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
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.
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