Record #391: The Juliana Theory – Music From Another Room(2001)

For all the love Understand This is a Dream (rightly) receives, I think this EP may have been even more important to me.
And it’s not just that opener “This is the End of Your Life” served as my intermediate vocal lessons, or the deep sense of comfort that Moments/In a Fraction still give me. It’s not the memory I have I driving my little sister around as she clutched her giant stuffed lion and me quipping, “we know your lion” during the chorus of “Liability.” And it’s not just the time my best friend recruited me to sing and play guitar for his recording of Piano Song (his Recording Arts class final project).

It’s not just sentimentality.

This album is one hundred percent killer. The perfect midpoint between Understand’s lushly orchestrated emo and Love’s more straightforward rock n roll. The songs are ambitious without being unapproachable. And it’s the strength of these songs that helps the six-song* Music From Another Room stand eye to eye with even their best full lengths.

​*vinyl has a bonus track

Record #394: Deftones – Gore (2016)

Not many late-90s/early 00s nu-metal bands are currently releasing albums this compelling.

​But as I’ve discovered lately, Deftones isn’t like most of their contemporaries. Their penchant for lush shoegaze and soaring melodies overshadowed their rap-metal tendencies over a decade ago. And since, they’ve only continued to create beautifully melodic alternative metal that doesn’t skimp on the punishment…

And their most recent effort, last year’s Gore, might be their most balanced release (notice that this, Deftones, and Saturday Night Wrist all made it into my collection ahead of White Pony. So save it).
While the group’s ballads have always been thick on the ambiance and melody (see: “Digital Bath,” “Change (In the House of Flies)”), their heavier tunes have often felt tied to their dated roots—even on albums as recent as Diamond Eyes. On Gore, however, the only 90s ghost haunting about is the tuneful, Hum-like space rock that informs “Pittura Infamante” and “Xenon.” 

What’s perhaps more remarkable is that while older Deftones albums had a (mostly) clear line between heavy and melodic tracks, Gore manages to do both at the same time (better than Saturday Night Wrist, better than Kai No Yokan). Opener “Prayers / Triangles” is the perfect example of this. 

But even the heavier tunes have a melodic core. “Doomed User” chugs through alternating measures of five and six, until a melodic chorus breaks through like a ray of light. “Geometric Headdress” finds Chino screaming his head off, but the refrain (complete with an incredible off-time drum beat) is as soaring a melody as “Digital Bath.”

On the same token, the melodic tracks also have a bit of bite to them. “Hearts / Wires” alternates between some of the softest moments on their catalogue with soaring, punishingly heavy choruses. “Phantom Bride” follows up one of the most chilling ballads of their career with a break of heavy, heavy riffage. 

All of this makes for what is not only one of the shining moments of Deftones’ career, but one of the finest pieces of alternative metal ever released.

Record #393: Deftones – Saturday Night Wrist (2006)

In my quest to figure out how I feel about Deftones, I got the feeling that Saturday Night Wrist was a low point in the group’s career. So I ignored it for a while.

​That, my friend, was a mistake…

Because in my opinion, Deftones is at their beat when they’re mixing their ear-splitting metal chops with blissed out shoegaze. And nowhere do they do that better than on Saturday Night Wrist. This album spends the least amount of time chugging through nu-metally riffage. Instead, this album’s musical center is closer to My Bloody Valentine than Korn.

And it pays off.

Opener “Hole in the Earth” soars through a bombastic 6/8 signature. “Beware” is an ominous ballad that breaks into some of Chino Moreno’s most transcendent vocals. “Cherry Wave” out shoegazes even “Minerva.” “U,U,D,D,L,R,L,R,A,B,Select,Start,” the group’s only instrumental track, is a brilliant work of ambient math rock.

These sorts of transcendent tracks are exactly what makes Deftones stand above their contemporaries. And while (almost) every Deftones record has some dated, aggro-metal to slog through, this album has the lowest concentration. Instead, the weakest moment here is a vulgar monologue over a full-on electronica track.

​And if that’s the only thing keeping this album from being perfect, I don’t get the hate.

Record #392: Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up (2017)

Looking back a decade* I don’t think anyone could have guessed the immense impact Fleet Foxes would have on the indie scene. 

