Friday, March 4, 2011

5 Star Corner: Penfold - Amateurs and Professinals (MilliGram)

True or false: The best music is the music that forces you to feel a certain way without being overt about its intentions. When you think about your favorite albums you aren't just thinking about how good the music sounds, you're thinking about how it makes you feel. When you tell your friends they need to hear a given song, you're not just doing so because you think it's a good song but because the song makes you feel good while you listen to it. I personally think that the mark of a great album is its ability to make my mood do a complete 180 before I'm aware of what's happening. So when I say that Amateurs and Professionals is a great album it's only in part because we're dealing with a set of well composed and delivered emo songs, but because it makes me feel things I don't necessarily feel in the minutes before it starts up.

True or false: The best breakup songs are songs about loss first and songs about a broken heart second. The genre we're dealing with is far too often - though often rightly - written off as being 'Songs about being sad about girls and stuff' to quote nigh, but the best it has to offer isn't just confined to the romantic angle. Loss is a vague notion to convey,but in that ambiguity lies power because you, the listener, are more easily able to project your own feelings onto the material. That's about half of why Amateurs and Professionals works so well on a lyrical level; this isn't just the messages you leave your ex after drinking too much, this is just as easily the stuff you read at a loved one's funeral, the stuff you think in the general direction of anyone's who you think has left you behind, the stuff you think whenever you've lost something or someone. It's the same tactic that paid such great dividends for Brand New on The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, but it's a bit more focused and primal here.

True or false: It's not the material so much as the delivery. The other half of the reason that Amateurs and Professionals works so well on a lyrical level is that the vocalists' respective deliveries are so spot on for both the the lyrics and the type of music we're dealing with here. When the music is in the soft, twinkly arpeggio mode they waft over it with a drawn out style that calls to mind Mineral (but better), when the band speeds up and rocks out the shouts are more in the Picciotto range, but most importantly they know when and where to deploy either style. It never feels overdramatic, it never feels at odds with the music, and it always adds a lot of weight to whatever's being sung.

True or false: Any good album is just one true standout away from being a great one. If I'm being 100% honest here, "I'll Take You Everywhere" is a big part of the reason that I bumped this up to 5 stars. One song out of seven became the deciding factor because, also being completely honest here, I don't think 5 stars is nearly enough praise to give to that song. It's easily the single best piece of indie emo that I've come across. Better than anything Sunny Day did. Definitely better than anything Mineral did. Even better than my other pet cause within the genre, Ethel Meserve, ever managed. When I was talking about all the things that the lyrics of this album were capable of translating to it was that song that made the thought coalesce in my head. That outburst that the song builds up to is a true goosebump moment, mostly because it's so unclear where it's being addressed (though I'm leaning towards an absent/dead parental figure above all else). Nevertheless, that's the tipping point as far as I'm concerned.

True or false: Even if there's one true standout song, the rest of the tracks could give the impression that I'm overrating things. Thankfully, the more I listen to this the less I feel that that's the case. Sure nothing quite matches the visceral power of "I'll Take You Everywhere," but each song here is top notch. They're all built on a familiar sound, very much in the same vein as Mineral but executed much better in my eyes. It's the standard three-way dueling arpeggios among the string instruments that give way to clean chords with bass leads that explode into distorted outbursts, but that progression feels earned as opposed to just being there because that's the formula. On top of that, the lyrics and vocals are, as noted earlier, incredibly strong throughout.

True or false: This is among the most unjustly slept on releases of the decade. You should know my answer to this one without any prodding. Do yourself a favor and discover why for yourself.


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