Monday, May 12, 2008

Guest Review: Ours - Mercy (Dancing for the Death of an Imaginary Enemy) (2008)

Dear readers: my friend Keagan asked if he might be able to write a review for me, to which I naturally responded positively. Here is his first review, of Mercy (2008), by Ours.

I’ve noticed the neglect that this music blog has been taking lately, and rightfully so, considering what all the primary author has on her plate. Opportunist that I am, and with Patti in her vulnerable state, I figured it would be easy to pressure her into taking submissions. I’m more of a music enthusiast than a writer, so I think this “review” is going to be lacking in most respects. However, I’m going to give it a try, moving at a rock-em’, sock-em’ pace, pretty much wandering wherever the hell I please. Here goes:

I think I first caught wind of the band Ours somewhat close to the release of their second album, Precious, in 2002. Admittedly, I’m not an OG or anything, but with the band’s inception occurring in the North East, and having a receptive brother out in Boston, I was able to pick up on a couple tracks here and there over his shoulder as early as my high school career. Upon indulging on their debut album, Distorted Lullabies, I was pretty taken by these dudes. 

Packed with the dynamics of most post-rock bands, you can’t confine them within any traditional rock-band genres. Not as calculating as prog rock, far too epic for alternative, and refreshingly sincere enough to disqualify them from anything else available on the airwaves, the tapestry we’re dealing with here is too damn atmospheric to generalize. If you’re looking for absolute intensity within a “rock-band” format, Ours deals strickly in it. Jimmy Gnecco, the songwriter and creator of Ours, wears his heart on his sleeve, and delivers some seriously moody goods. You have to understand, a big draw comes from the vocal range Gnecco puts out. This guy sings high enough to be inhuman. It’s captured well enough in the studio, but after seeing him go off live, I’m pretty sure he has no real weaknesses.

This certainly wasn’t the way everyone else seemed to interpret it a month or so ago when Ours opened up for Marilyn Manson. A strange combination for sure, but prevent yourself from making too many comparisons between the two bands. Ours retains a lot more sophistication in my book. I’m going to try not to alienate anyone here but I’ll just say that like most people, I made a conscious decision to stop giving Mr. Manson my money after he became non-threatening, Jeordie White fell out of the picture, and I got my driver’s license. Anyhoo, I went ahead and decided to grab a ticket when I heard Ours was the first act, and also that Manson had reunited with Jeordie to rehash most of Anti-Christ Superstar. w00t!

So there I was, in line amongst all sorts of self-scarring, eye-lined riff-raff, awaiting entry, when out of nowhere, Scientology protesters came marching up. For those of you keeping score, this was on the February 10th when an organization under the title of Anonymous decided to conduct a nation-wide demonstration against Scientologists, I guess by wearing their V for Vendetta masks. You know the ones. Quite a few Mansonites ahead of me in line mistook them for being religious zealots, and began yelling half-thought out things, like, “GAWD DIDN’T MAKE UP MAN! Uh… MAN MADE UP GAWD!” The Marilyn Manson crowd continued to blast them for some time, despite the protesters on the other side of the street proclaiming that no one was in disagreement here. I was slapping my forehead.

But I digress. When Ours finally came on stage the band was met with hecklers and boos and quite a few people threw quarters. The general consensus from what I heard was that their sound was a bit too “gay” for everyone’s taste and that it was preventing Manson from starting sooner. All the same, the performance from Gnecco & company was pretty flawless, and I haven’t seen a band nearly as relentless and undeterred. Their set included mostly stuff from their newly released album, Mercy (Dancing for the Death of an Imaginary Enemy), the one that I’m going to briefly review here.

Mercy is Ours’ darkest album yet, and seems like a return to form after trying to change things up a bit sonically during Precious. Produced by Rick Rubin, (like every other record on the planet,) this one feels pretty honed and particularly slick without minimizing any of the depth of sound. I don’t want to say that it’s minimal, but rather, nothing feels extraneous. You pretty much get 12 winners here that range from a few notes slipping out your speakers to gigantic walls of force ushered in by insane vocals.  The opening track, “Mercy”, bursts forward with a racing tom and bass foundation, shortly followed by high pitched howling and what seems to be a blazing e-bow line. I’m a sure sucker for those. Right out of the gate you can tell Gnecco isn’t messing around. He moves on with systematic efficiency, wielding his laments at some crazy high frequencies. Complimented with masterful string arrangements on tracks like “Ran Away to Tell the World” and a savory trumpet line on “Murder”, the album comes across as relentless. The pace really doesn’t slow down until “God Only Wants You,” which moves into easily the fiercest track on the album, “Live Again”. I might be biased when I say this could be my favorite track, but after seeing it performed at full intensity, (there’s that word again,) pummeling everyone with a thrash-tastic riff, I was pretty won-over. Lots of showboating from the whole crew.

“Live Again” is the general climax of the album, where most of the energy is released, having built up from previous tracks like the tension-rising, acoustic drone of “Murder”. In interviews I think that Gnecco stated his inspiration for that song came from The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin”, where the song is basically built around two chords until everything goes off. Not a surprising reference, given Ours’ cover of “Femme Fatale” on Precious. It’s probably just an effort to prove their credibility to red-headed post-punk fans, but I’m sold. Anyways, as I was saying, the last cuts off the album go in a different direction. The pace slows down a bit and the tune “Willing” reminds me an awful lot like the guitar work from a U2 song. I don’t think I need to add it, but just in case, this is a bad thing. “Saint” stands out as being particularly upbeat and has a fantastic chorus, for sure. The album finishes with another one of my favorites, “Get Up”. With a synth “BOOP!” every so often, a swelling string arrangements that builds, a disco-esque high-hat beat, and (whom I suspect to be) Gnecco’s daughter ending the album with an echo filled message of love, it showcases Ours’ more experimental nature. A definite direction that wasn’t present on all other tracks. It’s pretty rad.

Overall, this record lives up to the wait. Nothing has been recycled. New sounds are executed, new subject matter is covered, and it most certainly comes across as vital and relevant. I suspect that seeing these turkeys “hash-out-the-jams,” as they say in the business, live, heightens the appreciation you can have for the album, simply due to the exceptional experience that Ours offers. No exaggeration.

Grade: A-

Recommended tracks from the album: “Black”, “Live Again”, and “Mercy”.

Recommended tracks from the band: “Fallen Souls”, “Meet Me in the Tower”, and “Chapter 2 (Money)”

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