Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Music Review - The Choir - O How the Mighty Have Fallen

The last few albums by The Choir have been tepid but it's albums like this that keep me coming back for when they are good, they are incredibly good.

I suppose I should open this review with a disclaimer: I’ve been a fan and champion of The Choir for about 17 years and recently drove down to Nashville with my dazzling wife to attend the CD release party for their latest album, O How The Mighty Have Fallen But I’m not above being objective, and when an album of theirs is irregular, as was their last album five years ago, I’m not afraid to state my opinion to the six people in my zip code who know about this band (all of whom coincidentally live at my address).

“So cut to the chase, dude! How is this album from a band we neither know nor care about?” Well, dear reader, the verdict is that it’s pretty durn solid! While the last one went from acoustic ballads to extremes of swirling studio noise, Mighty takes the middle road and sports a fairly consistent sound, that being a distinctly proprietary blend of dark and fuzzy space art rock topped with lyrics that are insightful, painfully human and mature.

The title track, a dirge for the fallen, opens the album with a bleak landscape of shimmering guitars cascading against spacey sounds, heralding in “new” member Marc Byrd who has been a Choir disciple for over two decades. “Nobody Gets A Smooth Ride” dramatically switches gears with the first of two more rock-focused songs, this one with bassist Tim Chandler’s loping, whimsical style fully evident. Summarizing the rest of the album, this song explores life’s gritty reality with lines such as “Every child will learn / How the asphalt burns / When he takes a sharp turn too wide,” which becomes the brighter chorus of “I’m really sorry the way things are going these days / Try to be careful, that’s all I can say.” The other “rocker” is the rousing “Fine Fun Time,” which revels in the joy of their lasting friendship amid jovial jabs, a foot stomping beat and Dan Michaels laying a brief but effective sax solo.

“Terrible Mystery” is a poignant relationship-ending song of simple strummed guitar enveloped in an aura of artful feedback. Buzzing guitars break through for an all-too-brief musical interlude in this song about the guitarist Derri Daugherty’s divorce that exhibits such lyrics as “And I don’t cry anymore / Only once in awhile / When I am alone” and “How I searched for the key / To unlock your guarded heart / And set your love free.” Immediately following is a contrasting love song from drummer Steve Hindalong to his wife, proving once again that The Choir write some of the best, most honest, love songs. “We Give We Take” is whimsical, sad, and sweet without being sappy, mixing snapshots of daily life into a larger tapestry. To wit: “Chicago might be cold / How nice the way you folded / Everything so neatly,” that becomes the bridge of “We give, we take / We build, we break / We stare at the moon and we sigh.” Chugging guitars lay bare the monotony of life, while sliding guitar adds whimsy, and sporadic vocal harmonies add the sparkle of love that occurs too rarely in married love.

The album concludes with two of the darkest songs, followed by a ray of hope. “How I Wish I Knew” is about the helplessness a parent feels when their child suffers from depression (“When I see you falling / When I hear you crying / When I feel you fading away / How I wish I knew what to say/ How I wish I knew what to pray”) while “Mercy Will Prevail” is a throbbing, pounding examination of the age-old question of how a loving God allows pain and suffering to exist (“I want to swear it’s true / But it’s hard to defend it. / I know it comes from You / And I don’t comprehend it”). Despite its low-key, resigned outward demeanor, this song has a passionate undercurrent that drives the song with the irresistible force of gravity. “To Rescue Me” is the peaceful, reassuring epilogue to the proceeding storm of doubt and gritty reality, showing that while not everything is peaches and roses, there are shafts of light that break through the dark clouds.

Quite a set up, eh? Can this album really be this satisfying or is the reviewer just a rabid fanboy? You can hear the entire album (and purchase it as well) from and hear why The Choir has been so influential to so many bands.

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