The Dear Hunter – The Color Spectrum – Review

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Embarking on one of the more challenging and inspiring efforts of recent memory, Casey Crescenzo and company have gone the extra mile with their pièce de résistance effort, the nine EP, color-focused collection, “The Color Spectrum.” The involved story and smooth indie of the progressive rock band’s previous installments, “Act I: The Lake South EP,” “Act I: The River North EP,“ ”Act II: The Meaning of, and All Things Regarding Ms. Leading” and the concluding full-length, “Act III: Life and Death,” were three parts of a compelling tale that is rarely ever able to be told genuinely in today’s music. Being one of the most ambitious conceptual releases that I’ve heard since Thrice‘s elemental-based conceptual EP’s “The Alchemy Index (funny that Casey Crescenzo shares an increasingly similar appearance with Dustin Kensrue), the anticipation was growing ever higher to ignore abandon and get my hands/ears dirty to experience the “rainbow” of emotions from this thirty six track opus.


Thanks to wonderful liner notes, Casey shares the “Black EP, which for him, “evokes a certain sense of disconnection and uncertainty” as well as “[conjuring] feelings of bitterness, disdain, and pessimism” — adding that it was a perfect way to begin this long color-coded journey, before we become more illuminated along the way. The foreboding opener track, “Never Forgive, Never Forget” perfectly reflects the EPs overtones, slowly building from a hefty beat into a moody Muse-esque track. The depressing nature of the EP really forms a head around the aggressive choruses and blunt lyrics of “The Body,” which carry the weighted words, “Oh my God. This body’s not a temple, it’s a prison. And every wall inside here is on fire. I can’t say I mind my body burning. Cause my body’s not a temple it’s a prison.”  The tracks almost feel nihilistic, but are portrayed so genuinely with Casey’s gloomy articulation, it almost feels weird that some of the more bright tracks on the EP are the ones with the least “illumination.”


Recorded with the help of Andy Hull and the rest of Manchester Orchestra, the “Red EP” steps out of the shadows of the prior installment, into a color that the group feels represents brashness, immaturity, and anger. The Dear Hunter therefore chose to switch the tempo up for these four songs — adding a level of flair and snarky indie rock to the formula while making hints to all things “red,” like in the Weezer-like EP opener “I Couldn’t Do It Alone“‘s lyrics “Busting your lip and now the blood begins to run. You never had enough, he’s coming back alone. You’re shaking again.” Likewise, the song “We’ve Got A Score To Settle,” leaves a fervored taste in our mouths, as Casey’s ranging belts are some of the collections most memorable and passionate, especially with heavy words levied, “Your words carry the weight of the world, and they’re waiting for that shoe to drop.” These few songs may be representative of arrogance, immaturity and anger, but to me this EP instead exudes intensity and a passion that is blind to compromise.


Teaming with Casey’s first band, The Receiving End Of Sirens‘, first manager Mike Poorman as producer, The Dear Hunter moved away from the intensity and aggressive nature of the “Red EP” and chose to focus on sound and subject matter that Casey felt was “searching for hope” and “playful” on the first fully recorded effort of “The Color Collection,” the “Orange EP.” And playful it is, with free-range guitars wandering where they will — with both subtle and heated, lengthy solos that Morello or Hendrix would be proud to call their own. The added keys (most notably “Echo”‘s orchestral push) and the female vocals from Judy Crescenzo, give this EP a much fuller sound, even on tracks like the entrancing, “A Sea Of Solid Earth” where most of energy is zapped away and we become memorized by wavy riffs and slow percussion.


