Review Summary: Some good and some bad from Equal Vision's most promising but also untested band.
Damiera - Quiet Mouth, Loud Hands
Hearing Damiera's debut release M(US)IC
when it first came out in 2006, or even hearing the rerelease in 2007 would have made the album a timely addition to a genre that was concurrently developing around the US. They used dual-guitar riffing, often employing clean tones and tapping techniques, with an equally active bassline and nicely angular drumming. On top of that are emotive vocals in the spirit of Jared Leto or Anthony Green. The guitar techniques positioned Damiera as a mainstream and poppier version of bands like Tera Melos and Facing New York, while the overall songwriting and vocals ensured the band would appeal to fans of Circa Survive and Minus the Bear. This hybrid of intelligence and intelligibility (and don't forget their status as Upstate New Yorkers) made Damiera shoe-in for the Equal Vision roster. EV has always found bands that simultaneously appeal to the bubblegum tastes of Victory Records fanboys and the high-brow tastes of music critics. Bands like Coheed and Cambria, The Fall of Troy, Bear vs. Shark, Circa Survive, Hot Cross, and Modern Life Is War - well, maybe not that last one - are all marketable and immediately palatable without sacrificing any artistry. However, most if not all of those bands found ways to disappoint during their respective tenures with Equal Vision. Many released lackluster sophomore albums and all have either broken up, are on hiatus, or have lost and gained enough band members to resemble short-sold stocks more than musical acts under contract. I'm not saying Equal Vision is some kiss of death for promising bands, but it feels like bands that fit Equal Vision's unique taste have a hard time delivering. One could chalk it up to bands trying to produce Debut Album 2
and failing to write songs as compelling as those on Debut Album
, or maybe bands that have carved out a niche and are trying to develop their voice further, ending up straining themselves and turn good songs sour. Either way, these idiosyncratic bands have a hard time surviving.
Damiera has been no exception. Subject to a line-up shift that involved replacing all members except the key songwriter and instrumentalist, David Raymond, Damiera has essentially abandoned their math-rock-for-the-masses sound that defined M(US)IC
. Instead, on Quiet Mouth, Loud Hands
, Damiera have shifted over towards the poppy end of their songwriting spectrum, feeling like kindred spirits of Circa Survive, 30 Seconds to Mars, and at their quietest moments, Codeseven (another Equal Vision band believe it or not). There is more of a focus on layering textures and creating atmosphere rather than creating interweaving guitar lines. It's as if all of the space that had previously been filled in by instrumental work is now filled in by echo-pedals and larger, stranger harmonies. This overall change is a mixed blessing. I'm sad to see their old style go, because they showed promise at composing elegantly interwoven parts, but I think the new style is well-defined and compelling in premise. However, in execution it's not perfect. Sometimes the harmonic progressions are stale and static. The title track "Quiet Mouth Loud Hands" is pretty mundane and is only livened by the guitar riffs, which are just generic, upbeat rock riffs. Other times, the chord progressions and effects have an awesome result. "Nailbiter" is an oddly upbeat track, and blends pop-punk enthusiasm in the verses with original riffing and impassioned, diverse vocals. The bouncing echo of all the instruments and vocals only adds to the sonic complexity of the song whereas the production slightly takes away from the sound on tracks like "Quiet Mouth Loud Hands." Another tracks that works really well is "Silvertongue," which has the makings of an epic, heavier track but has a lot of interesting time signature and feel changes equally interesting arpeggios and all of the album's most blazing pull-off and hammer lead parts. There is a trend among the best songs on the album. They salvage little fragments from Damiera's old sound and reinvent them in their newer, poppier sound. The worst songs are the ones that forget Raymond's facility with layering riffs and try to push him as an all around rock musician when his chord progressions can be underwhelming and feel like they need the pyrotechnics and fireworks of strong lead guitar parts to stay above water.
However, that's not the whole story. There are also just some questionable songwriting choices. "Blinding Sir Bluest" is a faux-funk, superimposed over their typical post-hardcore paradigm, resulting in a track that sounds more like Alien Ant Farm's "Smooth Criminal" rather than, say, The Mars Volta's "Goliath." The squealing guitar solo that ends the song doesn't help much either. Another song that feels like an anomaly is "Woodbox," which isn't a bad song as much as it is a goofy song in the context of the album. It sounds like a song by the Japanese band Toe, who have a math rock feel but are more pastoral, using acoustic guitars. The time signature changes that Damiera employ just feel jutting and strange, taking off some of the sheen of the guitars. However, credit has to go to the production on this track for using little electronic flourishes, which is a great contrast with the acoustic guitars, despite the fact that these electronics are also pretty goofy. As a general note, the attention to detail on this album is amazing. Every tone is varied and the album has a very diverse sound, if at times a little strange. Overall, though, Quiet Mouth, Loud Hands
, is just that: good but goofy. Raymond is a compelling songwriter but maybe not the best songwriter. The fact that the band experienced turmoil and line-up shifts is telling, because for whatever osmotic influences his new band members have had on him, Raymond has fundamentally altered the way his parts come together. Instead of tautly interweaving, his parts are more obviously stacked one on top of another. This new style, while not bad, is an undeveloped foray into new territory instead of a refining of Damiera's older sound. While this is admirable in many ways, the end result is less than stunning. Maybe if Raymond's past successes could inform his future, he could combine all influences and abilities to create an aggregate sound that will blow us away. Until then we're going to have a sweet and sour tastes in our quiet mouths.