The Dear Hunter

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Act I: The Lake South, The River North

The Dear Hunter - Act I: The Lake South, The River North ©2006 Triple Crown
1. Battesimo del Fuoco
2. The Lake South
3. City Escape
4. The Inquiry of Ms. Terri
5. 1878
6. The Pimp and the Priest
7. His Hands Matched His Tongue
8. The River North

The Dear Hunter started out as a side project for a member of emo band The Receiving End of Sirens (band names are like good .com domains; all the cool ones are already taken) and gradually evolved into a full-fledged band that's considerably more interesting than anything TREoS ever was. Act I is the first of a projected six-piece concept rock opera suite thing centered around a boy and his prostitute mother, as far as I can tell, and has all the hallmarks of the kind of thing that normally has me rushing for the nearest CD shredding machine--long interwoven narrative threads, recurring characters, a coming-of-age story, a damned woman, water and fire symbolism, and the like. But at least it doesn't have a matching comic book and a whiny child-like singer (although the Dear Hunter's singer does share burl and hirsuteness with Coheed & Cambria's frontman).

The music on Act I is a very thickly layered amalgam of classic and modern ambient/progressivish rock (Pink Floyd, old Bowie, The Mars Volta) with liberal doses of Radiohead, Muse and Coheed & Cambria, pop-punkish bits la Cheap Trick, gobs of Queen, and pre-emo Telecaster songwriters like Jeff Buckley and Jimmy Gnecco of Ours. More interestingly, though, the band also incorporates less poppy influences like Frank Zappa ("The Lake South") and very American showtunes and cabaret elements into a lot of the songs ("The Inquiry of Ms. Terri", "The Pimp and the Priest"). Thankfully, the band refrains from using too much of the so-square-it's-cool, post-loungey, retro-chic happy-happy twee keyboard plinking that started polluting otherwise decent music in the 1990s ("1878", which almost redeems itself with a few catchy sections).

The chord progressions alternate between hackneyed moody rock and modern, inventive, almost jazz-fusion key-changing affairs, and the drumming adds some tasteful spice and syncopation to many of the songs (even the slow, sad "The Inquiry of Ms. Terri", which incidentally is almost a carbon copy of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" and "Karma Police"). Other choice cuts include "City Escape", a fast Mars-Volta-esque rocker with echoes of Queen and Coheed & Cambria, and the horn-heavy musical-theater-like "The Pimp and the Priest". The singer isn't quite as good and confident as one might want him to be, but his pitch is acceptable and he delivers his wordy lyrics with conviction (a little too much conviction, at times).

There isn't a single moment on the record where you catch yourself thinging "wow, I've never heard this before!", but the unabashed, deferent yet not slavish incorporation of all those classic and modern influences actually works and coalesces into a very solid album. With all its derivativeness and borderline pompouser-than-thou narrative structure, this record is a very impressive first chapter in an uneven but exciting collection of solid elaborate rock albums, and should appeal to a much larger audience than sullen tweens who comb all their hair forward. While Act I is not quite as strong as Act III, it's considerably less haphazard, meandering and ponderous than Act II, and a promising debut by an interesting band.

Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier

Review date: 11/2009

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Act II: The Meaning Of & All Things Regarding Ms. Leading

The Dear Hunter - Act II: The Meaning Of & All Things Regarding Ms. Leading ©2007 Triple Crown
1. The Death And The Berth
2. The Procession
3. The Lake And The River
4. The Oracles On The Delphi Express
5. The Church And The Dime
6. The Bitter Suite 1 And 2: Meeting Ms. Leading / Through The Dime
7. The Bitter Suite 3: Embrace
8. Smiling Swine
9. Evicted
10. Blood Of The Rose
11. Red Hands
12. Where The Road Parts
13. Dear Ms. Leading
14. Black Sandy Beaches
15. Vital Vessals Vindicate

After an exciting first album, The Dear Hunter returned with the second installment of what's expected to be a massive six-part rock opera suite, and sadly they didn't quite deliver on the promise they showed on Act I.

The music and lyrical style are broadly in the same vein as Act I: a hodgepodge of influences ranging from Pink Floyd to the Mars Volta, with some King Crimson, gospel, show tunes, Queen, Cheap Trick, tango, ragtime and cabaret thrown in. The album starts off strong with improved singing and a short string of strong tunes; "The Procession" is a solid modern King Crimson/Mars Volta rocker with strong dynamics, and "The Oracles on the Delphi Express" is an excellent ragtimey cabaret number.

But the album fizzles out after the huge "The Church and the Dime", starting with a conceptual "suite" that only serves to announce a long sequence of weak, moody tunes with predictable rave-ups and embarrassing didactic lyrics delivered in forced melismatic melodies, culminating in the awful "Red Hands". The morass does break up a bit with "Dear Ms. Leading", a rocking song with King-Crimson-ish violin and Mars-Volta-esque dirty guitars, but the album then resumes its downward spiral with yet another sleeper of a tune with ponderous storytelling lyrics.

Mediocre material is often the price of ambition in the realm of complex concept albums; Pink Floyd's The Wall could easily be cut in half and be the stronger for it. The band obviously spent a lot of effort crafting, arranging and recording these songs, and certainly can't be faulted for being careless or padding their record with throwaway songs just for the sake of volume. So I wish I could recommend this record, especially considering the conceptual integrity of the narrative; but it just bogs things down and spoils the enjoyment of Act I and Act III when you listen to the whole cycle in order. Just make yourself a custom EP with the first five "The" songs on this album and move on to the excellent Act III.

Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier

Review date: 11/2009

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Act III: Life and Death

The Dear Hunter - Act III: Life and Death ©2009 Triple Crown
1. Writing on a Wall
2. In Cauda Venenum
3. Transition 1
4. What It Means to Be Alone
5. Transition 2
6. The Tank
7. Transition 3
8. The Poison Woman
9. The Thief
10. Mustard Gas
11. Saved
12. Transition 4
13. He Said He Had a Story
14. This Beautiful Life
15. Go Get Your Gun
16. Son
17. Father
18. Life and Death

By far the most consistently strong episode in The Dear Hunter's long concept cycle, Act III: Life and Death easily makes up for the band's disappointing second album, the ponderous Act II. The band appears to have found its groove and delivers one catchy, melodic, varied song after another with very few low points; ironically, perhaps, the thick arrangements help take the focus away from the sometimes embarrassing lyrics that weighed down Act II so badly.

Musically, the genre- and influence-blending that characterized the first two "acts" is still the order of the day, with the benefit of an extra two to three years' experience and more contributing musicians adding up to better, more confident performances. Unlike the first two records, the album's shifting moods are now sandwiched between short "Transition" songs featuring styles as varied as doo-wop, wartime radio jingles and prog-rock musique concrcte. Most remarkably, a couple of tracks on Act III are every bit as catchy, classy, sweeping and gorgeous as classic concept album hits of the 1970s like Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road or Pink Floyd's The Wall: in particular, "The Tank" is a superb, ambitious, multifarious Queen-esque number with dark, tense, string-heavy verses and a lovely, thickly layered chorus that will send shivers down your spine.

Of course the album isn't without its flaws--the singer's nasal delivery makes "Saved" a little grating and makes you wonder how good it would be with Jimmy Gnecco singing, and "This Beautiful Life" is a little too happy for my taste--but by and large this record is a high watermark for rock albums in 2009 and caps off an otherwise disappointing year. Very highly recommended.

Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier

Review date: 12/2009

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