Review Summary: "Strange extremities..."
Before I begin talking about the relative quality of The Color Spectrum
, I think we all owe Casey Crescenzo a hearty round of applause. I’ll be the first to admit that I never thought his plan to release nine EPs, each dedicated to one of the primary colors (including black and white) would ever actually see the light of day. Considering the man’s still in the middle of another fairly ambitious conceptual saga, I figured it would be the type of secret ambition that would sit on the back burner for years before never being mentioned again. Yet here we are, less than two years since the release of Act III
, and the entirety of The Color Spectrum
is now available. And while Crescenzo’s initial intentions to have each EP run 30-60 minutes have been (understandably) scaled down, the very fact that he was able to complete the project is a massive accomplishment (take that, Sufjan!) Yet that still begs the question; was it worth it? The answer to that question is a definite yes, though what you get out of The Color Spectrum
is likely to depend on a number of factors. Much like Thrice’s coveted Alchemy Index
, The Dear Hunter have essentially deconstructed and partitioned off the various components of their musical style, excising certain elements (if you were hoping for a progressive EP to emerge from the collection, you’re out of luck) while adding new ones in their place (electronics on Black and Indigo, classic rock trappings on Red and Orange, etc;) The results are expectedly scattershot, but it’s hard not to be impressed with how Casey and his motley crew adapt to these new directions, even if not every one of these experiments is uniformly successful.
The main difficulty in reviewing a collection like this comes not from the number of tracks, but the range they cover; because just about every EP here sounds different, the standouts from the bunch are largely going to be determined by your own genre preferences. If you’re a Dear Hunter purist, the closest thing you get here to the sound of the Acts is the Violet EP, which focuses on the theatrics that have always run through The Dear Hunter’s music in some facet or another. It’s here that we get two of the collection’s best offerings in the one-two punch that is “Lillian” and “Too Late”, both of which rank up there amongst the band’s best cuts. Both are driven by their gorgeous choruses, and both highlight what an incredible vocalist Crescenzo has morphed into. That’s a recurring theme throughout the material here; from the vocal highs of White tracks like the masterful “Home” and “Lost But Not All Gone”, to the absolute manic fury of “We’ve Got A Score To Settle” (unquestionably the most ferocious performance the man has ever committed to tape), Crescenzo’s basically faultless vocally from beginning to end here.
The real question coming into The Color Spectrum
was how the band would be able to handle being out of their comfort zone. The biggest surprise, then, is how well The Dear Hunter manage to integrate electronic influences into their music, something we’ve never really seen from them before now. The two EPs that focus on these electronic influences tackle them in very different ways, with varying results. Black basically assaults the listener with its pulsing beats and thick basslines, and the result is perhaps the collection’s most consistent group of tunes (ironically, it’s tied with White in this respect), from the massive opener “Never Forgive Never Forget” to the sinister and brilliant chorus of “This Body”. Indigo takes these electronic beats and turns everything down by half, allowing the listener to be swept up in the ambient passages. The results aren’t entirely brilliant, but it does give way to perhaps the most unexpected highlight of the entire album in “Progress”, a subtle, beautiful masterpiece of a track that essentially sounds like absolutely nothing The Dear Hunter have ever been about, making its success even more impressive. When the beats drop out in the song’s closing moments, it’s a small moment that somehow feels more powerful than any amount of bombast or theatricality. It’s moments like those, moments of brilliance in the last place you’d expect to see them, that makes The Color Spectrum
such a compelling listen. The Dear Hunter seem to take pleasure here in going the exact opposite direction you’d expect them to, and then managing to pull it off against all odds. It’s like watching someone jump a canyon on a motorcycle; the thrill is so much bigger because the chances for disaster are so real. When they go for tracks like the indie-pop “Misplaced Devotion” or the twangy country ballad “Crow and Cackle”, and somehow manage to make both tracks captivating in their own rights, it’s a treat to behold. And hey, who ever thought The Dear Hunter were capable of an old-fashioned classic rock track, right? Yeah, “Echo” says hello.
Then again, not every rider can make the jump. For every time the band manage to shock with their flexibility, they careen right into a chasm the next moment. For every “Crow and Cackle” or “The Canopy”, there’s a song like “Things That Hide Away”, which continues the unfortunate tradition of “Go Get Your Gun” of having otherwise decent songs saddled with incredibly corny choruses (“Why
are we here, why
do we die? / Maybe we’re just never meant to know why
are we here, why
do we die? / Why, why why?
”) Unfortunately, the biggest problems come not from one-off tracks, but from two EPs in particular; namely, the Blue and Red EPs. Blue, as you might expect, is a fairly melancholy EP in general, and while there’s a couple good tracks here (“Trapdoor” and “The Collapse of the Great Tide Cliffs” both have their moments of greatness), the other two are complete non-starters, and the melancholic feel can be oppressive at times. The more tragic case is that of the Red EP, which was hyped early on as a collaboration between The Dear Hunter and Manchester Orchestra, a crossover that assuredly had fans of intelligent alternative rock creaming their pants at the very notion. Sadly, the EP is mostly a bust, for a variety of reasons, but the biggest one is it’s the only EP that seems to have no idea what it wants to be. “A Curse of Cynicism” almost sounds like a botched Foo Fighters cover, “Deny It All” basically sounds like a decent California rock song with a Manchester Orchestra song awkwardly glued into the middle without even an attempt to bridge the two seemlessly, and for as good as “We’ve Got A Score To Settle” may be, its intensity feels completely out of place with the rest of the EP. You get the feeling that there were too many cooks in the kitchen for this one, and the result’s generally pretty messy.
If anything, The Color Spectrum
is a collection that’s practically built for fan mixes. With nearly two and a half hours of material here, I can see a number of fans taking their favorite cuts from the collection and creating one super CD. The fact that two such people could have almost completely different tracks on their mixes speaks volumes about the range and quality of the material here. In the coming weeks, there’s bound to be plenty of discussions about the best and worst EPs here (get ready for a million “The Color Spectrum
Ranked” lists), but if there’s one thing that we can all agree on, it’s that The Color Spectrum
proves once and for all what most of us have known for a long time: The Dear Hunter are a force to be reckoned with, and they aren’t slowing down anytime soon.
But seriously, when are we getting Act IV