Review Summary: Listening to this album feels like watching a great movie. It's grand and cinematic without overdoing it.
I think in order to enjoy progressive rock, there has to be a certain amount of cheesiness inside you. How else could one put up with ridiculously named characters, absurdly long album/song titles, and abrupt shifts in style? I mean seriously, Casey Crescenzo wrote over 120 minutes of music
for this album and had to trim it down to 80! If that doesn’t scream over the top, I’m not really sure what does.
Why then, in light of all of the preposterously bombastic tracks that Act II: The Meaning of, and All Things Regarding Ms. Leading brings to the table, does it kick so much ass?
What this album does well
Vocals. I’m a huge fan of bands that utilize a vocalist’s strengths to the best of their abilities. Often, you’ll find a band with a weak singer end up being successful because they know how to complement their sound well. That isn’t the case at all with Act II, because I personally think Crescenzo could hold his own against those American Idol idiots with his tenor to baritone range. A few tracks that take advantage of his voice are “The Procession” (particularly during the chorus), “The Lake and the River” (a long song that seems to tell its own story), and “The Church and the Dime” (an emotionally charged slow jam that uses his full range). Oh, and The Dear Hunter certainly know how to harmonize with each other while we’re on the topic of vocals. The second chorus of “The Bitter Suite 3: Embrace” is gorgeous with the backing vocalist coming in.
Outbursts. I really don’t know a better word for this. Their choruses just have more punch than I’ve heard in a long time. Take the transition into “The Procession” for example. All of the sudden, a cascade of guitars, cymbals, and organs move the album along the path of the story being told without feeling forced. These moments occur often, most frequently during the well-constructed choruses.
Cinematic effects. The Dear Hunter uses a lot of weird sound effects and instruments that would otherwise feel out of place were it not for their perfect balance with the album as a whole. You can get a better feel for this by listening to “Vital Vessel Vindicates”, a throwback for fans with lyrics and melodies taken from previous songs. Throughout this track, things like horns, beach sounds, and voices add even more layers onto an already multi-faceted album.
Favorite tracks: The Procession, The Lake and the River, The Church and the Dime, The Bitter Suite 3: Embrace, Smiling Swine, Red Hands, Vital Vessel Vindicates
What this album doesn’t do well
Lyrics. It’s been addressed elsewhere, because it’s fairly obvious that The Dear Hunter doesn’t write the most captivating words you’ll ever hear. But it doesn’t bother me a great deal when you consider that Crescenzo is trying to fit within the parameters of the story he’s writing.
Least favorite tracks: Black Sandy Beaches
Moral of the story
Often a good indicator of how good an album is is one’s tendency to revisit it multiple times for a full listen-through. I can safely say Act II, for me, is like discovering a favorite movie and wanting to recommend it to all of your friends. Deep down you worry that they’ll hate it, but you hold this unwavering happiness about all the little moments throughout the album that make such a big impact.