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The Living - 2013 - "The Jungle Is Dark but Full of Diamonds"

(51 min, ‘The Living’)



1.  Intro 0:35
2.  Earthmusher 5:16
3.  Designer Blindfold 5:26
4.  Maximum Gentleman 3:00
5.  We Are the Bubble – They Are the Prick 6:04
6.  Mister Feminister 4:21
7.  Media 4:28
8.  Requiem for Bessie 7:52
9.  Dream Runner 3:14
10. Music Is Magic 3:53
11. Sneaky Patina 6:56
12. Outro 0:43


Mike Bell – lead vocals; guitars; pianos; percussion
Elyse Jacobson – violin; backing vocals
John Kastelic – cello; backing vocals
Doug Gorkoff – cello
Samuel Cartwright – drums 
David Spidel – bass; backing vocals

Prolusion. “The Jungle Is Dark but Full of Diamonds” is the first full-length album by the Canadian ensemble THE LIVING, following the "Bedd Tracks" EP from 2009. The musicians describe their goal as “To bridge the gap between Western art music and popular styles, mixing traditional rock instrumentation with classical instruments”.

Analysis. This 12-track outing begins and finishes with two brief cuts, titled Intro and Outro respectively. The first of them only features a female vocalization and effects, while the latter finds three string instruments jamming eclectically – if not counting a male laugh that ‘crowns’ it as a coda. One more composition, Requiem for Bessie, is a sort of chamber ballad. Deeply dramatic in mood, it’s performed without the use of electric instruments, and even drums appear infrequently here, played like orchestral ones. The rest of the material appears as being stylistically almost uniform, most of the other tracks fast-paced romps, often played with fury and agitation. On the songs Music Is Magic, Earthmusher, Designer Blindfold, Maximum Gentleman, Dream Runner and Mister Feminister the music is symphonic Rock with elements of Metal and hints of classical in places. To put it in a more precise way, throughout those compositions the listener will be presented with sections of, say, semi-conventional rock music, those of highly orchestrated and, at once, rather heavy one and interludes of classical-like themes with only chamber instruments in the arrangement, though there are also some vibrant choral moments on two of these, quasi-operatic in delivery. When it’s especially engaging is when two or more of those elements overlap. One might also say that the group takes a classical composition and puts it in a comparatively straight rock band context, but it would be a rather doubtful definition, since the canons of classical music are used rarely. There are few abrupt changes of the arrangements, but the musicians solo almost ceaselessly, within the vocal sections in particular, creating an amazingly rich and lush, almost polymorphous sound. Besides, they do really race through most of the said pieces, which are built on rather complicated harmonic structures, original vocals with social and political lyrics and consistently excellent playing. Instrumentally the band is comprised of two electric guitars, two cellos, violin, bass and drums, which are filled out as needed with either electric or acoustic piano. Three of the six members from time to time provide harmony vocals, but the lead ones are prevalent, delivered by multi-instrumentalist Mike Bell, the main mastermind behind the ensemble. You’ll hear a brief quotation of Electric Light Orchestra, some moments that evoke Apocalyptica and perhaps even a momentary nod in the direction of Queen, but much of the music is definitely original. At this point one should be assembling an image of a versatile ensemble that feels comfortably across a fairly diverse range of material; also one that can morph as a piece evolves and end up in someplace different than where it begins, such as, for instance, the album’s heaviest composition, Designer Blindfold, whose finale is a violin solo effectually interacting with a heavy guitar riff. While lyrically serious too, the remaining three tracks, We Are the Bubble – They Are the Prick, Media and Sneaky Patina, are somewhat less impressive, however. On each of them the band from time to time digresses from its basic style – towards some old-fashioned pop music, and the vocals are often too extravagant here, resembling those in Etron Fou Leloublan.

Conclusion. This is certainly a good album overall. Based mostly on the strength of the writing alone, the band for the most part shows an amazing level of subtlety and brilliance, enhanced further by their skill and confidence as players and arrangers. I think The Living should most of all be interested for fans of the first two aforementioned groups.

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: Agst 21, 2013
The Rating Room

Related Links:

The Living


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