass of Artist in the Ambulance’s Silhouette
and the drums of pretty much any track off of Identity Crisis. The end result of which can be said – rather strangely – to be a definition of Thrice’s sound pre-Alchemy Index, albeit watered down slightly to give an impression which doesn’t really flatter them; in fact, depending on the sound of The Alchemy Index, I’d possibly go as far to say that the musical direction hinted at in the live tracks and Flags of Dawn
And so, to the important part; is it any good as a whole? The simple answer to that is “yes”. However, here’s where it gets complex. Whilst in many aspects, the live tracks blow their album contemporaries out of the water, there’s a certain something they lack. They lack the raw energy of the album versions, in fact, Dust of Nations
feels relatively flat, they may be mellow, but with parts Dust of Nations
and Red Sky
the slightly stripped back approach doesn’t flatter. Additionally, whilst Flags of Dawn
is a very good track, it doesn’t quite have the implicit strength that Atlantic
or the Vheissu version of Red Sky
had. Weight of Glory
suffers a bit as well, mainly for the reasons outlined, but with the added problem of sounding like Hold Fast Hope
-lite; despite all of the different elements it has.
It’s at this point that I’m torn; whilst I personally love Flags of Dawn
, the variations on the original versions of the Vheissu tracks and the acoustic version of Under a Killing Moon
; I know in my heart of hearts that the Red Sky EP has some pretty irritating flaws. I also know that - no matter what I think – the Vheissu variations aren’t so good as to warrant this a 5/5 or even a 4/5. whilst they’re good, they’re just not quite as good as the live/acoustic songs on If We Could Only See us Now; which I’ve listened to relentlessly over the past few weeks, and in all honesty, puts this EP firmly into the shade
Under A Killing Moon (acoustic)
Flags of Dawn
For Miles (live)