As the proverbial summer memories go, most remember the sun-drenched breezy days, the strong new friendships, and warm nights that fill our dreams during later frozen winter months. Much the same, The Dear Hunter‘s “Yellow EP“  is the Collections most up beat and pop-centric effort. This time around Casey enlisted the help of the infectious pop rock band Naive Thieves, to come to his studio to lay down the instruments.
The bouncy and gain-heavy guitars of “She’s Always Singing,” along with its playful percussion and even a xylophone, is the musical answer to a happy couple skipping in a lush park with wild critters strolling up to them and talking. The remaining tracks stick to a head-bopping pace of power-chords and marriages between electric and acoustic guitars, carefree themes, and a general The Postal Service feel about everything. The “Yellow EP” is a bright ball of sunshine, a keystone for the illumination mentioned during the contrasting “Black EP” — which while feeling a bit too poppy for an experimental rock outfit, gives the “The Color Spectrum” much needed dimension.


During the winter holidays, while Casey was headed across country on tour, he began musing and writing what would become his money-colored release, the “Green EP.” He decided to once again record with producer Mike Poorman in much the same way the “Orange EP” was completed. Despite being strapped for green-backs, Casey began recording with Mike in what would become the natural feel and stripped down acoustic appeal of this EP. The teamed humble acoustics, light pianos, and plucked banjos of the opening track “Things That Hide Away” are so subtle and yet so potently moving, with matching violins and gentle croons — you soon realize the levels of combined instrumentation (even if it’s all unplugged). The almost folk appearance, slow walked-path, and guitar slides of the mature “Crow And Cackle” remind me the shuffling raw tracks from Dustin Kensrue‘s solo effort, “Please Come Home.” While the EP’s opposite book end, “The Inheritance,” will have you clapping and tapping your toes to the violin-aided, cheerful, acoustic sing-a-long. While folk and quasi-country doesn’t always do it for me, the “Green EP” is the collection’s reprieve from electrical burdens, where an enriching natural flow can form and grow without hindrance, making for one of the more genuine releases in this box set.


Originally destined to be an effort that focused on the depressing “thud” of isolation, and a close comparison to the “Black EP” featured on the collection, the “Blue EP” instead evolved into an ambient, almost dreamy set of unadorned songs. The charming music boxes and atmospheric lulling of “Tripping In Triplets” really set the sleepy mood, while “Trapdoor” sings on the EP’s urgent loneliness, “Darling please don’t abandon me, please just take a breath and see that not everything is lost and the profit will outweigh the cost if the only thing you want is love.” Casey’s angelic singing on “What You Said” and it’s spiraling effect-ridden guitars continue the heavy eye lid-inducing hazy experimental indie. Green’s natural love of acoustics rear its head on “The Collapse Of The Great Tide Cliffs,” which also implores several kinds of percussion and even an organ to fill in more space left behind by the stripped down acoustics. The building 5+ minute slow burn of this track is one of the records busiest and most enchanting. The “Blue EP” shares commonalities with Green and Black, but while those are on the extremes of the spectrum, Blue settles in the middle, not depressing and melancholy and not completely minimalistic — which makes this EP more appealing while still retaining the signature The Dear Hunter experimental tendencies.


The odd ball of the bunch, the “Indigo EP” is the only effort of the collection that doesn’t feature a guitar (heresy I know), and not only that but it also saves room for the only instrumental track on the huge effort, the unusually short, “Therma.“ From the very start of “What Time Taught Us,” digitally altered percussion and busy keyboards keep time with hauntingly harmonious vocals, both an incredibly calm and engaging track at the same time. Casey mentions the EP’s themes include self-realization and progress, which matches perfectly with the budding etheral sounds from the best track on the effort “Mandala.” And with horizon-broadeningly literate lyrics like, “I lost my place in the world; it left me behind. Now my soul is unbound and my mind is free to roam around and around. Thoughts drip down to words on a page scrawled in a foreign tongue. Circles tending towards the center lead you back to none.” The EP’s final two tracks, the Modest Mouse feel of, “Progress” and the instrumental Therma” hit like a one-two trance combo; both in a cloudy haze filled with delay effects and rich atmosphere, almost to the point that you drift off into a daydream while listening. The “Indigo EP” appeals to our primal need for a driving beat and a healthy dose of keys, doing it all while flying under the radar.


