Review Summary: A highly diverse, expansive and comprehensive set of EPs. Some of the most refreshing music I've heard in a long time.
Anybody familiar with The Dear Hunter most likely knows that, until now, the primary focus of the band has been to tell the 6-act story of the fictional protagonist from whom the band derives its name. However, following 2009’s release of the third installment, Act III, band leader Casey Crescenzo decided to take a break from the “Acts” storyline to divert his attentions to yet another massive undertaking – a 9 EP, 36 song release inspired by the color spectrum, with one EP corresponding to each color, plus one each for black and white, and with every individual song presenting an aural representation of Crescenzo’s personal interpretation of the applicable color. Needless to say, when I first heard about this project I was excited, intrigued and maybe a bit apprehensive. There was never a doubt in my mind that the individual songs would be of the utmost quality. But, with that being said, while The Dear Hunter have always written stellar music, I’ve generally considered the cohesiveness of the storyline and the feeling of unity that it provides as being the unique aspect of the band that elevates them above every other band who simply write some good songs and then leave it at that. Listening to The Dear Hunter has always been about more than just the songs – it’s about being able to let yourself become completely absorbed in the music and losing yourself in that world until the needle stops. So the biggest question on my mind was whether this aspect of the band would be lost without a single storyline holding it all together. Fortunately, to my great relief, after several full listens, I’ve come to the conclusion that The Color Spectrum not only manages to create this desired effect, but does so in a way that I never could have even imagined possible. What I failed to take into account initially was the fact that The Color Spectrum truly is a “spectrum”, not just visually, but sonically and emotionally as well. Where the Acts allow the listener to connect on a relatively cerebral level, The Color Spectrum instead manages to take the listener on a far deeper and more abstract journey, where one feels as if they’re starting off engulfed in a dark, harsh reality and, as the album progresses, they gradually and smoothly ascend level by level through a series of moods and phases, ultimately concluding with the feeling of having reached the loftiest of ideal heights. While each EP does work well enough in isolation, to truly experience the full effect of this music, it’s best to listen through them all in the intended order (and, if practicality allows, all in one sitting). It’s almost certain that everybody will experience these albums in their own way, but what follows is one particular listener’s interpretation of the flow of the colors as he hears them:
Black – The Black EP as a whole makes me feel like I’ve crash-landed in a dark, industrial post-apocalyptic wasteland – a sort of cold mechanical desert with only the slightest signs of life. The EP kicks off with the low ominous rumblings of Nick Crescenzo’s drums in Never Forgive, Never Forget, which set the stage perfectly (and which continue to impress throughout the remainder of the EP, providing the core around which the entire atmosphere is built). The lyrics to second track, Filth and Squalor, supplement this sort of feeling with lines like “I always knew that the damned would inherit the Earth. As soon as they learned to breed we would be suffering.” The remaining two tracks further contribute with elements such as the cacophony of sounds in Take More Than You Need and the subtle robotic vocals present is This Body. I can almost see the human-like androids greeting me upon my arrival and leading me off what remains of their civilization.
Red – The Red EP comes next, and highlights raw, unbridled passion. I get the sense here of somebody intensely experiencing a new emotion for the first time, but not being quite sure what to do with it or how to intepret it. The EP wastes no time whatsoever, immediately bursting into the energetic I Couldn’t Do It Alone, which seems to be describing some sort of fight, and which sounds at times like it could’ve been written by Weezer. The vocals here are given a bit more depth, as the voice of Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra underlies and supplements most of Casey’s singing during the song (a fact that is barely discernible in the mp3 version, but becomes much clearer on the vinyl). The song then flows into the even more passionate A Curse of Cynicism, where Casey and Andy now take the approach of trading vocals back and forth to share a somewhat bleak outlook on the world (although not quite as bleak as Black). Third track Deny It All comes off as an amalgam of The Dear Hunter music and Manchester Orchestra music, and closer We’ve Got A Score To Settle may contain some of the very best vocals I’ve ever heard from Crescenzo. By the end of this EP, I’m left with a feeling of being all riled up and looking for a way to channel that energy. Luckily, this is exactly what’s provided by Orange.
