Review Summary: The aural equivalent of listening to an amazing album.“Leave the injured overturned
Fight for breath with flailing arms
To float the bane”
It isn't easy to nail down just what makes Between the Heart and the Synapse
such a goddamn great record. In an attempt to briefly gloss over what I'll discuss in this review, how about a list of rhetorical questions? Is it the amazingly co-ordinated and fierce triple vocal attack, with each singer shining in their own respective rights and working as a flawless part of the team? Is it Casey's almost nonsensical and incomprehensible, yet beautifully poetic lyrics (see above)? Is it the way that, much like each of the three vocalists, each song is at the very least fantastic in its own right and yet flows perfectly into the next, as if the album were one big belter of a song akin to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon
? Perhaps it's the layers and layers poured into each and every track, with each subsequent listen of the album revealing a beautiful vocal melody or shimmering guitar line that had been hidden away in some secret place previously? This is all without mentioning the powerful rhythm section, the subtle yet accentuated use of electronics, the eerily haunting piano in tracks such as “Intermission”, and the most impressive factor of all: Between the Heart and the Synapse
was an album released before the band were even satisfied with it.
How difficult a concept it is to fully grasp, that such an intricate and well-thought out record could have been rushed for release by that eternal and instinctual enemy of creative music; the record label? On reflection, it's not hard to see that the pop-laden hooks of tracks such as “Planning a Prison Break” and “The Evidence” were most likely born of the record label's fears that the album may get too complex for the intended audience, and it only speaks to the talent of the Receiving End of Sirens that they incorporate these hooks in such an effective manner into the complex tapestry of the album itself. The record label's fears were hardly unfounded: Between the Heart and the Synapse
stretches over seventy minutes and fourteen full tracks (counting one hidden track at the end of the whopping 13-minute “Epilogue”), oscillates between bouncing pop-punk melodies to visceral, roof-shaking breakdowns to angelic choir harmonies (and that's just “Broadcast Quality”!) and covers the topics of war, masturbation, prison break, the band's former frontman leaving the band, Romeo and Juliet, love, and death. Perhaps what ultimately makes Heart and the Synapse
such a ***ing great album is its unabashed ambition and scope, coupled with its ability to realise these without compromise.
In any case, time to delve in a little bit deeper. As mentioned earlier, The Receiving End of Sirens utilised no less than three lead vocalists by the names of Brendan Brown (vocals and bass), Alex Bars (vocals and guitar) and no other than the Dear Hunter extraordinaire himself, Casey Crescenzo (vocals, guitars, keys, piano, lyrics). Despite the common (and perfectly reasonable) complaint that Brendan and Alex sound exactly the same, the true beauty lies not in the considerable talent of each vocalist but the way in which their parts weave in and out of each other like some elegant tango. It can be almost distracting at first, but repeated listens unveil the level of talent and effort put into creating a chorus such as that on “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, wherein Casey's vicious screams (a surprising recurrence on the album that is otherwise rarely heard in his other projects) underpin the amazingly sing-along-able lines from Brendan and Alex, only for all three singers to come together for an impassioned triple yell of “MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY! SAVE US FROM THIS DROWNING VESSEL!!!”. Another example is the bangin' chorus of “The Rival Cycle”. Almost sounding like two choruses meshed effortlessly into one, the addictive “Concrete-coated gazes in hot pursuit of self-made mazes” runs parallel to the fervent cries of “This what we like to call/Internal espionage”. On the other end of the spectrum, there are some songs in which the vocalists stick to a strict verse-chorus changeover, seen in the first (real) song “Planning a Prison Break”, with Casey taking the verses while first Brendan and then Alex handle the chorus, only for all three (and presumably some backing guest vocalists) to join for the unearthly, haunting refrain that persists almost as a motif across the entire record: “This is the last night in my body, yeah...”.
The colossal amount of quotes from the lyrics of the album in the last paragraph should by now have given you an idea of the flavour and vision of Casey's lyrics. Just in case they didn't, go ahead and have some of this reviewer's personal favourites: “Someone call my maker, I'm coming apart at the seams/I'll cauterise myself back together/Again.” “Check my vitals/The truth is vile, but vital to this cause/I've been held hostage/A captive of this passive shell/Give me gravity, give me clarity/Give me something to rely on/We're all puppets, we're all marionettes.” These are just snippets of the brilliantly vague concepts which the album covers in its fourteen-song run: a technique of story-telling which Casey would refine, but never quite recapture the full essence of, in his exploits with the Dear Hunter. You may never quite understand what Between the Heart and the Synapse
is truly about (in which case, welcome to the club), but the brief windows we are given into the depths of Casey's mind in this record reveal, if only for seconds at a time, a conceptually brilliant mind at its peak.
In order to ground this review in some form of fact, it's certainly worth mentioning that accompanying the triple vocal attack is a blistering lead/rhythm guitar trio of Casey, Alex, and Nate Patterson. The five-piece is rounded off by the strong backbone of drumming from Andrew Cook. The guitars weave in and out of focus in much the same way that the vocals do; a shimmering melody will be replaced by a gritty breakdown riff which will in turn give way to a brief electronic interlude. As was mentioned above, some of the album's most effective moments come through the use of piano, seen in the beautifully restrained slow-burner of “Intermission” or the upbeat, jazzy interlude which closes “Flee the Factory” and segues effortlessly into the synths of “Dead Men Tell No Tales”. That's right, no matter how incongruous the pop-punky “The Evidence” may seem alongside the tempo-shifting monolith “The War of All Against All”, or the undeniably Thrice-ish “Venona” alongside the post-rock fury of “Epilogue”, there is at all times a brilliantly coherent transition to get us from A to B without the slightest of bumps.
I think we've covered just about everything here, except the vague feeling one gets that Between the Heart and the Synapse
is part of something much larger and more important than itself. Yes, it's strange and almost impossible to define completely, but there's something about the layers and layers which permeate each track, the liquid-like flow of the work as a whole, the way that melodies from some songs reappear suddenly in others (and have fun working all those out) that just makes the album feel like something more
than just a really, really, REALLY good album. In the end, it may be the experiences this reviewer has had in decoding, unpacking, and attempting to understand the album to its fullest extent (still an ongoing process); and maybe it really is just a damn good collection of tunes written by five awesome musicians at the right time. It was certainly a power that the band never quite captured again, as excellent as follow-up record The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi
was (Although just to quantify this, they did manage it, if only for one more song, with the rollicking re-release bonus track “Weightless Underwater”, recorded post-breakup). But in either case, what have you got to lose by listening to it?
“Oh, how I've been teething
In light of your misleading
You caused this collapse
Between the heart and the synapse”