Review Summary: While it is of course a step down from the excellence of El Cielo, I honestly can't imagine the band's follow-up sounding any other way.
Variety and relevance go together in the music industry like bread and butter. In order for a band to keep a strong, fervent fan base intact and still be building a respectable collection of music, altering or changing the main scope of their sound is nearly always an effective, if not wildly successful tactic. dredg (for the most part, at least) has been able to leap masterfully from one musical goal to the next, fulfilling their prospective alt-metal sound on Leitmotif and an atmospheric, more mature technique on the band's masterpiece, El Cielo. However, once an album such as El Cielo is written, it often leaves a band in creative limbo. After creating such a soul-bearing and exhausting record, where else can your creative spirit be free to roam? Billy Corgan experienced this exact conundrum after Mellon Collie, and the follow-up Adore is easily the most polarizing album in the Pumpkins' discography. Some often claim it to be an experimental masterwork, while others claim the absence of Jimmy Chamberlin and the sudden change in the band's image dragged down the impact of the record. Thankfully, dredg's third effort Catch Without Arms is able to wildly transform the band's sound without any of the fan wars or split opinions that other bands have experienced.
dredg still utilizes all the trademarks that make their music so unique on this record-the infectious, soaring vocals, airy, distorted guitars, pedal-inflected, grooving bass performances and rock-solid, pounding percussion. However, the real metamorphosis on Catch Without Arms lies in the format of the song. The band has gently lifted their inscrutable art-rock influence from El Cielo and injected it into an accessible, anthemic alternative rock format. Only one song exceeds a five-minute length, and all follow an A-B songwriting format (with simple yet powerful variations sprinkled throughout). However, when combined with all the properties that make this band so damn fun to listen to, what you get is a majestic album full of alternative gems, written by one of the most intriguing and well-rounded bands of the 2000's.
Most songs have a special quality to them that separates the album from the formulaic radio rock that was circulating like a virus around 2005. As on their first two albums, the entire album flows together, sans having an intertwining concept. The band will occasionally bring in their outside influences to create something rarely seen in the arena of popular alternative music, such as the trip-hop odyssey of "Sang Real" or the soul-influenced vocal delivery during the verses of "Zebraskin". The band can still create a ridiculously dense atmosphere, as evidenced by the ending of the title track or the opening hook of "Not That Simple". The gentle effects gracing the guitar in "Not That Simple" drench the song in a dreamy atmosphere plucked straight out of some of dredg's defining moments, and the decision to switch to half-time in the chorus was perfect for the way this song flows. The groovy, relaxing verse transitions into a more well-paced, intense chorus with passion and precision, as only dredg are capable of doing. The band also still knows how to use key changes impeccably ("Spitshine") as well as make their songs flow in such a way that everything feels natural and from the heart rather than just micromanaged by the record company, as is the case with so many bands writing songs like this today. dredg also still has a sharper edge to them-reference the metal twinged track "Tanbark" for one of the most exciting and in-your-face songs the band has written to date.
Guitarist Mark Engles is the main proprietor of dredg's signature atmosphere and relaxing musical properties. The unconventional tunings, airy chord structures, and masterful delay and reverb that Engles applies to his guitar parts are the main ingredient for making the songs as memorable as they are, and while most of the time his relatively low-key performances are shoved to the background, he is still an essential addition to the band, creating some of the best guitar parts in alt rock today. Bassist Drew Roulette (yes, his name is that cool) is just as impressive, adding the same mind-blowing effects to his bass lines while providing a solid foundation for the band's signature melodies. dredg's music is a lot like a house of cards; if Roulette's bass lines were for some reason removed from the picture, the band would cave in, no question.
However, this half of the rhythm section pales in comparison to the always exceptional work of drummer/pianist/keyboardist/resident badass Dino Campanella. While Campanella has never been technically stellar, his sheer power and signature snare tone add an entire new dimension to the sound of Catch Without Arms. His steady crescendo at the beginning of "Bug Eyes" or accented strokes in "Planting Seeds" are played with such feel and groove that they give even the most technically impressive percussionists a run for their money. The way he tunes his kit is magnificent, and even when programmed drums are used instead in tracks like "Sang Real", Campanella's keyboard work is still shining at the forefront, begging to be heard. Speaking of "Sang Real" this track contains hands-down the best piano line of Campanella's career, with the exception of maybe "Walk In The Park". Dino was introduced to music by the piano, and he never downplays its importance to the sound. According to Campanella, "it's percussive, it's melodic, it's everything this band needs". I couldn't agree more, Dino.
The final component in the gears that keep this machine running is vocalist Gavin Hayes. Hayes' voice has undergone some serious development since El Cielo, which is extremely easy to see in opening track "Ode To The Sun" where Hayes keeps the song moving at a blistering pace with his newfound, technically astounding range. His harmonies are also jaw-dropping-take a listen to the bridge of "Bug Eyes" or the chorus of "Spitshine" to understand what I'm saying. Hayes has truly matured and developed as a vocalist, and as a result the band has done just the same.
In short, Catch Without Arms is an alternative gem that every fan of the band should own. Despite being slightly front-loaded, and while it is of course a step down from the excellence of El Cielo, I honestly can't imagine the band's follow-up sounding any other way. A must-have.
Recommended Tracks (asterisk signifies best track):
Ode To The Sun
Catch Without Arms
Not That Simple