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Overcasters
Curses/Prayers
(self-released)
www.overcasters.com


I hate to begin writing with the fact that I've been a bit remiss, but this album review has been germinating in my head for a long time. Overcasters released their latest CD, Curses/Prayers, back in February of this year and since then I have been chewing on it, listening to it fairly constantly (probably more than 100 times by now), trying to get a big picture of the album and trying to get an idea of how to phrase my review so that it has the weight and necessary power that the album deserves. This is no common recording, by a very uncommon group of musicians, and thus should be treated in a special way. This album is historic and important, not only personally, not only geographically, but in a universal and meaningful way.

Let me begin by saying that the thing that struck me the most the first time I listened to this album, and the thing that continues to strike me to this day, is that Kurt Ottaway's vocals sit above the music in a way that they never have previously. In over twenty years of listening to his bands' recorded output, this is the first time that I have heard his vocals sound so stark, powerful, and out front. Normally, Ottaway's vocals have a subdued presence, acting more as an instrument than as a lead, blending a bit more into the walls of sound. But on Curses/Prayers his voice is right out front, mixed like a pop record, standing stark and honest and pure. And, like many of us have known for quite some time, his voice sounds fantastic and his words have a power and poetry that is virtually unmatched by bands of this ilk.

The album opens with the mournful, feedback-drenched, flange-heavy guitars and pounding drums of "Storm Of Crows," smacking the listener straightaway to attention, setting up an album that is not easy to place as background music. This music is insistent, powerful, and emotional; it will not be placed on a back burner, but demands the full attention of the listener. The eight songs that follow this pounding opener do nothing to let up the onslaught of sound and emotions, The Overcasters continue to throttle the ears, head, and heart, starting with the opening notes that slowly build through the first few songs and then explode in a wall of sound and fury without ever fully letting up - sparse moments of serenity appear but are always short lived before being once more buried in a hurricane of sound. "Lantern One" is a perfect demonstration of the next level of melodicism evidenced in this latest batch of Overcasters tunes. Chiming guitars offset the pounding drums, allowing a quick relaxing breath before "No Place" propels the music back into a rock and roll maelstrom. Twin guitars create deep eddies of swirling sound, viscous and relentless, sharp riffs moving to the forefront of the sound without the normal shoegaze washiness on this entire album. For proof, dig into the Bunnymen-esque haunt of "Cale," with its cool rhythmic breakdowns and push-pull dynamics.

There are many more highly melodic and fiercely poetic tunes awash in brilliant layers of guitar before the album arrives at the ferocious pounding of "The Helical." Erin Tidwell pounds out what is possibly the most amazing drum part of her career thus far, while Todd Spriggs lays down a succinct and throbbing bass line, all this rhythm brilliantly underpinning the vicious guitar onslaught of John Nichols and the unruly vocal and guitar presence of Ottaway. The mantra of the song is simple, but like all great mantras, the perfection is in the simplicity. "Do things the hard way, or you'll come up short. Do things the long way, or you'll come up short." The album finishes up with "Eye Shine." The first time I heard this track, I have to admit I was left in a bit of shock. Ottaway screams the lyrics, spitting with a vehemence that I would never have expected from such a reclusive, quiet man. "Eye Shine" is pure, unadulterated power… from the heavy hitting drums and the droning guitars all the way to the vocals that wrap around your throat and demand your attention.

Curses/Prayers is an entirely new phenomenon for Overcasters. There is a depth and maturity in the songwriting that is perfectly offset by the stark and powerful production of the music. Ottaway and company seem to be letting the world know that they've got nothing to hide and that they're no longer going to allow anything to be hidden.

-David DeVoe

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