Review Summary: A vibrant, energetic and superbly conceived album that will certainly emerge as one of the best rock releases of the year.
When Envy On The Coast released their debut album "Lucy Gray" back in 2007, it was not very easy to distinguish them from other post-hardcore bands. "Lucy Gray" wasn't a bad album per se utilizing its pop punk aesthetics with quite unusual technical instrumentation. However, it failed to garner respect and popularity this act so clearly deserved. It isn't surprising that the gap between "Lucy Gray" and their latest release Lowcountry amounted to as many as 3 years. The new album seems way more consistent marking the significant change of style for the already mature band.
"Lowcountry" almost totally abandons the pop-punk influences of "Lucy Gray" with the band opting for the sound that has much more common with funk, southern rock and even blues. The tempo has drastically slowed with almost every song based on heavy, often funky rhythm section that starkingly resembles Incubus and Red Hot Chili Peppers in their most streamlined mode. Bass guitarist Jeremy Velardi along with the band's vocalist made to play drums, Ryan Hunter seldom fall victim to routine delivering an array of varied groovy passages. Guitarists Brian Byrne and Sal Bassio steer clear of distorted riffs in favor of clean sound. In consequence, the guitar tracks are way more stylish, moody, not to mention impressive bringing the band's southern rock fascination to the foreground.
Taking into account the instrumentation one doubts that "Lowcountry" has anything to do with post-hardcore. The inclinations towards this genre are only hearable in Ryan Hunter's vocal lines that range from screaming to clean falsetto singing. Hunter finally proves that he is a more than competent singer by introducing a variety of approaches. Even though his style is mostly derivative, he tends to mix his post-hardcore, funk and r&b influences very effectively. His only evident blunder is "The Great American T-shirt Racket" in which he sounds exactly the same as Brandon Boyd of Incubus fame. On the plus side though, his vocals often shine like in the amazing uptempo chorus of "Head First In The River" or in the blissfully schizophrenic "Clean Of You" in which he convincingly channels Mike Patton.
While "Lowcountry" doesn't present anything groundbreaking in terms of songwriting, it still possesses its very own sound that makes it coherent all the time no matter how diverse the songs included appear to be. This diversity happens to be one of the album's greatest strengths. "The Devil's Tongue "is immediate in its approach with the contrast between slinging section and high-pitched vocal working wonders. The single "Head First In The River" is an insanely catchy tune taking full advantage of reggae influences in the verse and infectious chorus, whereas "Puritan Dirt Song" is the closest to blues rock they've ever gotten with the heavy use of hammond organ. "Southern Comfort" is an ambitious attempt at more epic songwriting and the closer "Clean Of You" has some really menacing charm to it that is impossible to resist. In general, energy-fueled tracks work way better than the mellow ones. R&b-induced "Like I Do" fails to be memorable as well as "Numb" feels forced with its cliched lyrics. It's surprising because Hunter's lyrics inspired by Jeffrey McDaniel's poetry are usually clever and far from being stereotypical. Hunter presents an often subversive, bitter-sweet outlook on the world that abounds in apt observations and poetic touches.
Overall, the status of "Lowcountry" as the breakthrough album for Envy On The Coast is undeniable. With their sophomore release, the band takes a risk of using a totally different approach to songwriting that showcases their adoration to the American South. Although this cannot be regarded as the safest decision considering the odds it may disappoint their old fans, they remain triumphant showing an undeniable growth and maturity. Taking all slight missteps aside, "Lowcountry" is a vibrant, energetic and superbly conceived album that will certainly emerge as one of the best rock releases of the year.