Monday, December 16, 2013

Album Review: Sainthood Reps - Headswell

Album Rating: B
I'm a bit late to the game on this one, but hey, December is supposed to be a time where we can catch up on everything we missed in this astonishingly great year for music, right?  Somehow, Sainthood Reps' latest effort, Headswell, flew right under my radar even though I vowed to snatch it up as soon as it dropped in October, but as an onslaught of positive reviews slowly bubbled up from the dark depths of the Internet, I realized I was clearly missing out on something exceptional.  After numerous repeated listens (to make up for my two-month tardiness), "exceptional" unfortunately doesn't quite fit the description on my side of the headphones as much as "not bad" might.

Headswell is a record of contrasts, with two distinct sounds (sulky, quieter Brand New stuff and harsh, aggressive grunge) sprinkled throughout the album’s 10 tracks, constantly trading places with one another for the spotlight. While, yes, Montesanto and friends are probably getting pretty sick of the Brand New comparisons, they simply can’t be overlooked when the “Last Place I Left You” so perfectly blends the Daisy sound with some “Jesus Christ” lead guitar. Sure, Derrick Sherman is “just a live guitar player,” but that doesn’t mean Sainthood Reps can escape his other project’s dominant looming influence, which is precisely why I was hoping for the writing on Headswell to push the parameters of the Monoculture sound in 2013.

Unfortunately for me, much of Headswell merely replicates that which came before it, albeit with some slightly tighter production, mostly rendering a Monoculture 2.0 kind of output. The section following the chorus in “Desert Song” sounds like it was ripped straight from “Monoculture” in all of its obvious grungy glory, this time around teetering dangerously close to the edge of biker bar music. The opening notes of “Shelter” are initially disappointing in their simplicity and overt similarity to Sainthood Reps’ previous work, but the tight changes in both rhythm and mood during the verses quickly redeem the track, despite the once again Brand New-derivative nature of the ghostly quieter sections.

Montesanto actually seems to be taking a few cues directly from master Lacey himself, with his brooding croon at the beginning of “Desert Song” recalling the up-close-and-personal Deja Entendu days. His angsty clean vocals definitely possess the same darkness that inhabits much of Lacey’s work, but without layers of reverb and production, Montesanto’s delivery screams inexperience. A stripped down section in acoustic closer “Breath Worth Breathing,” rife with flat clunkers and nasally tone, while meant to function as a venerable, human look at the singer right before the finale, ultimately falls short of achieving any sort of empathy. The chorus in “Fall” additionally misses the mark; its higher notes rendering acrimony rather than a smooth blend—something the track’s clean soundscape desperately needs.

There are plenty of moments where the music warrants such discordance. You can feel Montesanto’s vocal chords ripping to shreds during the harsh yells in “Run Like Hell,” making for a very moving three minutes, hindered only by the self-indulgent lead guitar bends. The almost-prog nature of “Quitter” benefits greatly from his rigid delivery, becoming one of the most dynamically interesting cuts on the album. While a bit excessive with the extended ring out, there are few other points on Headswell where Sainthood Reps really sounds like their own band with their own style. Sherman’s intermittent silky leads, when paired with equally intermittent grunge, find the most success here.

Montesanto said a few months back that “Rapture Addict” is the band’s “least favorite” track on the album, though, I consistently found myself enjoying it for its apparent eagerness to embody the “black sheep” persona on Headswell. A much more energetic offering than the majority of other songs, “Rapture Addict” finds an almost euphoric Sainthood Reps, only faltering during the chorus, where Sherman’s leads are greatly missed. Though these Long Islanders probably would have been happier discarding their late album misfit, Headswell still manages to be "exactly what [they] wanted to put out," imperfections and all, and if this really is the band's gospel, they should, by all means, continue to preach it.  Despite Headswell's inability to refine the Monoculture palette, Sainthood Reps are (as they were in 2011) still conveniently poised to break out with their next release, whenever that may be, and finally step out from behind the Lacey shadow.

Official Website

Track List:
1. Shelter
2. Desert Song
3. Last Place I Left You
4. Drone
5. Fall
6. Run Like Hell
7. Headswell
8. Quitter
9. Rapture Addict
10. Breath Worth Breathing

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