Review Summary: We live in a society.
With my ass in attendance as The Dear Hunter approached the end of a gig on a brisk October night in 2015, Casey Crescenzo announced (warned?) that they were about to perform a new song that had become inadvertently contentious among their audience. Suffice to say life’s been a whirlwind since that time, but I still remember the gist of his preface with enough confidence to paraphrase it: “you’re not too cool to indulge us in a little disco. Anyway, here’s “King of Swords (Reversed).”
“Indulge” is a cheeky way of putting it for a composer whose repertoire to date includes a five-album period piece about deceit, trauma, and vengeance, a 9-EP jamboree of three dozen songs inspired by colors, and forays into chamber music on the side, but the average The Dear Hunter fan simply doesn’t mind—or actively geeks out to, more honestly—high barriers of entry. The sheer scope of their flagship project demands patience, but has always in due time rewarded it, be that through its many melodic reprisals, copious dramatic irony, or the emotion showcased in the countless chapters and turning points leading to its perfect storm of a finale. Anything more than that was simply a welcome surprise.
But that chapter of their career has since closed, and as their first hard reboot in nearly a decade, Antimai
represents a firm fork in the road. Sonically, the DNA of TDH’s prior output hasn’t mutated its way out of the helix; Crescenzo and co. still weave complex, layered arrangements with a flair for the theatrical here, but they’ve bid adieu to any obligation towards a conventional “rock” framework in the process. In its place? Kitschy synths, groovy bass, mallets, brass, and enough vaguely sci-fi-tinged orchestral swells to make John Williams cream his trousers. Yep, Antimai
consists almost solely of progressive funk showtunes…in space.
And that's not all! Kicking off a new, ill-defined story with a guided tour through its caste-structured universe, Antimai
’s primary goal appears to be establishing a sense of place and order for installments to come, and its political climate may ring a few bells: theocratic brainwashing, wealth inequality, and impaired social mobility all collide to keep its masses oppressed, its most powerful detached and omnipotent, and those in the middle reverent of the hierarchy for fear of backsliding. The parallel to our modern age is eye-rollingly obvious, even if Crescenzo has touched on most of these topics before (see “No God,” “Filth and Squalor,” “The Haves Have Naught,” etc.). “Ring 4 – Patrol” is admittedly a new strain, analyzing the power dynamics that incentivize cops to remain cops (All Crescenzos Are Ballin’), but that alone isn’t much of a unique sell, because duh, class struggle exists and we live in a society, guys. What’s actually new here besides the window dressing?
And yet, the band mostly—mostly
—finds a way to peddle the shallow commentary off as a farcical thrill, faring better when they throw all caution to the wind than when they try to rein in their wildest inclinations. Laugh if you have to, but don’t try and tell me the callous, Dr. Seussian oration of “Ring 3 – Luxury,” the horrendous synth leads in “Ring 5 – Middle Class” or bars like “If you’re too low to get down in LoTown / they’re probably gonna bring you here”
weren’t conceived with anything less than the smarmiest grins on these lads’ faces. Most of Antimai
toes that miraculously thin line between straight-faced, business-as-usual alt prog and facetious self-parody; this is the essence of The Dear Hunter, assuredly, but it’s also The Dear Hunter filtered through the Star Wars cantina band, and say what you will about that, but they sound like they’re having a fuckin' blast hamming it up.
Cheese without competence is a recipe for disaster, but this band hasn’t forgotten how to write subtle hooks, dynamic payoffs (save for the disappointing anti-climax of closer “Ring 1 – Tower”), or zinger one-liners, and as a result Antimai
translates more often than it backfires. Juxtaposing its sunny demeanor with downtrodden messaging makes the whole affair feel something akin to a satirist tourist’s brochure, making light out of cruelty by masking it as mundane, or worse still, divinely-mandated. But one man’s punchline is another man’s redline, and all pros aside, your ability to stomach Antimai
will all but essentially boil down to how tickled you find yourself with The Dear Hunter’s unrepentant fancy for the overblown. And no, you haven't truly heard it until you've heard this