Review Summary: More than just a side project.
Canadian hardcore band Comeback Kid originated as a side project of Andrew Neufeld and Jeremy Hiebert of the band Figure Four. After three Comeback Kid albums came another side project of Andrew Neufeld's - Sights and Sounds. Seeing as Figure Four and Comeback Kid fall both into the genre of hardcore, it is interesting that Sights and Sounds take on a sound best described as a mix of post hardcore, alternative rock and post rock. As mentioned above, Comeback Kid are an example of a side project switching to the role of a full time band, and if Sights and Sound's debut album Monolith suggests anything, it's that this is more than a one-off side project.
About 30 seconds into the opening track Sorrows a massive wall of sound hits, followed by chants of the songs name, and the impression of a huge, ethereal sound is made. Musically, Monolith drifts between seething, upbeat post hardcore (Neighbours, Shudder St Kilda, and the re-recorded Reconcile), more restrained and hook-laden rock (Pedal Against the Wind, Night Train, Borderlines), and the purely bombastic and epic (Sorrows, Pillars, The Furthest Truth). A trait that is present throughout the whole album is the use of dynamics, however it never reaches the point of 'just another quiet-loud-quiet-loud band'. Neighbours jumps back and forth effortlessly between the quiet and restrained intro and pre-choruses that float along; just waiting to explode into the furious drumming, near-screamed vocals, and tremolo guitars of the verses and chorus. The Clutter is an atmospheric ballad that rises and falls before reaching a crashing ending of distortion and effects, while Pillars begins only with an acoustic guitar, cars passing and almost mumbled vocals, and only goes uphill from there to reach another climactic, chanting ending.
The vocals and the guitars are what sit at the forefront of the album. Andrew's vocals are heartfelt and sincere on Pillars as they are furious and commanding on Shudder, St Kilda, while the catchy and poppy verses of the Jimmy Eat World-esque Night Train have a certain hum-along quality. Adrian Mottram's guitars are sometimes distant, echoed and delayed in good taste - other times bringing heavy and fast paced riffs to the band's more post hardcore songs. The band's rhythm section is sometimes lost under the various effects, however they push the band along well and occasionally come to the surface for good measure, especially the drums.
The production (by a certain Devin Townsend) on Monolith has a massive effect on it's sound - creating swirling atmospheres on The Clutter, The Furthest Truth, and the untitled track. Crescendos and walls of sound build and crash across the album, and the airy production only enhances the effect of these dynamics in the music. However, one cannot feel that the more aggressive songs on the album have been smoothed over a little too excessively by this same production - notably Subtle Severe and Storm and the Sun, in which the precision and technicality of the instruments has been slightly blurred. Fortunately this small misstep is easily overlooked.
The last two tracks on the album (Pillars, and the hidden untitled track) come together to create a brilliant closer. Pillars ends much the same way as The Clutter or Sorrows - in a massive explosion of chanted vocals and ethereal effects. The untitled track builds up slowly to a haunting piano and delayed guitar. The whole song swirls and floats even as the drums and bass enter to finish it off, finishing on a very strong note.
Like Comeback Kid, Sights and Sounds have the ability to become much more than a side project, and they have certainly proved it with Monolith. Dynamic but persistent, and lacking a single bad song (even the filler Sorrows part 2 segues nicely between Subtle Severe and Pillars), we can only wait and see how S+S plan to follow up such an impressive and unique debut album.