Sunday, January 16, 2011

Album Review: Decoder - Decoder

Decoder is a band of afterthoughts. Four of the five members were in three bands, two of which have soared in popularity since the initial break while the third has broken up. I'm not too sure that vocalist Spencer Pearson formerly of VersaEmerge, vocalist Keith Jones and guitarist Jack Burns formerly of Oceana, and drummer Brent Guistwite formerly of Of Machines regret their decisions now. After teaming up with bassist Bryce Sipes and signing with Rise Records, ex-home of both Oceana and Of Machines, Decoder brings together influences from all three of their former bands together, creating a more artistic and technical album then any of those bands (minus maybe Oceana's Clean Head) have ever released. However, the band could have tried experimenting a bit more, instead holding the record back from being a breakout.
The dark, yet atmospheric mood is felt immediately in the first track, "Dreamwalker", as if to show right off from the bat that this isn't an ordinary Rise Records output. Before long, Spencer's clean vocals become reminiscent of Anthony Green with a better lower register. "Transcendence" takes a page from the book of Oceana, combining the heaviness of The Tide with the dark, progressive feel of Clean Head. However, the screams seem mostly unnecessary, weak both vocally and in their placement. This is not the case in "Conflicts", as the intelligible screams in the chorus go much better with the music than the lower pitched, more brutal screams. The song shows that the band does have the ability to write a catchy hook, even though they do not take advantage of that throughout the album, instead mostly focusing on the music of the album.

Midway through the album, it becomes apparent that most of the songs do not stick out on their own. The song structure is pretty consistent throughout, with the cycle of a little singing, to screaming, to a singing chorus occurring in pretty much every song. I had hoped "The Light" lived up to its name as a more atmospheric piece that was focused on Spencer's vocals. However, as throughout the album, the screaming seems to be thrown in and takes away from the song. "The Horrid" is anything but horrid, as the chorus is one of the catchier ones, and the ending is powerful, with eerie harmonies and background screams that are sure to invoke chills. "The Giver" and "The Taker" surprisingly do not go together as opposites, as "The Taker" is probably the "heaviest" track on the album but while "The Giver" is much more atmospheric, the screams still take a key role in the track. Closer "Holding On" is finally a track that sounds instrumentally different than the rest, piano taking the lead in the instrumentation. Spencer's vocals soar as the song approaches the climax,  crescendos going hand in hand with the raising of pitch, while the screams are finally placed in the perfect place. The album ends with the band finally starting to win me over.

It is clear that Decoder took the safe way out this time, simply wanting to please Rise Records rather than creating the music that they are capable of. With the loss of Oceana to both Clean Head and another label, Decoder simply took the void of the band rather than living up to their potential. The song structures are generic, and do not allow the talent of the members to shine. The band has not been together for very long, and it is possible that the whole album was rushed. The future is still extremely bright for the band, and hopefully this album will sell well enough to allow the band a bit more room for experimentation next time around.

Projected Score: 7.7/10
Revised Score (5/19/11): 7.7/10

1. Dreamwalker
2. Transcendence
3. Conflicts
4. Believers
5. The Light
6. The Giver
7. The Horrid
8. The Taker
9. Drones
10. Holding On


  1. I agree that this album, while unique in sound, blends together despite showing a lot of potential for the future, but I don't regard the screams to be unnecessary - they add a nice layer to the soundscapes imo.

    I thought the review was very well written though!


  2. I understand that Jack was in oceana but you mention them way to much in this review, Decoder hasnt filled any void that oceana left. Sure there will be similarities with Jack at guitar, but they complete different bands.

  3. I say that in a figurative sense, because the sounds are pretty close to each other.

  4. This sounds like a heavier "Clean Head." Oceana comparisons are completely warranted.