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Thick production, clean drums, big bass, huge guitars, and up-front vocals…production-wise, this album is excellently mixed.
"Bottom of a Bottle" is currently all over MTV2 and Fuse, as well as modern rock radio, so theoretically you’ve heard it, and already passed judgment. The vocals are strong, the riffs are solid, and the song-writing is clean without being over-basic. It would be great to see the song played live, since the track on the album contains what sounds like 8 guitar tracks, most of them heavily processed, and since Smile Empty Soul is a trio, seeing the song performed stripped down, lean and mean might be cool experience.
"This is War," the fourth track, starts out with rhythmic acoustic guitar and a hint of strings…the vocals are a little heavily multi-tracked, destroying some of the intimate feeling the song seems to strive for. After each chorus, taking a cynical view of the modern soldier ("Our leaders have a plan, I’d only kill if its for them"), there is a swell of strings, and each time it seems a bit of a let down that the whole band doesn’t get to kick in and take the song to the next level. Instead, it seems to just kind of float along, which has an attraction of its own.
Strangely enough, the next song, which has more instrumentation during the verses, has a single-tracked vocal, lending this song the intimacy that "This is War" called for. Of course, this track is from the point of view of someone on the therapist’s couch, so the one-on-one feel of the vocals works here. Songwise, there isn’t a lot of new territory being staked out here, and the vocals are kinda covered by the huge distorted guitars on the chorus.
Sonically, the band sounds heavily influenced by late ‘90s hard rock, from the heavily chorused guitars to the melodic vocals. There are hints of Alice in Chains, as well as others. There seems to be an unwillingness to let songs go where they seem to flow. "The Other Side" is a rant about a broken (or maybe just breaking) home, and a yearning to live across the street, where the light is always on. But the song never quite gets to that money note, it never kicks in, we never get across the street. The song ends as it began, and while that might be the point for this track, other tracks have the same feel.
What seems oddest of all is how many songs are acoustic and vocals only…its hard to tell if there is really a band here, or just a vehicle for the singer. Maybe that’s what’s missing from some of the tracks, that feeling that the band is sending this message together. The oscillations from rock-album to singer-songwriter’s personal statement are not smooth, and leave the album with an unfinished feel. Leading with "Bottom of a Bottle" was smart, as it is definitely the strongest song on the album. Not having anything very strong to come after it was a mistake.
Dustin Kreidler is a Contributing Writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.