Review Summary: Not a disappointment by any means, but simply an above-average record undeserving of all the glorifying praise it has received so far.
This is merely unsolicited, tangential commentary, but when you consider all that went down with The Pirate Bay, Trent Reznor deleting and undeleting and re-deleting his Twitter account, and Thrice being forced to push forward Beggars
' release earlier this year, you might pause for a bit and wonder what's next* when it comes to digital downloads. Pay-what-you-want digital downloads (see: Radiohead, Girl Talk) have a great premise, but thanks to torrents and Google Blogsearch (not to mention the average overzealous individual lacking some modicum of honesty or integrity), leaks happen. One of the newer purchasing fads is pre-ordering a record and being given access to digital copies of the album prior to the official street date.
Illinois-based trio Chevelle participated in such a campaign with their fifth record, Sci-Fi Crimes
, and the race was on to see who could be the first to give his opinion on the album. Not surprisingly, everybody and his mother thinks that Sci-Fi Crimes
is the group's magnum opus, best record to date, insert-trite-phrase here, but this stuff happens all the time (recall Mastodon's Crack the Skye
's partial leak and how, within a few minutes, the sudden proliferation of 4.5/5 - 5/5 ratings coming out of nowhere... only for users to drop their ratings a whole point or more over time), and ultimately, most will discover that their initial feelings for Sci-Fi Crimes
will be that of infatuation and not love.
By no means is Sci-Fi Crimes
an awful or even average record, but Chevelle's reputation is neither bolstered nor hindered by this release. For every thoroughly impressive track - "This Circus" and "Shameful Metaphors" represent two of the band's best songs to date - there's an unfulfilling, sterile track to complement it (see: the obnoxious, meandering "Roswell's Spell" or the stagnant clunker that is "Mexican Sun"). Vocalist/guitarist Pete Loeffler's characteristic lyrical non-sequiturs unmistakeably make their return, but even with the extraterrestrial theme found on Sci-Fi Crimes
, there's little genuine interest in unraveling all his mysteries. For instance, "Sleep Apnea" is a good track that serves as an album opener better than Vena Sera
's "Antisaint" (not counting the latter's punishing main riff), but other than making mention of gasping for air ("I gasp and hold my breath, these needs have chains so deep / To face you, oh, let's say I've been awake for years"), "Insomnia" would be a more accurate diagnosis than "Sleep Apnea." It's been written that Pete writes "cryptically," but that implies a desire to decipher his writing, and that desire is largely absent save for a couple tracks on Sci-Fi Crimes
Ignoring this observation, the strength of "Sleep Apnea" and tracks like the lyrically and vocally lackluster "A New Momentum" comes from the instrumentation: drummer Sam Loeffler's double bass incorporation is welcomed in the album opener, as is Pete's trademark absurdly-low dropped tunings, giving their main riffs a thick, heavy groove, and Dean Bernardini's insistence on not doing anything interesting (id est, mirroring everything Pete does for a great majority of any given song throughout Sci-Fi Crimes
) effectively sets the album's pace on mostly-mediocre cruise control - with some caveats - even if the listening experience is slightly led astray by the wholly unintriguing "Mexican Sun" and the bland section comprised of "Roswell's Spell" to "A New Momentum," inclusive.
While softer and more reserved than its counterpart from Vena Sera
, "Shameful Metaphors" stands to be as highly-revered as "Saferwaters." Already widely-believed to be Sci-Fi Crimes
' answer to "Which song on the record should be a single but probably won't be?," "Shameful Metaphors" is a gripping, emotional track powered by Pete's stalwart vocals - "By my admission, nothing grows . . . / So why, then, has all my life made no sound? And are your eyes closing even though my life made no sound? I fear your eyes closing" - but where the track truly takes off is in the bridge and final stanza, where his stout, incensed shouts of "Behold the lost, behold a Band-Aid / These shameful metaphors / Fought it through the teeth / These shameful metaphors / Biting at your heels, fighting cheek-to-cheek" are stunning as they coincide with the soaring guitars and steady percussion. Conversely, the rockier, more abrasive "This Circus" is a tremendous closer and another obvious album highlight. "It's clear for today you're sleazy at night," sings Pete in the first verse, finishing with "As soon as we hear, we will run or start swinging" to segue into the song's stellar pre-chorus and chorus ("I want my way - never settle, always learning - people, they beg us for it / I'm on my way / Better settle, almost there / This might just feed the mother of all our needs"). From a percussive standpoint, this is far and away Sam's best effort on the album, with blistering snare/tom hits and pulsating bass kicks - especially in the bridge/breakdown - and it's a satisfying conclusion to Sci-Fi Crimes
The all-acoustic "Highland's Apparition," while a simple chord progression, is another clear album highlight because it's the first acoustic Chevelle track that isn't boring and directionless (much unlike "Bend the Bracket" from This Type of Thinking...
), and the aggressive "Letter from a Thief," which surprisingly highlights Bernardini, is reminiscent of a Point #1
/Wonder What's Next
Chevelle with its effect-laden guitars and rougher, less-polished production.
Regrettably, the rest of the record is more or less old hat for Chevelle. "Jars" is a suspect pick for a radio single despite it having one of the stronger choruses on Sci-Fi Crimes
("We both can't become the same pawn that's made to fall" is delivered with such conviction that it's almost unfair to criticize the song's restrained, paint-by-numbers approach), and I apparently missed the memo that "Fell Into Your Shoes" has any redeeming quality to it, just like I evidently missed the memo that Sci-Fi Crimes
is Chevelle's end-all/be-all record. Perhaps the album is damned by its unmemorable track ordering - the dead space between "Highland's Apparition" and "This Circus" cannot be overstated; similarly, not including "Interlewd," there are only ten songs on the record, with half or more than half sounding like anything you'd expect from Chevelle. Depending on your philosophy, you can call Chevelle consistent or you can claim they're playing it safe. One thing's for certain, though: Sci-Fi Crimes
is a solid, above-average record, but it is not Chevelle's magnum opus; aside from two or three songs, it has a certain air of familiarity that doesn't warrant the unfounded high praise it has received so far.
Letter from a Thief