Friday, March 23, 2007

The Colour - Between Earth and Sky

Originally on Blog Critics

The Colour fit right in with the early '00s wave of ‘The’ bands, like The Strokes and The White Stripes, drawing on '70s rock to form their sound. They’re one of the best of this wave of bands that I’ve heard, going a bit more epic than the punk or electro leanings of a lot of their contemporaries. I’m a big fan of blues inspired classic rock, and this album delivers twelve really catchy, fun songs.

Their songs are primarily structured around guitar melodies, and there’s a bunch of driving, catchy riffs pushing the songs forward. There’s also a wide variety of guitar sounds, working both driving lines and lyrical melodies that interplay seamlessly with the vocal, as on "Just a Taste."

Vocalist Wyatt Hull has a unique voice, generally singing pretty high up without crossing over into falsetto. There’s some gorgeous wordless vocals on "Save Yourself" and particularly “Silver Meadows,” creating a fantastic, ethereal atmosphere. The latter is the album’s highlight, with piano and tambourine building into a chorus that just hangs in the air, hitting a really emotional chord. It goes to that bittersweet emotional place without being sappy.

The first song to grab me, and the first single, is “Devil’s Got a Holda Me,” a driving blues rocker that sounds a bit like The White Stripes. It’s got a great stop and go guitar riff, which builds into a descending chorus. It then builds to a multi-vocal stomp, which slows things down, making the return to the chorus even sweeter.

One potential issue with the album is the fact that it isn’t breaking any new ground. I heard pieces of Led Zeppelin, The White Stripes, T. Rex, early U2 and others here. If this album had been released in the '70s, it would have probably been a bigger hit, but it would also have been pretty routine. However, you don’t hear this kind of music that much today, and I’m really happy to see it return. It’s always frustrated me that harder edged rock became dominated by bands that just don’t sound good. The heavy distortion of nu-metal and rap rock artists was tough to take, and I much prefer the hard, but not ugly sound of '70s rock. The Colour do some pretty heavy songs, but they never cross over into fits of screaming or nasty sound.

My personal issue with the album is the fact that only on occasion does the band reach a really emotional place. I’m not sure if it’s their fault or the producers’, but at times the playing felt too solid, almost mechanical. The beauty of Zeppelin was the feeling that anything could happen, it felt like the song was being born in the moment, and each guitar solo is full of emotion and invention. Considering this is their first album, they’ve probably been playing these songs for a long time, so it’s logical they’d be tight. But, I can’t help but want a bit more life and energy at times.

“Black Summer” is built on a driving, Morricone like guitar line, and it goes into a great chorus, but I want something a bit more, a really sick guitar solo or some kind of crazy breakdown. Things do slow down for a while, but when they build back up, it’s into the same line. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really good song, but I feel like it could be ever greater.

Part of the reason I focus on “Black Summer” is because it’s one of the more riff based, blues sounding songs. Only two of the songs on here top four minutes, which is fine for the more pop sounding songs, like the catchy “You’re a Treasure” and “Can’t You Hear It Call,” but the classic rock songs could benefit from a longer running time. People may frequently criticize Zeppelin’s excess, but I don’t think anyone would want a three minute version of “When the Levee Breaks.” Looking ahead, I would point to that kind of song as a model for The Colour, something that would let them showcase their musicianship.

I’m seeing them live tomorrow, and I’m curious to see what they do with these songs in concert. It’s possible they’re a band like Phoenix, who record really tight songs on their album then tear them up into extended jams live. I’d love to see that because these songs are so catchy, based around really strong riffs and full of room for improvisational jamming. They could easily drop a great ten minute version of “Black Summer.”

“Our Children Were the Stars” is another really good song that could be more. The track has a slow, winding guitar build through its opening section, then turns into a stomping, piano backed breakdown, with a repeating vocal line soon accompanied by a soaring guitar melody. But, just when the track seems to be headed for something bigger, it goes back to the first section, the ends. I found myself wanting a major release towards the end of the album, a moment were they would just cut loose. To some extent, we get that on the last track, “Dirge to Earth and Sky” which has a great climactic build to a soaring chorus, but it still didn’t give the raw emotion of the best songs like this.

Despite that criticism, I really like this album. It’s always tricky territory to criticize an album for something it’s not, what is here is very good, and it’s that goodness that makes me want it to be just a little bit better. I don’t listen to much contemporary rock music, I stick mostly to electro and indie stuff in the present, and I’m actually quite glad to find a band that does all the great things that '70s era classic rock does, but is recording today. I’m excited to see them live, and I’m eager to see how they develop on future recordings.

No comments: