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(59:52, 10t Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Repeat It 4:33 2. In a Sense 5:24 3. A Post-Apocalyptic Bedtime Story 5:07 4. In Between the Lines 2:53 5. The Pundits 3:00 6. The Muse Returns 1:41 7. Free to Fall 3:15 8. The Projectionist 4:40 9. Tear Gas 4:46 10. Higher Than Mountains 4:19 11. Gravity 10:12 12. Gravity Instrumental 10:02 (b/t) LINEUP: Jeff Hodges – vocals; keyboards; percussion Eric Sands – bass, guitars Quentin Ravenel – drums Elise Testone – vocals Jennifer Hugh – violin Cameron Harder Handel - trumpet With: Keith Bruce – guitars Vitaly Popeloff – guitars Alexandra Hodges – backing vocals
Prolusion. The US act MAN ON FIRE made their debut back in 1998, which was followed up by the critically acclaimed sophomore disc "The Undefined Design" in 2003 and slightly more contested "Habitat" in 2007, the latter disc coming with a sound and approach featuring closer ties to mainstream-oriented pop and rock. "Chrysalis" is their fourth album and was released on their own label 10t Records in the fall of 2011.
Analysis. Following a band's career can be an interesting task. Some artists start up slightly uncertain, issuing an album or two before they perfect a specific approach or sound and then explore this with lesser or greater variation throughout. Others will try to constantly develop outwards from a defined style or one encountered along the way, and some will constantly strive to do something completely different from what they have done previously, the latter a select and small roster of artists, admittedly. Man On Fire's development has been an interesting one. The fretless bass of Eric Sands has been a dominating and characteristic trademark sound for them throughout, but used in relatively diverse settings whose main defining characteristic has been that it always has been used in compositions with at least one foot solidly placed inside a mainstream-oriented landscape: AOR and hard rock for their first two productions, to a lesser or greater extent, with more of a pop music sheen to their third CD "Habitat". On "Chrysalis", electronica and electronic rock appear to be the dominating flavors added to the mix. Most songs utilize a common approach: a minimalistic theme in which Sand's rich-sounding fretless bass and steady rhythms flavored with electronic layers and sounds are used as a dark instrumental foundation, at times with an industrial touch to them not too far removed from an outfit like Nine Inch Nails in its gentler moments: brooding in atmosphere but energetic and often danceable too, a nifty contrast in itself. This is paired off with a theme more consistent with a melodic and accessible variety of art rock, where dampened guitar riffs and rich keyboard textures form a majestic and most often positive sounding mood, Hodges' vocals soaring on top for both of these contrasting excursions. Subtly atonal elements or disharmonic details may flavor these constructions on occasion, some instrumental displays may be at odds with the thematic variation currently explored, but by and large both of these themes tend to focus on melody and harmony throughout. We're also provided with a fair few instrumental parts, some of which are brief and unexpected additions towards the end of a song and others elongated inserts in the middle of a piece - a few elongated end sequences taking on a totally different sound and mood compared to the rest of the track it is a part of. These segments tend to be liberally flavored with electronic touches, often to the point of me regarding them as electro rock to a greater extent than art rock. I'll readily admit that I was impressed by this material, despite something of an emphasis towards the easily accessible. Clever use of trumpets and violins invigorates these otherwise electronic-dominated landscapes and intelligent build-ups elevate many songs to a higher level of enjoyment. Higher than Mountains is a perfect example of the latter, a pleasant, but rather anonymous song until the final moments of the chorus part explode into a sequence so thrilling that the desire to listen to it repeatedly continues steadily to grow. The characteristic sound and novelty factor of this disc make this an album that, I think, will take its own good time to settle in with listeners. Some may be dismayed by the mainstream and industrial tendencies, and will have to spend a good amount of time getting accustomed to them prior to being able to state how much they like the actual compositions. Others will be thrilled by the same, and then see their interest fade, and only then manage to form a more fixed opinion for the material at hand. Personally, I belong to the latter group of people, and by and large my conclusion is that this is a very good album. Some compositions fade on repeated inspections, others grow, and surprisingly many come across as great efforts over time, as long as one can enjoy music of the more accessible kind, that is.
Conclusion. With "Chrysalis" the band has taken their trademark sound further, and into a field I suspect to some extent will divide their fans to an even greater extent than their previous effort "Habitat". Mainstream-oriented art rock with pop and industrial over- and undertones would appear to be a fitting general description of the overall style, but with more details and sophisticated mannerisms than you'll encounter on any directly mainstream-oriented production. Well worth checking out, and for most that should be done extensively prior to a purchase, I suspect. Potential core audience: progressive rock fans who also have artists like Depeche Mode and Gary Numan as treasured items in their music collection.
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