Saturday, May 4, 2013

Album Review: Octaves - Which Way the Wind Blows

Album Rating: B
It's difficult for bands in the hardcore to really stand out these days. It seems hardcore enthusiasts' efforts are mostly spent decrying new-wave groups like La Dispute and Touché Amore, while holding onto the relics of the past. This puts groups like Octaves in an uncomfortable position-- clearly, the band takes influence from its modern contemporaries. This will lead to some saying "eh, then why bother?," because the similarities will be too stark. But beneath the surface, Octaves' debut sets itself apart from its contemporaries the more the listener devotes time to it.

The album begins in a way that would make old-school hardcore fans proud, sporting both punchy riffs and fierce vocals. Vocalist Phil Fosler does a terrific job behind the mic, especially with his diverse styles of delivery. Some tracks feature the off-kilter ramblings Jordan Dreyer fans have come to love, while other songs bolster ferocious shouts to match the fierce instrumentation. It's obvious Fosler has a firm grasp on his job here-- even though this is the band's debut, his contributions imply otherwise.

However, the most fascinating part of the vocalist's contribution is his lyrics. Some songs are serious and necessary statements, while others-- to be honest-- play with the English language in such a way that it can be hard to take Octaves too seriously. While Fosler's keen grasp on irony is admirable, especially in its peaks (one of my favorites is in social statement "Poppycock!," where "Your attention please! / I'd like to point out nearly pornographic imagery / plastered on the wall in your town's local department store / just two aisles from the kitchenry,") other parts are too playful for their own good. See the marriage-denouncing "Soup & Sandwich," and its superfluous use of, erm, sandwich puns. "But even at my sharpest / I don't think that I could cut through all that mustard / so catch me up, I'll relish every word / Mayon-isn't it a shame that I  / lettuce end up in such a pickle?" It's difficult to imagine anybody hearing the line without laughing, whether or not for the intended reasons. See, it's problematic because it takes away from the important arguments the song's lyrics bring forth. Moments like these bring down Which Way the Wind Blows, but they're more scarce than they could have been.

Phil Fosler's contributions to Octaves are easy to point out, him being the storyteller of the group. But the rest of the band's members have their stories, too. For the album's first half, all parties involved are paying homage to retro hardcore, the histrionic heaviness that started the whole movement. "Poppycock" is a characteristically heavy track, one that builds and recedes just enough to allow Fosler's vocals to ebb and flow as they see fit. And the next track, "Tax Break," lives vicariously through its dynamic instrumentation. There's a particular instrument that takes the lead in the verse-- a banjo is my best guess, although I can't guarantee that-- and it fuses with unique percussive work to keep the listener's interest piqued in the best way. This type of variation pervades the album's second half, and proves that even though Octaves is able to deliver the riffs, their intentions are set on going beyond what's expected.

Which Way the Wind Blows is a testament to originality in a scene that's otherwise a bit stale. Sure, the lyrics are sometimes too much to swallow, but the sense of wonder accomplished by the more exploratory tracks on the release prove that there's more tricks to this band than an initial listen will display. So give the album a few listens, and pay attention to its stories. They'll speak to you in ways you wouldn't have ever imagined.

1. Premature Congratulations
2. For Goodness Sake
3. Golf Tips
4. Poppycock
5. Tax Break
6. It Figures
7. Soup & Sandwich
8. Mister
9. Like Seriously, How Many Times?
10. Ms.

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