Friday, April 18, 2008

Highrise Circus - an album review

My old Kids Country buddy, Jason Hurley, has been in this band for a while (formerly The Underground), but now they have a new name and they've just released a new album - both called "Highrise Circus". Here's a quick review.

This is a solid ROCK band - that much is certain. But there are things I like about this band, and things I'm not so in love with.

First of all, however, I should mention these guys have obviously tightened up and come a long way since 1999's indie record "The Underground". (I personally am unaware of any line-up changes, but obviously Jason is still rocking on guitars and backup vocals, while Christopher Lauer is fronting the mic.) And it's easy to say that this is a harder, louder, more professional album - in almost every respect - than the former record. The lyrics are more appreciated on this album, and the chord progression and changes are much more interesting on this record.

My only complaints would be these...

Lauer's vocals, though clear and distinct never venture out of a small range into the screams and growls for which the rest of the music seems to beg of him. The harmonies help, but I really wanted to hear him hold a high sustained note in many places - and he never does. As far as production, the instrumental stuff all sounds great and feels awesome when blasted at full volume while doing 95 mph on the open highway (umm... I would assume), but again, I feel the vocals could stand to be more raw. Perhaps they are over produced a bit, but the rest sounds great. There were moments where I wanted to hear the drums kick into double time or do an energized fill and I never got my wish.

On the plus side, though, the album opens strong, with tracks like "Empty Head" and "Cold Blood". ("The Thread" is not unlike a 3 Doors Down- or P.O.D.-type of sound.) The 4th track, "Down", takes me back to the early 90s with a very Candlebox type groove over the verses, followed by an optimistic Live-sort of chorus, complete with jangles and cymbal-crashes aplenty.

By time we reach the midpoint of the record, though, things get a little less engaging. "Snowblind"'s repetitive main riff diminishes the tight groove the band was in prior to this track, and the chorus lulls the song down even lower and the song never really climaxes or ebbs and flows. And "Nothin' Like It" is simply too mellow and subtle for my taste.

Things pick up slightly on "Easy" (a song seemingly about a less-than-reputable young woman's affect on the male ego), but again, the dreary vocals before the chorus (or is it a bridge? I can't tell.) keep this song from standing out. There's a rippin' solo on this one, though, so... brownie points, there.

"Jasmine" is a cool, trippy, psychedelic ballad that sounds and feels like a memory, with the sounds of running water, distant church bells and dreamily innocent guitar riffs overlaid in the opening. It's an interesting song that sounds like it could have been a cover of a Tears For Fears b-side or something, but it never really comes alive in the way I wanted it to.   Still, a groovy little mellow jam. I felt like, with a little re-structuring, this could've been a really unforgettable tune and a big hit.

"All In My Head" really struck me. This one is a grungy, melodramatic groove with a very cool bass riff pushing it along to a strong and heavy chorus and really shows off the band's gravitas.

Closing the album is the short and simple, "Blindman" - just a slew of strings and layered vocals put to the story of a narrator and his encounter with a proverbial character who's lack of sight is his portal to wisdom. "I hear the things nobody listens to," says the blind man, "and I feel the love nobody wants to lose."

"Before you take your pity on the blind man," sings Lauer at the close of the record, "take heart that I'm the one that pities you." It's a heavy way to end the album, but not a strong finish. Yes... heavy, but not strong. I guess I wanted this song to build into something huge, loud, heavy and drastically dramatic, and THEN end with that last line.

And one last complaint: these guys cut a bad-ass track for a movie trailer I made earlier this year, and it was called "Addiction". I'm sure they had reasons (artistic and/or legal) for not including it in this collection, but DAMN it was a rocker! I think people would have loved it. To hear the song in the trailer click here. (It starts 31 seconds in.)

Otherwise, I enjoyed this album. It is rare to find a band that can just rock a good solid riff with some screeching solos, solid rhythm work and decent vocals - but thats exactly what these guys do. I give this album, which feels like a new beginning for these guys, 3 stars out of 5.   Buy the album and hear it for yourself here.

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