Art of Fighting: The Very Strange Year (Half a Cow)
Think of it this way: this EP is over 40 minutes long. No song is less than 5 minutes long. The songs utilize that length to their advantage - "Wild Beast" in particular uses all of its 7 and a half minutes perfectly, building to a crushing, exciting conclusion after 5 minutes of tension build up. This is a band that knows what they're doing from the first moment, expertly deploying light touches of piano, subtle strings, epic crescendos, dueling vocals and melodic bass at just the right moments. Even the lesser pieces on this EP have a certain spark to them that indicates that given time the band might even make these types of songs work - I'm thinking mostly about "The Unappreciate" which comes closest to being textbook slowcore but still makes great use of the band's more unique features in the background. Even the theoretically overlong "Twenty-One and Eighty" manages to hold my attention during the stretches of sameness because there's so many subtle, interesting things that are going on in the background. And the scariest thing is that this is what they pulled off on their debut recording, bar a couple of demos. They got it almost completely right their first time out, which has me more than excited to see where they headed to next. [8.7/10]
Idlewild: Captain (Deceptive)
1. "Side A" is far better than "Side B"
Just matching up the representative slice of each of the bands modes it's easy to see that the EP is heavily frontloaded. "Self Healer" edges out "Last Night I Missed All the Fireworks" thanks to a much more developed set of riffs and lyrics in the sub-two minute range. "Annihilate Now!" is a big step up on "Satan Polaroid," arguably coming off as a dry run for Hope Is Important's crowning glory "When I Argue I See Shapes" in all the best ways. And "Captain" handily destroys the overlong, messy "You Just Have to Be Who You Are" without much question at all. It's not an issue of the second half being bad - you'll notice that "You Just..." aside I didn't indicate that the matchups were incredibly lopsided - so much as the first half containing some of Idlewild's best material, full stop, even a full decade plus later.
2. The mild identity crisis is actually a selling point rather than a detriment.
Usually when I hear a band with more than one clearly defined style at this point in their career, I wind up saying to myself 'I really hope they keep going with style A over style B/C/D etc.' Strangely, even though the hierarchy is pretty clearly in the mid-paced anthemic rockers' favor in the end I don't find myself wishing that they eschew any of the tones offered here for more of another. Each of the band's modes is equally well defined and well played, such that I find myself wishing for more of everything from every subsequent Idlewild release. This is odd, especially for someone like me who values flow in his albums, but somehow the band makes me glad that they aren't stuck in one particular mode all the time, even though it makes the EP sound haphazardly arranged. I'd usually consider that a cardinal sin on any release, so making it into a slight advantage gets the band a lot of points in my book. [8.5/10]
The Promise Ring: Boys and Girls (Jade Tree)
Dødheimsgard: Satanic Art (Moonfog)
"Oneiroscope: OK, mood setting, can't fault that.
"Traces of Reality": Holy shit, intense progressive/My Dying Bride/black metal! More please!
The rest: You know, I liked In the Nightside Eclipse too...
So why doesn't this get cast aside like any number of albums I've heard with one stellar track surrounded by filler? Well, the fact of it is that that one track makes up almost half of the EP's running time, so even if the other material was incredibly dire - which it isn't - this would still hit the top half of my rating scale. There's also the fact that while the other two songs on here - discounting the intro/outro portions - could easily be written off as emblematic of the band's songwriting process, just stopping halfway to the point that "Traces of Reality" reaches instead of continuing onward.It also helps that in the real of one song wonders, "Traces of Reality" is exceptional in terms of quality. Sure it makes the rest of the EP look half-assed by comparison, but the end results are worth it. [7.6/10]