Orange – When I listen to Orange, I hear the passion in Red slowly beginning to become channeled into something of a more positive energy. At various points throughout, I feel like moments in these songs should be playing over the opening scenes of an 80’s movie that takes place in Southern California and features a good looking blonde couple wearing polo shirts while driving a convertible down a palm-tree-studded highway. Opener Echo has a very “classic rock” vibe to it that carries over into Stuck On A Wire, Out On A Fence, which is not only one of my favorite (and most “single” worthy) tracks in the entire collection, but also contains an instrumental break reminiscent of classic Doors. If you listen close enough, you can virtually hear Jim Morrison reciting obscure acid-induced poetry over the music. The tone is slowed a bit with A Sea of Solid Earth, which opens with a Black Sabbath-like progression and brings to mind Act II era The Dear Hunter. But the overall tone is best summed by the closing lines of But There’s Wolves": “In just a moment we can let it all decay, or we can step out into the sun. Don’t shutter, own it, or you’ll find out any moment that you’ve lost it all before its begun.” Good advice – and demonstrated well by what comes next.
Yellow – The Yellow EP takes the cautious optimism of Orange and turns it into pure elation. If you can listen though the entire Yellow EP without cracking a smile, then I suggest you consult a doctor immediately, as it probably means there’s something wrong with your mouth. Yellow begins with the positively uplifting She’s Always Singing, which should be enough to put even Ricky Ricardo in a good mood after he just found out what Lucy had been up to while he was away. This is followed by the slightly trippier The Dead Don’t Starve, which at times is just begging you to scream out the chorus to “Sweet Caroline”. Next in line is A Sua Voz, which paints a picture of a recently rejected romantic-type struggling internally while presenting a cool exterior (I imagine him strolling confidently down Ocean Drive while trying to hide his secret pain). Lastly, Yellow closes out with Misplaced Devotion, another beautiful song, with expansive drumbeats and thick harmonies in the style of Local Natives, which is enhanced by the soulful vocals of Naïve Thieves singer Cameron Thorne.
Green – The flow turns a bit with Green, taking the positive energy generated by Yellow and turning it into a form of a slightly more mature self-awareness. Fittingly for its color, Green is by far the most organic sounding of the EPs. The introduction to Green comes with The Things That Hide Away, which generates an attitude reflecting self-doubt and the earliest stages of the beginning of the questioning of one’s own existence. The Canopy follows at a quicker pace, with an almost country-western sounding bassline and rhythm, in way that would set it up as another great ‘single’ (that is, if the band was at all concerted with that sort of thing). Third in line is Crow and Cackle, reviving that feeling of hopelessness and despair that is so often the first step of self-discovery. But the song that I feel most exemplifies the attitude of Green is closer The Inheritance, with folky layered rhythms and a set of lyrics that perfectly captures the dreadful but exciting feeling of “Ok, the honeymoon period is over and now it’s time to face real life”.
Blue – Where Green tends to emanate with self-awareness, the most prevalent essence portrayed by Blue is the analysis that turns that self-awareness into self-reflection and questioning. For example, opener Tripping In Triplets poses an inquiry that we’ve all surely wondered at one time or another: “You gave me a heart and then taught me to hurt. I can’t tell just which option is worse; dying pure or aware”. The song oozes with emotion, aided again by the voice of Cameron Thorne singing the final verse, and presents an eerily intense atmosphere, highlighted by the sounds of music boxes playing throughout the track and taking over as the song fades out. The theme continues with Trapdoor, which presents similar ideas in a slightly more upbeat fashion. When we get to side B, Blue begins to wander into new territory with What You Said, which starts off radiating a sort-of Hawaiian blues ballad tone, but slowly phases into what some might call post-rock. The post-rock vibe continues in full force on The Collapse Of The Great Tide Cliffs, which concludes with an instrumental section that provides the perfect pathway for transcendence into the ethereal plane in which the final three EPs reside.
