Review Summary: Not too modern, really.
In theory, everything about Modern Grotesque
seems tailor-made to cross the bridge between art and reality. Sporting indie-tinged, moody post-hardcore tunes, charismatic vocals, and prose that unashamedly exposes the insecurities of its narrator, Dreamwell’s latest effort should be the relatable experience desired by the passing individual struggling with any inner turmoil. After all, the cardinal rule of emo is to erect something that can be considered sincere—an honest piece that can resonate in the everyday lives of its listeners. The issue that comes from this, however, is that the result is perhaps too
manufactured to hit the beats the record strives to reach. This may seem a nitpick to start off with, but the balance between the genuine and the unnervingly familiar greatly impact what the young band attempt to portray, as it finds them struggling to define a unique identity while relying upon the tropes of their chosen genre. Sensing passion from a release can be difficult if it appears as though the release itself is afraid of branching out beyond the specified boundaries of peers. While there is promise to be found in the general aesthetic the Providence gents strive for, not enough risks are taken, which unfortunately sees substantial potential left on the table. Under the umbrella of a restrained production, fellow compositional flaws are made bare, equating to a disc that’s halted some miles shy of reaching the listener.
There’s a reliable bag of tricks Dreamwell turn to as demonstrated in the case of “Sayaka” and proper introductory track “Painting Myself a Darker Day.” Led by discordant chugging and scratchy harsh vocals, the former tune marches on at a slow tempo, embarking upon passages of delicate strumming and clean, bass-fronted instrumental breaks that contrast with the overarching trauma of the lyricism. Tied to the emotional intensity are a spoken word contribution and effective crescendo, the song culminating in a fearsome breakdown that cements the defeatist message of the prose. Encountered in the latter entry is a twangy, post-hardcore tonality hailing from the gazey domain of Teenage Haze—a particular motif that becomes a critical pillar of Dreamwell’s identity on their newest work. Though further breakdowns are sprinkled into the runtime, the nostalgic air crafted by the distant, melancholic thrumming is instantaneously recognizable, establishing a common dichotomy between the painful authenticity of depressive sensations and serene compositions. Though appearing like Counterparts with the grit excluded, the Rhode Island quintet successfully embody a sonic personality that, while attributable to other entities, does justice to the style. An audience can be roped in from here under the authority of evocative timbers that depend on crafting space; the notes performed are permitted to drift in the atmospheric landscape, engulfing audiophiles with a sense of longing that characterizes this sophomore effort’s existence.
What acts to hinder the proceedings of Modern Grotesque
past this beginning is the linearity it rapidly represents. Songs do not have to contort themselves constantly, but the lack of intrigue in this regard causes tracks to blend. Slow tempo is the order of the day, much like the accompanying chord progressions practiced on “Painting Myself…”, their trademark accent gradually tiring as its novelty wears thin. Numbers start at a quiet base at the behest of the drumming until blossoming to include the inescapable Departures B-side riffs, spending time kicking around a middle section populated by indie melodies as the rhythm components relax in the background; they’re providing little else than standard support. A quiet bridge inevitably emerges sometime afterwards without anticipation, its sole purpose to usher in another crescendo to place a breakdown in. This seems reductive, certainly, yet it is a formula laid bare by indistinguishable noodling and arpeggios. In some instances, the compositional result is simply sloppy; the burst of speed erupting in the midst of “A Crouching Tiger Waits for Prey That Never Comes” is a welcome change, but something
—be it the screams, percussion, or melody—is awkwardly out of sync, which is to say nothing of the melody itself being unexciting. This endures all the way up to the onset of “The Lost Ballad of Dominic Anneghi” where the collective unceremoniously leeches off the instrumental theming that was mined dry come “Plague Father; Vermin Son,” with each song lacking a fascinating variable to prompt return visits. For “Lost Ballad…,” the ‘quiet part’ is far too predictable and comparable to those that preceded it. For “Plague Father,” a wandering second half artificially elongates the tune, which is made more problematic by a tepid chorus. Ideas become increasingly tedious once they repeat on such a regular basis.
Only sparingly are attempts made to buck trends, yet those alone cannot distract from increasing similarities. If anything, entries such as the title track and closing number “Sisyphean Happiness” cause further dilemmas; they outline what could
happen if the Providence crew placed an emphasis on differentiation. Greatly assisting “Modern Grotesque” in this regard is its commitment to an increased pace thanks to a powerful riff that drives the momentum. A glimpse into more turbulent waters is witnessed when the song unexpectedly tosses blast beats into the fray, and the pinnacle eventually attained come the track’s conclusion is worth of the elongated 6-minute journey. Much of what succeeds here holds steady in the LP’s finale, helped in no small part by the eclectic showing of the crew’s vocalist. Maneuvering from resounding screams, shouts, and spoken utterances, the voice of Dreamwell owns an excellent range that strives valiantly to infuse personality into arrangements. Wavering, whined phrases are ideal complements for the dire character of the CD, as well as the concept of catharsis after a string of losses. With “Sisyphean Happiness,” a sense of urgency is instilled by the darkened harmonics of the lead guitar, which then bleeds into a detached melody during the instrumental refrain. The stage is set for a vocalist to cover a wide spectrum of sentiments, and the gang manages to capitalize on it, memorably ending the disc by fully realizing its core traits.
Even when constructing tunes that break from the mold, the best outcome is that of an imitation. It may not encompass an act of mimicry, yet its output is caught in the shadow of emo albums of yore, partially due to missing the point of the bands they draw the most inspiration from. The driving concept of a record akin to Teenage Haze
is not to imbue a heaviness into proceedings, but to utilize melodic, spacey guitars to demonstrate melancholia. Mixing in dissonance and ill-conceived breakdowns tramples over this objective by attempting to force what the production is incapable of doing; it doesn’t prioritize punchy instrumentation so that this particular atmosphere can breathe. If heightened complexity and weighty riffs were desired a la Counterparts, the relative silence of various members in this effort is glaringly obvious. Though there are moments where all are able to shine, the vocals and distinctive lead guitar tone ultimately possess too much sway, with the rhythm contributions commonly reduced to quieted mush in the background. While these criticisms do stick, Dreamwell indeed demonstrate positive traits in specific cuts where all accrued elements cooperate effectively, even though they are obscured by the unsatisfactory middle Modern Grotesque
unfortunately contains. Bookended by potential, the album finds itself deficient in the necessary songwriting ingenuity to push it to a higher echelon, instead residing alongside innumerable peers that mistakenly try to use an aesthetic by hollowly replicating it. It’s hard to perceive honesty from the same old, same old.