Saturday, June 11, 2011

Album Review: Fear's In The Water (The Vincent Black Shadow)

Not long ago, I discovered the music of the Vincent Black Shadow, a Canadian rock group that's fairly unknown. I discovered them through their single Metro on the Sirius/XM satellite radio channel Iceberg, and then bought their album Fear's In The Water on iTunes. I will write a song-by-song review of the album after the jump, as well as an overall review of the album, after the jump.

Track 1: Metro
This may be the single happiest song about drug abuse since Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life". The uptempo beat cleverly offset's the dark lyrics (displayed in the video above), and the singer's vocal style is reminiscent of vocal jazz with a hint of 1960s pop. As I'm not an addict myself, and never have been, I can't tell how accurately this depicts going nuts due to drug abuse, but it does seem to accurately reflect what friends of mine have described. The half-repetition of the first verse helps to construct a cyclical feeling, as if she's gone through this before, something many addicts claim happens to them. This song also has a music video, which was on the soundtrack for the movie Feast and as such, uses clips from that film. It's quite easily my favourite song on the album, and the chorus is a major earworm.

Track 2: Control
This song is a bit more downbeat than the last. It's one of several relationship songs (specifically about wanting, uh, control in a might be about S&M, but I'm not sure), and it shows off former lead singer Cassandra Ford's vocal range adequately. The lyrical visual imagery of some lines, such as "so sweet you're drawing flies" is nothing short of brilliant. There are few of us who haven't had a relationship with someone like that, who we feel something for and yet, that same thing we're attracted to repulses us. Not the best song on the album, but a good one regardless.

Track 3: Bullet On The Tracks
The band has been described as "cabaret indie pop punk rock", and this song is probably the one that most accurately fits that description. It's a break-up song with a harpsichord and pop-punk drums and rhythm. Fun, jaunty, and another good example of lyrical dissonance.

Track 4: Don't Go Soft
This one's a full-on ballad with prominent keyboards and a string arrangement. Some might feel that's a cheap way to make the listener feel something for the song's protagonist, but I'd argue that the lyrics themselves can to that well enough on their own (There's just one more thing/To fake before you go/I'll stare at you, you'll stare at me/And fill my hands with pins and needles). Great for fans of heart-wrenching ballads, and proof that unlike other bands, the Vincent Black Shadow can cover a variety of moods.

Track 5: Valentine
This one reminds me a lot of Bad Romance by Lady Gaga, at least thematically. It's probably not a case of anyone ripping the other off (Bad Romance came out years after this song, and these guys are so underground that Gaga probably never heard of them at all). This goes great with the previous song-Don't Go Soft is an expression of pain and acceptance of a relationship that has failed, this one is a demand from the scorned lover for some sort of payback or retribution (You owe me another night). A strong track in more ways than one.

Track 6: Broken
Do you ever listen to an album and wonder why that one song you don't like gets released as a music video? That's what I feel. It's not that this song s bad, it's seems bland and cliched, compared to the rest of the album. Better than anything Bieber ever put out, sure, but I've made noises with my butt that sounded better than him. If I were giving out numerical values to each song, this one would get a 5/10 for middle-of-the-road blandness. However, the music video is probably better than the one for Metro, so it has that going for it.

Track 7: The House Of Tasteful Men
A bit of a rockabilly feel, at least to the instrumentals. Once again, a fun song about a less-than-happy subject. I certainly hope that this wasn't written about a specific person, since its verses are all about how the guy sucks and the chorus is a backhanded apology (I didn't mean to hurt you boy/But this is how it's done). The only good thing she says about the poor bastard is that she likes when he punishes her for doing bad things to him...which helps my theory that the singer is into S&M.

Track 8: Surgery
This song is called "horror punk" by some. For those unaware with music snobbery on the level I am, horror punk/horror pop is basically punk/pop that has horror elements. That's about it. Anyway, the song itself features excellent strategic use of the keyboards in what's otherwise a straightforward rock song. I'm not quite sure what to make of the lyrics...they suggest that she was mutilated by somebody, but then again, they're so vague that it could mean a lot of other things. In fact, it is just as likely about growing up and becoming a woman who wears too much make-up. So, the lyrics are a weak spot for me, simply because one can't tell what is being said. It's a great thing to have debates over the meanings, but when those debates have no clear winner, it's pointless.

Track 9: Ghost Train Out
This is the closest to a country song on this album. In fact, I'd actually call this a country song about skipping town with your lover. It's a passably good song, better than Broken though also a bit cliche and bland itself. I generally like bands expanding their sound on a song or two, but this is a case of a band doing this and failing.

Track 10: Fear's In The Water
This one also has a music video. It's interesting to me that they chose the three songs they did to make videos of, since they're so different in style. This is a hard rock song, and every time I hear it I'm reminded of the band Within Temptation. That's not a bad thing, I like that band, but it sounds almost exactly like something they'd put out. The video itself reflects that darker, heavier tone, almost a paint-by-numbers metal video. I'm loathe to say that my least favourite song on this album had the best video...regardless, this song is average by the band's standards, thanks primarily to a derivative sound and repetitive lyrics (more so than any other song on the album)

Track 11: Dream
Oh how I love this opening. Short drumroll followed by a happy little keyboard. This is the song they should have used the Broken video for, it probably would have been a hit! In fact, if you watch the video for that song, and listen to this one, the tone and theme of that video matches this song well. It's the song with the least lyrical dissonance on this album, as the tone almost completely matches the tone of the music. I would totally love to read a full prose story based on the lyrics of this song, so the lyrics are definitely strong. For me, one of the highlights of the album.

Track 12: This Road Is Going Nowhere
Another song with a rockabilly-jazz feeling to it. If you like both rock and jazz, you'd probably like this. Cassandra Ford' vocals are a real treat here, and...I just don't know what else to say here. This song kicks all sorts of ass, and other than Metro and maybe The House Of Tasteful Men and Don't Go Soft, is the best on the album.

Track 13: Letters To No One
This is a perfect finishing song. I'm of the mind that albums should always open with a good track that makes you excited for the rest of the album, and the last one should feel like an end to a journey. Whether your album is an album or just a collection of songs, it benefits from this approach. And that's what this song is. It's might be the lyrics (Why did you say you cared you're dead now/I told yout that she wasn't there/Thought that I wouldn't care/You lied and she she wasn't there she's dead now/Don't just leave me here) but when that's done, the listener gets the impression there's nothing left to be said, the listening experience is over. It's a satisfying ending, and a very good song if a bit macabre (it's about adultery and murder).

Final Verdict
A brilliant album from start to finish, with 2 hiccups between. Even these hiccups aren't that bad, and would probably appeal to many people. It's truly a shame this band hasn't picked up a much bigger fanbase than it has, but hopefully this will change soon enough.

8.75 Ironic Mustaches Out Of 10

All of The Vincent Black Shadow's albums are available on iTunes, including their most recent EP, The Finest Crime, from earlier this year. GO BUY IT NOW.

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