Review Summary: Living As Ghosts With Buildings As Teeth proves to be thrilling, yet beautiful at the same time as it is the next step in the right direction for this reformed Seattle based band.
With the last release of Feathergun, Rishloo took advantage of Andrew Mailloux’s extensive vocal range and incorporated psychedelic influences as well as adding tranquil elements to find their own niche in the rock genre. This was a huge departure from their second LP Eidolon which was mainly a heavy sound and drew many Tool comparisons. With the release of Living as Ghosts with Buildings as Teeth, Rishloo has very much kept going in the direction that Feathergun left off, but also displays some melancholic alternative influences that add a nice variation to their previous sound. This blend of styles is what continues to make the band unique to many progressive rock bands. What is perhaps most ambitious about this release is that in terms of song structure, they are not afraid to dynamically jump around, but still keep flow throughout them. It is obvious that Rishloo did not play it safe in this department as many of the songs - including “Dark Charade” which caps the 10 minute mark - jump through well flowing soft and heavy sections feeling somewhat like a roller-coaster. It is also easy to see that the band has developed and matured further in terms of songwriting. Jesse’s drumming has improved significantly since feathergun and its nice to see the guitars attention to detail with its added layers.
Many of these songs are less vocally based than previous albums. For the most part, the instrumentation sets the main melody and structure. The vocals feel more like another integrated instrument often used to harmonize off of the guitar and bass. Usually, it feels natural and enhances the music, but there are times where there is slight overuse of Andrews vocals and it starts to feel slightly overwhelming. The vocals in the start of “Winslow” also feel slightly forced and even obstructs what the instrumentation sets out, but they do improve throughout the song. This problem also existed in Feathergun but understandably, it is ultimately part of their individual style and to fault them on such a decision is one that can only be a matter of opinion and perspective. It does little to hinder the quality of the music. That being said, there are some great vocal melodies on this album; such as at the ending of “Just a ride”, the verse of “landmines” and the second last section of “Dark Charade”.
Living as Ghosts with Buildings as Teeth puts a particularly strong emphasis on lighter tones and greatly succeeds in creating a natural contrast with some of the heavier aspects of the album. For example, the first 2:30 of “Dark Charade” are beautiful to say the least and build nicely to the second half of the song. As well, the chord structure in “Just a ride” is brilliant. The album also has its fair share of heavy grooves and some great riffage out of David Gillett. The Intro to Winslow is one of the albums highlights, as well as the splintering riff near the end of the song. Also, the first solo in “Landmines” and pretty much all of “Dead Rope Machine” show that he is very much an underrated musician and displays his great creativity.
Living as Ghosts with Buildings as Teeth does have it’s faults however. It seems that they attempt to end most of their songs with an emotional climatic ending (for lack of a better phrase) as if every other song on the album feels like it should be the last song. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can get exhausting when the flow from song to song is disrupted from one climatic ending to the next. It is as if that there is no pathway throughout the album but each song is it’s own entity. While in itself this is not a fault as many post rock bands share this trait, some of these climactic endings can be slightly mediocre and melodramatic. for example, the endings of “Dark Charade” and “Landmines” do not feel overly significant even though they are obviously meant to. This is because the melodic structure is not exceedingly clever and is sometimes even plain generic. on the other hand, the endings of “Just A Ride” and “Radio” for example are successful in concluding the songs in a compelling way.
While Rishloo’s creative capabilities are great, perhaps what sets them apart from reaching some of the goliaths in the respective genres such as Karnivool, Tool or The Mars Volta is that their creativity only brings them so far. As musicians, they are not quite as skillfully developed as these bands and do not display some of the progressive feats that they set the bar for. It is unfair of me, however, to compare Rishloo to these bands because it is certainly not their goal to be like them. Many other influences expand outside of the modern progressive rock scene such as David Bowie or Led Zeppelin to Elton John. Rishloo has proven themselves as a distinct entity in progressive rock music.
Living as Ghosts with Buildings as Teeth is beautiful at times and thrilling at others and despite some minor inconsistencies, it holds out as one of the top albums of the 2014 year in progressive rock music. Their unique combination of styles and ambitious sense of song structure is what makes it the next necessary step in Rishloo’s 4 album discography. I would highly recommend checking out this album and listening to it more than once as it may tend to grow on you over time.