As the collections more dramatic and theatrical EP, “Violet” wastes exactly no time distancing itself from the trance-y mood music of the “Indigo EP,” choosing instead to pump up the showy level of its satire to almost Broadway proportions. When commenting on it, Casey said it was the closest to the style of The Dear Hunter‘s previous efforts “Act: II” and “Act. III,” which is partially true but with added dramatic flavor, enhanced with accompanying pianos, a trumpet/sax mixture, and a plethora of orchestral movements. The thick storyline and well sung narration of “Mr. Malum” and “Too Late” lend an interesting back-story to this EP, while its sound feels like an authentic, dialed back Panic At The Disco! As I say that, this is one of my least favorite EPs in the collection, as I find the chipper piano and flaired vocals, that fans have come to know from Fall Out Boy and PATD!, flamboyant and headache-inducing. The “Violet EP” does have a certain spirit that isn’t duplicated through out the whole effort and the ensemble of instruments is refreshing, so take that for what it’s worth.


And here we are. The long journey through out the color spectrum has lead us across a wondrous and enlightening set of efforts, from warm and comforting moods, to immature and aggressive themes, and even a hint of garnishing melancholy. The polar opposites of the collections beginnings with the “Black EP” (isolation, despair, etc) have now appeared with overwhelming hope and tranquility on the efforts closing chapter, the “White EP.” Not known for being religious, going as far as to pen the introspective song “No God,” Casey instead aligns himself with the much more broad title of being “spiritual,” which has helped The Dear Hunter maintain a level ambiguous direction and growth. The “White EP” then is the culmination of all the technical experience and balanced sounds that was experimented with the previous EPs, with Mike Watts producing, and a harmonious selection of TDH’s go-to instruments (clean guitars, acoustics, pianos, and of course Casey’s mother Judy’s vocals). The stirring lyrics of “No God“, “No way to tell what’s wrong or right, no fear of dying keeps me alive. And all we know is what we’re told, and we we’re told what others know…” as well as the EP closer “Lost But Not All Gone“‘s, both of which are simple and to the point, yet still very powerful. It shouts for spirituality and understanding, but not through traditional means and old rhetoric, instead by taking in experiences and living your own life. A truly special way to finish the range of emotion and spectrum of sounds.

There aren’t usually efforts that have been so thorough, ambitious, and thought out. Every angle has been plotted and covered. Not since Into It Over It‘s year long full-length,”52 Weeks,” which featured an earth shaking 52 tracks, have I been so impressed and touched by an effort. Whether or not you are a fan of The Dear Hunter‘s previous experimental rock, more than likely won’t alter your impression of this 9 EP collection because of how encompassing and massive it is; you will always find something on these songs that will speak to you. Beautifully written and presented, “The Color Spectrum” is telling of all the hard work Casey Crescenzo has put forth and sacrificed for this once-in-a-life time release. One that might not get all the press and praise it deserves right away, but will act as the keystone of examples of passionate releases in the future. [Staff]

Score: 4.75 (out of 5)

Release Date: November 8th, 2011
Record Label: Triple Crown Records
Genre: Experimental Rock
RIYL: The Receiving End Of Sirens, Thrice, Closure In Moscow

Track Listing:
1. Never Forgive, Never Forget
2. Filth and Squalor
3. Take More Than You Need
4. This Body
1. I Couldn’t Do It Alone
2. A Curse of Cynicism
3. Deny It All
4. We’ve Got a Score To Settle
1. Echo
2. Stuck On a Wire, Out On a Fence
3. A Sea of Solid Earth
4. But There’s Wolves?
1. She’s Always Singing
2. The Dead Don’t Starve
3. A Sua Voz
4. Misplaced Devotion
1. Things That Hide Away
2. The Canopy
3. Crow and Cackle
4. The Inheritance
1. Tripping In Triplets
2. Trapdoor
3. What You Said
4. Collapse of the Great Tide Cliffs
1. What Time Taught Us
2. Mandala
3. Progress
4. Therma
1. Mr. Malum
2. Lillian
3. Too Late
4. Look Away
1. Home Listen
2. Fall and Flee
3. No God
4. Lost But Not All Gone

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