Review Summary: Crooked Sun’s band-name becomes a self-fulfilling metaphor, as the music within mirrors similar traits to the fractured sunbeams that would, presumably, be cast from such a twisted star.
"You only get one chance to make a first impression". As cliché and hollow as that statement has become, its relevance, even today, is undeniable. Such a proverb is just as applicable to bands and musicians as it is to human interaction. Often, the first encounter, if unpleasant, may very well be the last. So we find ourselves dealing with the precarious subject of demo material. Ideally, albums such as these are released in order to showcase a musician or bands potential and talent, while simultaneously flying under the banner of ‘demo’ and thus pardoning the anticipated production flaws and basic-structures which accompany such releases. More often than not, however, these inherently imperfect demos offer the only form of greeting extended from a band to its potential listeners. The first tentative steps in a bands career may very well be the last if critical reception ensues. With such an important and future-impacting phase beginning so soon, the pressure can be too much and creativity can suffer greatly.
With the potential hazards and consequences all summed up, it’s time to introduce ‘Demonstration’, the debut EP and ‘first impression’ of Crooked Sun.
Opening with a brief, thirty-second intro, dominated by reverberating guitar strumming which lead into a solemn, accentuated riff, the EP officially begins with the crowning achievement of the album; ‘Speaking Nothings’. As far as openers go, this track expertly delivers all the components that coalesce into a perfect introduction. Eschewing the merit of the song itself, it’s got everything it needs to welcome the listener into this EP by providing them with solid expectations. ‘Speaking Nothings’ reflects the subsequent album in both style and theme, as well as drawing the listener in through the extended introduction. As a standalone track, it offers up some of the best material from the EP, exhibiting some nuanced vocal layering and solid song writing. All-in-all, this EP is off to a steady beginning, and although the following track, ‘Crooked Sun’, isn’t as engaging or subtly charming as its predecessor, it is perhaps even more gloomy and depressing stylistically and thematically. The title track really does embody the name it carries and its deflated implications.
‘Shelter’ follows and offers, after a short vocal passage, a momentary respite from vocal input. With a solid and intriguing guitar-driven melody laying the framework for the instrumental component of this track, the stoic and melancholy vocals build up to a point that, without warning, drops off and relents to the soft and almost nonchalant instrumental flow. Belying the oppressive nature of the preceding two track, the relaxed nature of the instrumental-meander towards the end of this track is a welcome surprise and helps to break up the albums somewhat monotonous nature.
Scattered throughout the album are the occasional surprise, much like the previously mentioned tranquillity in the closing moments of ‘Shelter’. ‘Frail Spine’ offers up some mildly interesting electronic effects in a quasi-conclusion of sorts while the dual-guitar-layering in ‘Looking Back’ creates a sense of depth, but also encourages thought of haphazardness about the album as a whole.
As my summary suggests, there is a flip-side to embracing a band-name such as this one. There truly are some ‘fractures’ in the seemingly solid-if-simple façade of this EP. One major problem on this album is the generally repetition and lack of direction prevalent on the majority of the tracks. Sure, there are moments here and there, particularly if we include the bonus tracks into the argument, that change up the formula, but taken as a single listening experience this 6 track EP sounds very familiar towards the end. Concluding track ‘Looking Back’ does nothing different to the rest of the album and ends with an awkward sense of ‘incompleteness’ about, not only the track itself, but the album it was supposed to very neatly wrap-up. Maybe it is presumptuous to expect an awe-inspiring finale from a demo, but some form of closure would have been comforting. On the topic of this album ‘lacking direction’ these tracks seem to work towards a goal that never comes into play. With the exception of opening track ‘Speaking Nothings’, which reaches an anti-climactic climax (which is the only way to explain it) in which the vocals are briefly double-layered and the line “Never be or feel the ****ing same” is uttered with such hopelessness that the listener is forced to empathetically share the moment of despair with the artist. Otherwise, the album is devoid of a general goal. The uncertain ending doesn’t help either, giving a sense that the entire album is meaningless. Perhaps that was the point; some underlying irony about the album and its theme, but that’s a doubtful conclusion and is far too deep for what the album appears to be.
Another gripe I alluded to earlier is the crude production that plagues so many demo EP’s. Honestly, the production for the most part compliments the music, in the sense that the ‘uncaring’ and ‘hopeless’ appeal of the lyrics and musical atmosphere is cloned by the production value too. However, the amateur production draws even more attention to the simplistic character of the music, as well as the all-too-obvious lack of depth when a single guitar is the foundation for almost all of the tracks. Strangely, the guitar productions seem to be clearer than the vocals, which gives of a strange contrasting, not necessarily a flaw, but a matter of preference. Production issues are part-and-parcel when demos are involved, so listeners should be aware of this when listening to this or any demo.
Three bonus tracks accompany the six tracks that make up the official EP. Two or these are quite amazing ‘Teen Suicide’ covers. The other is an experimental ambient track which doubles as a collaborative effort with a female artist. Her soft voice, in spoken-word form, trickles through a short poem like a crystal-stream flowing over smooth pebbles. Ambient sound effects roam in the background and accompany the vocals, creating a hauntingly beautiful yet simplistic track that adds some much needed variety to the EP. The two ‘Teen Suicide’ covers are similar to the bulk of the tracks on the standard EP, however, they carry some significantly different attributes that, had they been interspersed throughout the EP, would have greatly increased the overall product.
Despite its faults; some preventable, others inherent; ‘Demonstration’ proves to be an enticing listen which relies on a simple chord-driven approach infused with dejected riffs to create an atmosphere dripping with emotion. Sparse effects and intelligent song structures prevent the album from wandering into banality, and the depressing vocals lift the entire experience. ‘Crooked Sun’ lives up to its name, for better and for worse. But the potential for greatness is just on the fringes of a warped and bleak horizon.