Recently reactivated new millenium rockers Evanescense will release The Ultimate Collection, a 6-LP Vinyl Box Set on December 9th. Continue reading
L.A. Alternative Rock trio Failurenever quite made it the same way some of their cohorts did. In another world, they could have been as big as Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins or even touring buddies Tool. Alas, it wasn’t to be and the band parted ways in 1997.
Fast forward to today, however, and Failure are back with a new album. Crowdfunded via PledgeMusic, The Heart is a Monster (INresidence) is the band’s first album in 19 years – and first since 1996’s critically acclaimed Fantastic Planet (Slash). The trio – Ken Andrews [vocals, guitar, bass], Greg Edwards [guitar, bass, keyboards] and Kellii Scott [drums] – have rustled up an hour long journey of retro grunge/alt rock.
A combination of new tracks and recordings of songs that actually predate the band’s 1992 debut, the album fits in well with the group’s legacy without sycophantic rehashing, but also lacks focus. The album’s 18 tracks clock in at just over an hour and with six short ambient-style instrumental interludes, there’s an excessive amount of fat that could have been trimmed.
Considering the personnel involved, it’s no great surprise the band blend the quieter moments of Queens of the Stone Age and A Perfect Circle, and when it’s good, it’s an enjoyable journey, managing to be abrasive and challenging without being aggressive. The likes of ‘Hot Traveller’ or ‘Atom City Queen’ blends darkly melodic with dissonant guitars and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on QOTSA’s …Like Clockwork (Matador) ‘The Focus’ is as close to a straight rock song as they get, while ‘I can See Houses’ could almost pass for shoegaze.
However there’s also plenty of moments that are largely uninspiring or plain forgettable. The likes of ‘Otherwhere’ feels like filler while ‘Come Crashing’ sounds like soft grunge that wouldn’t have stood out back in the 90s. Overall, it’s a dense and at times tiring listen while the large number of ‘Segue’ instrumentals become fatiguing, especially in the final third of the record.
Though it will no doubt please the fans who have been waiting almost a lifetime for a new record, I can’t say I’m overly impressed. Maybe I’m missing the nostalgia factor, but this is a really disappointing listen. After a gestation period to rival Chinese Democracy (Geffen), The Heart is a Monster is mostly underwhelming, and slightly depressing.
A wail of feedback, a sludgy, laconic riff, a jarring bass line and Success(Season of Mist) shudders into being in the style of that too-cool-to-give-a-fuck band that ambles on stage and begins the song with each member starting at their own pace and point of choice. KEN Mode, kings of the post-surf/noise rock power-trio kingdom stroll acerbically into their sixth album.
Jesse Matthewson, known for intelligent, confrontation and biting observations, has chosen to measure his delivery this time, and most of his outpourings are part-spoken and spat, rather than roared or thrown from his maw, seemingly intent on imparting off-centre soundbites. “I would like to kill the nicest man in the world” he states at the outset of ‘These Tight Jeans’, where he trades off lines with Jill Clapham in both a catchy and knowingly cool fashion, channelling his inner Jesus Lizard.
The hand of Steve Albini is present all through, as the In Utero (Geffen) producer skuzzes up ‘The Owl’, an astringent swagger with stoner undertones, before a bass crunk and cello mid-section pull the song into a discordant yowl over clashing chords, as KEN Mode play with the notion of traditional song-structure effectively. Sonic Youth would be proud.
Yet all is not rosy in KEN and Barbie’s world. There is a nagging feeling that while Clutch (for whom KEN Mode certainly owe a something to) are naturally and instinctively quirky, for the first time KM things feel a bit forced, as if stating “Handfuls of proverbial shit tossed over and over against that same proverbial wall” (‘Blessed’) is a little close to the mark, and that moving to a more caustic pop sound may be contrived, such as on the overly self-aware and smug ‘A Passive Disaster’. The cap might not fit at the moment, but all it would take is adjusting the clasp at the back. At times, this new KEN Mode just sits a little uncomfortably. But then such doubts are stomped to dust by the rising dynamic of ‘Management Control’ which builds to feedback end, or the exemplary dark, brooding, sprawling ‘Dead Actors’, that recalls The Doors clashing with a more progressive Nirvana.
Mixing a Clutch of stoner, a Tad of grunge and pinch of Mudhoney slovenliness in their Helmet of groove, KEN Mode can consider their transition a Success. Just.