Tuesday, October 13, 2009

#81. Coalesce - OX (Relapse, 2009)

A hypothetical conversation between friends who both represent me

'Hey, you like Dillinger Escape Plan?'
'A friend of mine said this is some more stuff like that!'
Hands you a copy of a Coalesce album, probably Give Them Rope
'Let's give this a try!'

40 minutes later...

'I can see where this is a logical companion piece to Calculating Infinity but something about it just isn't clicking...'
'Yeah, I know what you mean. I dig it but it's like these guys are a bit too crazy at times'
'Exactly! And the vocalist is pretty awful and monotonous too.'
'I can take or leave him, but his lyrics are...'
'I guess...it's weird, as I was listening to it it struck me as a great album, but when I think about it now it seems to be slipping through my fingers.'
'Yeah, I'm not retaining the parts that struck me as good either...'
'I think I might need to hear it a few more times before I really 'get' it, y'know?'
'I want to like it...the guitarist is amazing and the band's tight as hell but they aren't connecting the way I wish they would'

Coalesce never really managed to connect to either side of my hypothetical inter-brain discussion hastily summarized up there. I recognized their abilities, sure, but none of their albums really spoke to me beyond the initial 'holy shit, these dudes can fucking PLAY!' burst of excitement. I like their albums, don't get me wrong, but compared to how much I love albums from their contemporaries, some of which are not as technically impressive, they never made the sort of jump into awesomeness I was expecting. It didn't help that they had imploded, seemingly for good, by the time I got around to them, so them finding room to improve on the promise of that Zep covers EP and 012: Revolution In Just Listening seemed to have gone out the window.

The fact that a slightly modified version of the original lineup returned to give us OX a full decade after their seeming swan song was surprise enough, but the fact that the intervening decade seems to have allowed them to make the sort of jump that eluded them on their earlier albums easily trumped the actual reunion in the surprise department. I don't quite know what it is about OX that allowed it to make that leap, probably need to re-listen to Give Them Rope to properly gauge what's changed, but oddly enough it seems that the band calming the fuck down for a spell and not relying so exclusively on complexity and volume to get their point across was a masterstroke. They didn't completely abandon their old attack, but the way it comes across on OX is much less frenetic and more focused. There's also a newfound variety to the proceedings, not just in the pair of acoustic (!) interludes, but stuff like that incongruous, old-school blues aping beginning of "Wild Ox Moan" and the embrace of sparingly used keyboards a la recent Dillinger Escape Plan. It still sounds like a Coalesce album, but instead of frustrating me by not living up to its potential it impresses me with unknown levels of variety.

The variety doesn't get in the way of Coalesce's trademark math-rock/hardcore blend though. A full half of this album sounds pretty similar to what I remember from Give Them Rope and Revolution, albeit with the intensity turned down to an 8 compared to those two, melding incredibly precise, odd time signature riffing with the brutality of hardcore. When "The Plot Against My Love" kicks in with that relentless 5/8 riff it's obvious that not much has changed, but like I said, the attack is sharper and leaves less room for frustration. It also seems that Jesse Steineger's guitar tone is much richer this time around, so thick and rich on the chords and lower notes and much more textured on the highs. The rhythm section is as good as you'd expect for any math-rock related band, bassist Nathan Ellis especially matches the quick change nature of Steineger's playing with ease and precision while still getting moments to be countermelodic. That leaves Sean Ingram, whose vocals remain unchanged for better or worse. Even if he gets a few more unprecedented moments - he fucking SINGS on "The Comedian in Question" - he still embodies that sort of hardcore shouting vocalist that gets a bit tiresome over the course of a whole album. It's less of an issue here though, when the band behind him is giving you so much to focus on and engaging you to do so it's eas to forgive the vocals for not quite matching that level.

Coming up tomorrow: Two bands that do more in 2 minute bursts than some bands do on whole albums.

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