Indigo – Indigo takes us into a zone where we finally began to come to terms with our existence and accept who we are by giving in to our instincts and emotions. After slowly setting the mood and embedding the hook, the lead track, What Time Has Taught Us reels the listener in with its irresistible drumbeats and percussive programming (and the drums throughout the rest of the EP continue to be equally impressive). The feeling throughout is that of having pure energy running through your veins. The track is littered with seemingly sporadic electronic sounds underlying the main melody, but they somehow seem vibrant and lively, as if they have a mind of their own. The second track in is Mandala, which gives off the impression of being just on the border of the all-important psychological breakthrough necessary to allow us to reach our ultimate goals. Following Mandala is Progress, which is track that feels as though it’s almost literally pulsing with life. This is where the essence of Indigo is best embodied, and when you listen you can get the sense of a pure, basic life force penetrating throughout. This transitions nicely into Therma, the only instrumental track on the collection, which sets the stage for the dream-like world that is Violet.
Violet – Of all the colors in this set, Violet is without a doubt the one most resembling the signature TDH sound of the early “Acts” material. All four songs on here have a very theatrical vibe to them, making them feel almost as though they’re all part of some surreal, vivid dream. Opener Mr. Malum elicits memories of our very first trip through The Dime, and one could easily see Mr. Malum himself donning the mask of the Smiling Swine without anybody noticing the difference. Following next is Lillian, which tells a seemingly tragic tale about a woman who you get the impression could easily identify with Ms. Leading, as suggested by lines like as “Flashing your eyes to sell. Lying to yourself. Dodging truth from the start. Hide away your heart. Turn around, forge a smile, entertain but don’t get stuck in something painful. Something worse than nothing.” Too Late gets a little more personal and takes on a first person perspective, expressing reflection on the pain of misguided expectations. The EP concludes with Look Away, the most magnetic and grandiose track of all, which transports you into the mindset of a late-night back room show in a Russian nightclub, and infecting you to the point where it completely takes over. As a whole, Violet provides a sense of somehow momentarily escaping or rising above your own life to observe and insert yourself into the lives of others, with a sort of third party objectivity that we might be well-advised to attempt applying to our own lives on occasion.
White – With White, the ascension is complete. The final EP soars above the highest of peaks and is filled with a sense of finality, understanding and acceptance. Home starts things off by facing us with imminent death and the reaction it can elicit. Fall and Flee follows by continuing to exist in an other worldly realm, creating a sense of oneness and unity with all life in the universe. No God provides what may be the most powerful track of all, highlighting a kind of real world spirituality that takes somewhat fundamental concepts (such as the original of all knowledge) and infuses them with a new sense of wonder. Which brings us to the 36th and final track The Color Spectrum has to offer – Lost But Not All Gone. The female backing vocals (provided by yet another member of the Crescenzo family – Casey’s mother Judy) sound like they would fit snugly on a Sufjan Stevens song, and the energy of the song, in contrast to the relatively reserved tone of the earlier tracks, gives the song a “grand finale” type of feel, which couldn’t be a more fitting way to conclude this epic work of art.
After listening through The Color Spectrum in its entirety, my most prominent reaction is an overwhelming feeling of completeness. It’s that strangely settling sense that everything has been expressed fully and there’s nothing more that needs to be said. We can now return from our two and a half hour vacation from life, a little more content with the world than we were before we began. But one word of warning – if you play this long enough, the music will slowly and steadily seep into your bones and will become a part of who you are. Because, although this may be an overused cliché, I feel like, with this music in particular and the theme around which it’s formed, it’s uniquely appropriate to say that is an album that will, in a very literal sense, change the way you see the world.