Review Summary: Four years of preparation pays positive and negative consequences.
For nearly half of my life, I have traveled a half an hour to euphonium lessons. On the way home, I take the back road way home, through open fields and wooden utopias. I have many memories of long discussions with my mother, when she drove me, and realizations about my life. Twisting, turning, and unforgiving, this road is as enclosing as it is expansive, and for that reason correlates with the music of Ours’ latest- Mercy (Dancing for the Death of an Imaginary Enemy)
is a true achievement. It grows and recedes masterfully, making the hour long journey through the album not only bearable but also enjoyable. In tempo, instrumentation, and volume, the album varies enough to never repeat itself, but keeps enough of a core sound to stay coherent. Under the financial foundation of Rick Rubin, Jimmy Gnecco and the current members of Ours got everything they wanted- strings, brass, multitudes of guitar effects, and layers upon layers of sound. The capabilities of these layering techniques are exemplified on “Ran Away to Tell the World.” Aside from a nice interlude in the middle of the song, it relies on the same chord progression and vocal melodies for the entire five minutes. As cellos, more guitar sounds, and vocal harmonies build upon this foundation, the song grows until its breaking point where it simply stops instead of breaking into a huge climax. The release point is perfect, a true demonstration of the band’s dynamic awareness.
The centerpiece of Ours’ sound, however, is the voice of Jimmy Gnecco. His celestial qualities fall somewhere between Bono and Gavin Hayes of dredg. At times, his voice floats perfectly above the sounds of the band, mostly in the more energetic and louder moments of the album. For this reason, songs like “Willing” and “Saint” work well. Even after all these years, though, Gnecco lacks restraint and ruins some of the quieter moments on the album with vocal melodies that make no sense in the context of the song. In “Murder”, he keeps his voice subdued perfectly for the first verse, but he comes up in intensity quicker than the song, finding no middle ground between quiet and loud. When the band finally matches him in volume, it sounds great. His elevated vocals on “Mercy” drag on for a bit too long and thus, the song lacks in contrast for such a lengthy (near seven minutes) song. To create contrast in “Black”, he enters a spoken word rant that, for lack of a better description, sounds stupid. Moments like these bring the album down, while the climatic moments are purely brilliant.
Other flaws on the album are mostly momentary, except for the compositional misstep “The Worst Things Beautiful”, which sounds like a cross between a bad U2 single and a bad Coldplay single. For the most part, Mercy flows well and is a catchy brand of spacey rock. Rick Rubin’s production accentuates the band’s strengths and allowed them to find the perfect sound for their record. While their sound is fairly pigeon-holed throughout the album, it is an open, round sound. Like the road I travel every Monday night, it stays in one lane but travels through fields and woods alike. The four year preparation to the album’s rewards pays its dividends, but also shows a bit of overthinking on the band’s part.