Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Life Long Learning journey of the Dear Hunter

The Dear Hunter
One of those blogs that I make a point to keep reading is Angry Metal Guy. I've found out about several great albums thanks to Mister Angry and his Merry Crew of Debauchery. Not only do they do quality metal reviews, but whenever they step outside the metal comfort zone it on the whole tends to be great stuff they write about. I also have a special enjoyment of reading lists and they do some awesome lists on there. But the one that influenced this blog entry was where Mister Angry had alluded that he might be leaving the site. Most of the list I concurred with, others I hadn't listened to. But there was one name that I had never heard of and the way he described it sounded intriguing and almost joyous:
Act III is a ride that shows off everything you need to know about this band and it’s an immensely entertaining ride—orchestras, Queen harmonies, and a 40 genre-style-changes later, you’ll just want to start the disc over again.
How can anyone resist a description like that? The band he was talking about? The Dear Hunter and their album Act III: Life And Death. Now due to the name I actually got confused and thought that they were referring to this indie rock/post punk band Deerhunter. But thankfully it wasn't. So I went on Spotify and gave it a listen. And then another. And then another. And then another. And then another. I think I forgo listening to any other album for about 5 days. It really is that good. So of course being the music nerd that I am I decided that I have to listen to EVERYTHING they've done and read more about them.

Casey Crescenzo
Of course since then I've found out that it isn't really them, it's a him. Casey Crescenzo is his name, multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire. He first hit the spotlight when he was a member of a band rather clumsily titled The Receiving End of The Sirens. I haven't really listened to that band but maybe I should. They apparently were categorized as Hardcore, which generally puts me off fairly soon. But I am going to have to put those reservations to the side. Since what Casey has done with The Dear Hunter has got me extremely intrigued. Casey had started writing stuff outside of the band for a while, material that he didn't feel would fit in the general oeuvre of The Sirens. After a while it would seem that they asked him to leave, presumably because his mind was else where. Ah well, their loss. And they folded a couple of years later.  Their loss, our gain.

So Casey decided to throw his weight behind The Dear Hunter. The best way I could describe the music that The Dear Hunter comes out with would be that it is everything that Coldplay wish they could do, but can't. If Freddie Mercury were still alive this is the direction that Queen would have taken. And there is a little bit of Elbow in there as well. Nearly every genre is covered in some way or other and it all fits perfectly. The music swings from one mood to the other using one genre and blending into another. It all sounds very familiar without being repetitive and staying nearly flawlessly original. What we got was an epic concept album, actually. We got Three epic concept albums. All telling the story from birth to death of a character named The Dear Hunter. The story takes place in the later years of the nineteenth century into early parts of the twentieth century. In terms of scope and amount of ideas that are going on the only real comparison would be to Coheed & Cambria who did a five part story, two of which were comic books and three albums where they mixed Heavy Metal, Prog, Hardcore all being conducted with Rush mentality, in fact Casey's singing style is not that dissimilar to Claudio, if only a little less nasally. It is quite obvious that Casey is also an omnivore when it comes to music and he's not afraid to wear his influences in his sleeve.

Act I
The first album was called Act I: The Lake South, The River North, in which the main character is born to a prostitute and a soldier. The father doesn't care so the mother decides to try and raise The Boy on her own, so she renounces her old lifestyle moves to the countryside but in the end she returns back to being a prostitute most likely in order to support her child financially. This album apparently is also bit of a family affair Casey did most of the instrumentations, but recruited his brother to drum and his mother to do some backing vocals. While it doesn't go for the same uber-genre crossing as the subsequent albums, it is by no means any less interesting.  There is a lot of classic feel to this album, with plenty of indie rock thrown in, with lots of harmonized vocals. Though in one song there is plenty of slow swing, jazz if you will thrown in the form of "The Pimp and The Priest" with this slight malevolent sound going right through it. It's a short album, well comparatively speaking, and it's a lovely album. Great starting point.

Act II
The second album was titled Act II: The Meaning of, And all Things Regarding Ms. Leading. This album deals with the teenage years and very early adulthood. The story starts with The Boy burying his mother and setting off for the big city to figure out the history of his mother and possible fatherhood. Whilst there he meets a girl named Ms. Leading, they make love but as it turns out she is a prostitute working for the same pimp that his mother worked for. Eventually his heart his broken and he leaves, with a bad taste in his mouth. The music is massive! In scope, scale and grandeur. Not to mention that the album is also almost twice as long as the previous one. There is a lot more going on in terms of musicianship and general noise then in the previous album, the album starts of with a classical beginning and gets then thrown into hard rock territory. There is a lot of early 1900's feel to this album which when you consider the period it is meant to be set in makes, well, sense. There's swing to be had in great quantities and  harmonized vocals set along with some screaming singing. But I wouldn't have it any other way because in my mind this album is a great teenage angst album without being overtly (and I hate to use the term but) emo. But there is this joyful playing that goes through all the album, especially when the swing and jazz comes through. And the melancholic moments occur on a fairly frequent basis as fits with the story. The best use of that would be in the song "Blood of the Rose".  This is a great album and I would love to hear the material that was cut in order to shorten the album.

Act III: Life And Death
And the concluding album that ties up all the loose ends(well not really) and the pinnacle of the story arc is the aforementioned Act III: Life and Death. It is as close to a perfect concept album as you could get. The background for the album is the First World War. During this story he meets his half-brother without knowing. At one point during the war, there is a bit of downtime and a group of soldiers start sharing stories of their past lives and as it turns out his father happens to be one of them, where he talks about going to a brothel and sleeping with a prostitute called Ms. Terri. During this time the father is nearly killed only to survive because of the half-brothers heroic sacrifice and due to the fathers indifference The Dear Hunter poisons him. The story ends with him taking his half-brothers identity and walking away. If Casey makes good of his promise and releases a book that expands on the story of The Dear Hunter I will be buying it. As for the music on here, well it is again bombastic and grand. There is a lot going on with some serious genre-bending going on. One song ends with a traditional soldiers song, another song goes for folk music with great use of the banjo. There's also hints of arena rock with this big huge massive guitar going on a rampage, akin to Jeff Wayne's War of The Worlds. I don't think Casey will be able to top this album, but quite frankly he doesn't need to.

The Color Spectrum
After the massive story arc about The Boy, Casey decided to go for another huge undertaking and created an EP to represent The Colour Spectrum. Truthfully I haven't listen to all of those, but the ones I have heard have been very good in particular the Yellow Ep and Orange Ep. They all seem to go for this same genre bendifying music that had been done so well with the Acts. It really does help that Casey is a very very capable songwriter, helps even more that he's backed up by extremely capable musicians who assist him in getting his visions to the public. One of these days I will have to listen to all of the EP's when I get the time of course.

Since then he's put out an album named Migrant, this album came out this year and on it Casey really scales back the bombasticity. But thankfully he has enough talent to work with minimalistic approach. There is no concept threading all the songs, instead what we get are individual songs with individual focus. And it does give this open and unrestrained feel about it. The songs are good. I mean they are really good. All the songs are rather hard to define genre-wise, so the best category to use would be indie quite frankly as that is what it is.It is a lot more contemplative album with a more introverted sound to it, and in some cases it sounds more personal with songs like Bring You Down and Shouting at the Rain, the latter one also features an absolutely heartbreaking video. There is a lot more Elbow sounding songs as well, the perfect example of that being Whisper, songs that are sort of geared towards being played with a string quartet and big hearty choruses.

I think it is safe to say that The Dear Hunter have buried themselves into my ear canal and are flatly refusing to leave and I won't be asking them to leave.
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