Review Summary: Tosin Abasi puts forth an average effort and the rest of the new trio can't pick up the slack.
There's something about Tosin Abasi that you've just got to admire. He's always managed to play bulky, seven and eight stringed guitars with both the precise, elegant motions of a ballerina and the rapid, crunching power of a hailstorm ever since Reflux's The Illusion of Democracy
. And 2009's self-titled debut proved that Tosin could pull it off with only the help of Periphery's Misha Mansoor providing mostly behind-the-scenes production, programming, and effects. If Animals as Leaders
proved anything, it was that Tosin is a clear master of melody and a clever hat at manipulating djent chugs to mesh with acoustic arpeggios. Yet he's never seemed the kind to brag or assume a "godly" stage presence ala Steve Vai.
And, if anything, Weightless
shows that Abasi is more than willing to slink back into the shadows. Truth be told, there were flags that this could occur. Tosin never really wanted to take on the full mantle of a solo project, after all, having once thought the idea an "egotistical" concept. While his attitude eventually turned around as far as making the album was concerned, it seems that his attitude towards creating music is still skewed towards a band mentality and, perhaps after all of the self-involvement with the debut, maybe Tosin just wanted to lay back a little bit.
In either case, it's clear that the Animals as Leaders of Weightless
is not the same as the Animals as Leaders of Tosin's debut. Arguably, the entire concept of Animals as Leaders has even changed from a solo project to that of a trio. While Abasi and collaborator Mansoor wrote all of the tracks on the debut and Abasi performed all stringed instruments, Weightless
finds new members Javier Reyes and Navene Koperweis chiming in not only as session and touring players, but as musical collaborators on each and every track.
Granted, it's hard to say that Abasi loses complete creative control due to this fact (there ARE only three members of the band, after all), but it simply feels like he let himself slip into the background on this one. And it wholly impacts the style, focus, and sound of the album. With the trio mindset, the guitar-focused, energy-infused sound of Animals as Leaders
has been replaced by a down-tempo, electro-jazz product that feels boxed and awkward, compared to the free-flowing and experimental debut.
While focus never seemed to be a problem before, it feels like Weightless
muddles each instrumental layer together in such a way that it's hard to follow any track on the album. The drums, for instance, are high enough in the mix that they seem to command attention away from dynamic leads at many points, while Javier and Tosin seem to compete rather than complement at many points, making it hard to follow one guitar over another. The absence of a traditional bass also weakens the album, removing the element that created a smooth, rhythmic undercurrent which allowed their self-titled release to flow seamlessly from one track to another.
Similarly, while Animals as Leaders
used electronics and keyboards to create an atmospheric backdrop for Tosin to solo over, Weightless
arms itself with so many electronic sounding effects at times, it becomes questionable how the band intend to carry on touring without some manner of keyboard player. Some of this can be ascribed to the quickly strummed and abused, down-tuned djent tone of the low strings used by Abasi and Reyes to partially emulate a bass. Oddly enough, when this tone was initially presented on their initial effort, the tone was welcomed: a little crunchy riffing underneath the distorted tapped virtuosity of "CAFO" was nothing short of complimentary; while the same riffing on Weightless's
"To Lead You To An Overwhelming Question" attempts to complement clean, jazz-styled soloing to adverse effect.
However, the tin-plated tone the higher notes on the fretboard take on in order to create electronic noise are far from welcome and are a similar distance from the perfection heard in 2009. Along with the abandonment of the Abasi spotlight, it seems the penchant for swept, acoustic passages that once brought warmth and character to the sound have also been mostly eliminated, to a depressing effect. Even on openers to songs such as "David," which could easily incorporate this style, the more bass-styled jazz tone incorporated feels like a shove away rather than an embracing pull towards the sound.
Simply put, on the debut, Tosin had a clear vision and idea of how to piece together the elements of a great album with a guitar virtuoso at its forefront. He knew how to match tones and complement his own playing style. Now, on Weightless
, it seems Tosin has given up a great deal of that direction to appease and include Javier and Navene (who were in charge of engineering and mixing, respectively, effectively muscling Tosin out of the production picture for his own group). The resulting sound is muddled, confused, and clearly forced - a far cry from 2009's beautiful introduction.