A Truth Called Nothing – Sluggerhand – Album Review
Put it to you this way…whether or not it’s an album-title, a band-name, those first opening-notes of a record, a little background info…the combination of these things somehow lead to a much tougher-time finding true surprise in music. It takes a rare breed of musician to be able to throw this old dog off the scent of the trail towards exciting new tunes…so congratulations to A Truth Called Nothing, that was the first thing you pulled off when I started listening to Sluggerhand. Let’s face it…start this album yourself and you’ll be wondering what you’re in for…and it won’t be anything like you’ll think. Sluggerhand WILL surprise you, and in countless ingenious ways throughout a savory album in progressive-electro/rock music – this band of two insanely brilliant musicians are going to blow open your mind, so be ready!
When “The Archipelago Man” started up…I had no idea what genre I was going to be listening to…I just put this one on and let the music play. On that first listen…not gonna lie to you – I was genuinely worried I might not enjoy this record all that much; it all honestly took a full-spin through the record to really hear what’s actually achieved in those first moments. “The Archipelago Man” starts up Sluggerhand like a classic Jethro Tull album would begin…based in a light-folk, nearly ‘traditional’ sound to the song, like an old Celtic hymn.
Crediting A Truth Called Nothing with the ‘progressive’ label applies just as much to their methods as it does their sound…and that’s the real beauty in this record here. “The Archipelago Man” puts this writing and approach on display immediately, and believe me – you’ll notice that this band continually finds ways to make their songs better and better with every passing moment inside of each song throughout this entire album. You can hear the instantaneous sounds of a David Bowie influence as the song progresses through the beginning and middle…and this gorgeous, musical-orgy of sound takes over in the chorus so powerfully you can’t help but notice you were nowhere near that kind of vibe in the first-minute…and that was mere minutes ago! The amount of pure, sweet RIGHTNESS you can hear in the final thirty seconds of “The Archipelago Man” makes EVERY moment along the way worth your time. This first song is like the audible form of what a Transformer looks like. The exceptional way they’ve put this together in a classic-wrapper enveloping what’s really a sophisticated modern-day approach to musical mayhem, nods to their roots and the boldness to explore all facets of their sound…it all deserves credit. By the time I’d reached the guitar-solo/breakdown of this opening tune – I was already completely sold on the rest that I would hear…you can hear just how much thought & precision is going into this music…and again, that ending is just flat-out fucking supreme.
And I really do believe that there’s a serious method to the madness you’ll hear, executed as perfectly as they’d hoped it would be. “I’m Not An Islander” takes a darker-twist…you really start to notice the lyrical-imagery and just how powerful the words are in their sense of building the atmosphere of this second tune. With a drum-beat and keyboard combination stripped right out of time from The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails meeting a She Wants Revenge feel to the vocals, the verse is bold & makes contact directly on first hit And then…this song goes on to absolutely detonates and explodes in all the right ways through the massive chorus it has. So impressive! Almost System Of A Down like harmonies here on “I’m Not An Islander” and they sound incredible…the mix is masterful and gripping…overall you just can’t beat the power that’s on display through the roar of “I’m Not An Islander” when it hits that chorus. Like many songs written in a progressive-style…you’re bound to find mini-moments inside a tune that you may/may-not love as much – us dogs of the old-school used to call them a ‘bridge’ for all you new-school verse-chorus-verse bands out there… Anyhow…point being – you may/may-not feel the pop-inspired break in the clouds that “I’m Not An Islander” has nearing the three-minute mark…it took a while for me to want to separate from the extraordinarily powerful melancholy that this song takes on from the beginning to that moment right there. But at the end of the day…I feel like I needed to give A Truth Called Nothing the benefit of the doubt for showing their insightful instincts along the way thus far…and I felt the subsequent listens where I was more ready for the entire album’s concept in sound that it made much more sense and strengthened the final run-through of the immaculate chorus.
I dig the intricate nature of the opening guitars of “Alpha Male” and the atmosphere they quickly create on this third-cut. The vocals are really what came springing-out to me once again…but this time I heard them in a very different way…some might say with Canadian-ears for a moment. And I was kind of seriously blown away with just how much A Truth Called Nothing has in common with our country’s own Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip through the writing, approach and delivery. That blend of wild, untamed free-thoughts & poetry and the creative way that the vocals are sung is brilliantly similar…really unique to listen to despite any comparisons. In fact…any comparisons I’ve made so far have all been towards bands/artists I really admire for taking chances with their sound, music & careers; A Truth Called Nothing is keeping good company in my books. “Alpha Male” is a tougher one for most to love I’m sure due to its lengthy, semi-lethargic grind…but for those people digging the sound of this band already by this point you’ll find your way there. The chorus still pops out enough, the mix is unique to what we’ve heard…and there’s just a little extra hint of menace and mayhem dripping from this cut.