And while it’s true that Fleet Foxes themselves have never received much mainstream recognition, their acolytes certainly did. Their folk pop debut LP, with its particular palette of acoustic instruments, thick harmonies, and breakneck strumming patterns, opened wide the gates for all the Mumfords, Lumineers, Monsters, Men, and Magnetic Zeros that would follow the Foxes’ map right into top 40 radio stations and car commercials.
But Fleet Foxes were not satisfied to float on the rising deluge of their copycats. Instead, their sophomore outing found them turning inward. Anyone looking for anything as bouncing and immediate as “White Winter Hymnal” was sorely disappointed. Rather, the tracklist was filled with ominous baroque opuses. Songs took unexpected twists and turns, ending up in very different places than they started (see: the eleven minute “The Shrine/An Argument,” “Helplessness Blues”). If Fleet Foxes was the sound of vagrants playing guitar in the woods, Helplessness Blues was the chants of a group of prophets standing on the ocean’s edge forecasting the end of days.

And yet, Helplessness Blues seems almost poppy compared to Crack-Up.

In the six years since Helplessness Blues, the promised apocalypse came. And Fleet Foxes is right in the middle of it.

This album is less Helplessness Blues’ chameleon than a cuttlefish. Helplessness Blues’ colors shifted, but slowly. Crack-Up is a constant flash of transforming hues. 

Keys change between lines of a verse. Choruses appear once and are contorted on their coda. Tracks fade between eachother without stopping to breathe. Which sometimes makes it confusing, as many of the tracks play like many songs played as a medley.

This is far and away the most ambitious thing Fleet Foxes or any of their contemporaries have done. This is the headier moments of their previous albums stretched into a full-length. 

When their debut landed on us, I often described Fleet Foxes as “folksy Beach Boys.” If their self-titled was Pet Sounds, this is their Smile. An album that features all the same colors, but arranged in a massive baroque pop suite that is as inviting as it is impenetrable.

*(yes–Fleet Foxes’ first EP was released eleven years ago)

Record #390 – Deftones – Deftones (2003)

I’ve never shied away from admitting that my musical expertise has some blind spots. Recently, I realized that one of those blind spots was the Deftones
And for no discernible reason. I’ve known their name forever. Tons of bands I love have toured with them or cite them as an influence. I absolutely love Palms, Chino Moreno’s side project with former members of post-metal giants ISIS. I’ve even heard certain Deftones tracks and loved them (Change in the House of Flies, most notably). I listened to most of Gore upon its release to check it out, and mostly liked it.
So why had I never gotten into the Deftones? 

Last week, I decided to get to the bottom of this. I opened a note on my phone and listened through the entire Deftones discography (well…White Pony on) taking notes on each individual track. And I discovered something.

I really, really like Deftones. 

Sure, every once in a while they get into some numetal riffage nonsense that I don’t care for, but most of that is forgivable considering the huge soaring melodies and beautiful textures they employ so liberally. 

This album wouldn’t necessarily be my choice for first purchase (probably GoreSaturday Night Wrist, or Koi no Yokan), but I found an eBay auction with no bids and a half hour to go, so here we are.

And it’s not like I care that much—this album is killer. Deftones have always been more sophisticated than the numetal groups they often get lumped in with, and this album sees them drawing from a number of decidedly non-metal influences (and all the rap rock is gone, thank God).

The opener “Hexagon” is a brilliant marriage of big shoegaze guitars and metal screams (think Deafheaven in utero). “Minerva” is an absolutely beautiful tune that somehow became a radio hit. “Deathblow” is creeping study in their mastery of soft/loud dynamics. “Lucky You” even brings some trip-hop to the table.

But that’s not to say there’s nothing dated on here. Even “Hexagram” has a weird numetal breakdown in the choruses. Some tracks (”When Girls Telephone Boys,” “Bloody Cape”) skew more aggressive, almost devoid of their harmonic brilliance that drew me to them in the first place. But the good far outweighs the bad here. White Pony often gets cited as the group’s first great record, but Deftones is where they really shed the numetal nonsense of their peers and became the iconic masters of melodic alt-metal that they are today.