Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review - Stolen Babies - Naught

As much as I listened to their first album I'm surprised that I haven't returned to this one even once since I reviewed it. Sure, I'm making a conscious effort to avoid darker music but this one had it's light and fun moments. Maybe it's a summer album...

The first album by Stolen Babies, There Be Squabbles Ahead, was my top album in a year filled with very strong albums. The bass-centric songs were heavy on melody and a carefree, slyly winking attitude permeated the entire album. A mere half-decade later the band has completed Naught and was picked to join Devin Townsend on the road.

The first thing I noticed on Naught is that it is quite a bit darker, both in tone and subject matter. Songs like “Dried Moat” open with elastic guitars and lyrics of “The entrance to Hell is right outside my window / I stay in / It’s no better inside.” “Don’t Know” is a dripping, musty root cellar filled with lyrics of “You don’t know what pain is yet / But in time you won’t remember how you lived without it”, giving me the same icky goose bumps as the music of The Paper Chase. And then there’s the industrial-tinged “I Woke Up” with freaky, screechingly whispered lyrics and sounds right out of the original Evil Dead movie, all with a few Black Sabbath nods.

To offset the dark the band really digs deep into their love of Danny Elfman. The mournful “Swimming Hole”, although eerie, adds a hint of Edward Scissorhands as wonderous, magical bells lead up to a dramatic, cabaret-influenced second half. “Behind the Days” is filled with unusual instrumentation including a violin, bells, clarinets, and a bevy of voices that give this unnerving song a feel as if it was lifted out of Nightmare Before Christmas, perhaps an outtake of the occupants singing on a fog-filled cobblestone street. “Mousefood” brings in some of their heavier sound with machine gun kick drums, discombobulated meters, and disjointed call and answer vocal parts sung in such a variety of voices that almost feel like a play mashed down into a song. “Never Come Back” and “Civil Disguise” also hit you like a brick, if that brick just happens to be shaped like an accordion. Have I forgot to mention that the female lead vocalist, who easily flips between silken and screamo, also plays an accordion? Don’t worry: in this bizarro avant-garde world where any musical style goes the accordion fits right in. Nowhere is this more explicit than in “Splatter,” perhaps my favorite song on the album where Japanese pop meets disco and bubbles over into an industrial noise rock brew that peels paint from the walls. “Prankster” starts with spooky haunted house music that becomes an ambling corpse shambling to techno rock while “Birthday Song” is a simple, jaunty, nearly silly take on twisted surf music with a party of uniquely vocalized guests.

All in all, the main songwriter has been doing quite a bit of all-out composing and it gives the album an orchestrated, lush feel. There are so many differing musical styles and enough tonal variety to populate a midnight carnival that things are bound to sound a bit thrown together but somehow Stolen Babies makes it all fit into one tent. But no matter how weird, heavy, light, dark, playful, or menacing the songs are on Naught they are always catchy enough to be quarantined by the CDC.

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