I mean…C’MON…listen to the build on “Song To Rock” and try to tell me you don’t feel this one coming on strong, loud and proud set to hit just around the corner! They do not disappoint…and once again the duo of Kaj Samuel Lundgren & Adam Sobraine find a way to make more incredible noise jump dynamically through your speakers than most five-piece bands. Seriously, dynamics is certainly the word…they blast off like fireworks in the chorus of “Song To Rock;” after its slicked-out verse opens up, these two guys just pound through another incredibly well-written chorus, clever breakdown and roaring ending on this track. The subtle madness drifting through the lyricism and performance matches the energy in the music spot-freakin’-on.
A real blend of The Cure and Dinosaur Jr. tones echo through the crash of the beginning to “Never Postpone Joy” as it breaks to reveal that Gord Downie comparison in the vocals again. You could argue a little B-52’s in there too…but I think it’s much more heavy on the poetic Downie-side than the ranting madness of the B-52’s in my opinion. In any event…again, I think the mix on this one is brilliant and very true to the tones and sound you hear in the music…it’s not nearly as straight-ahead as the other ones have been. Vocals are set distantly into the atmosphere of this track, just breaking out and peeking overtop like something with Julian Casablancas singing on it…but the result is a perfectly realized idea that’s very true to the mood & feel it’s seeking out. That’s my take on it at least. “Never Postpone Joy” really embodies that free-feeling that music provides us best…there’s a seriously uplifting & empowering feel to the way this song is written & performed, and again, I think they’ve got this mixed right where they want it. I can hear that people might want a few things potentially to be mixed differently here…vocals up, guitars down…something asinine like that; and again, I’m telling you they’ve got it all right where they want it. They’ve got me right with them at this point…the writing on this record shines with brilliance from any angle you hold it up to examine it from.
Slipping the music into a different vein once more, “Stories From Hammer Sea City” takes a twist into a more dark-groove and experimentally-laden sound. And once more, they come out winning. Not only is the first two-minutes brilliant and thought-provoking, this song just gets mind-blowingly fantastic mere moments after with one of the most inspired sounds of the entire record. The narrative runs deep on this track…sounds like a burn on the corporate-grind…and a harsh one, but the words are just incredibly well-performed – great dramatic nature, but still sincerely sung each time.
A track like “My Old Friend” is kind of like listening to an entire Modest Mouse record all rolled into one…but like, maybe a Bowie-meets-Floyd tributary album…something like that. The breakdown just past the three-minute mark was my favorite moment in this song…it’s super-brief but massively powerful. As for the rest…it’s a stranger one to tell you the truth…it’s definitely one of the more expertly assembled pieces from the record, one of the more leaning hard towards the progressive-end of their spectrum…it’s well done, just maybe not as easily able to pull in the people with its jagged, spaced-out flow. There’s a crowd and an audience for it, don’t get me wrong…but “My Old Friend” inarguably appeals to a much smaller crowd of those out there that really appreciate the combination of music and art together as one. But that’s me…and that first switch into melody nearing the ninety-second mark…is pure-awesomeness…the following atmospheres are a multitude of attitudes and intricate, innovative transitions that are all pulled off very well…but yeah, one for the true-musician in ya – not so much for the radio, but I’m certainly A Truth Called Nothing couldn’t give two shits about that. This music is clearly made with a real love for the art of making it…they’ve taken the time to make the atmospheres of Sluggerhand swirl with creativity and freedom bursting with precision and a sincerely unique approach.
I pretty much never wanted “Someone Better” to end. Like, ever. Right from the first moments, this track brings the record roaring back to life with incredible layers of depth, texture and groove in this cut. The crackle in the beginning…the rattle or whatever you wanna call it…sounds amazing, I loved it. It’s odd in the sense that those transitions are definitely post-production in some spots I’m guessing? Like they’re fading in somehow…but I’d take this track in any form I can get it. Some of these ideas they’ve put on display throughout this song are so perfectly realized, bright and beautiful…no matter how dark the lyrics may/may-not be by contrast. I like the interpretive nature of the words on “Someone Better” and right around the two-minute mark, I just had nothing but love for this track…as strong as the main hooks are, that roll through the verse and the editing in the music is just freakin’ golden here from like, 1:50-3:15-ish…just…pure…gold. The contrasting main-part sounds great as well…kind of that bizarre alt-rock of like, Jane’s Addiction in a weird way…again, no matter how you examine it…there are genius-level ideas on display and clever execution from every corner. “Someone Better” gets a huge ‘win’ and a massive grin from me – I grew to love those transitions and the way they really make this song sound like a musical-conquest and adventure in sound…completely awesome.
You see…what makes it tough to accuse them of ‘getting it wrong’ is just how RIGHT they get it in other spots. Like, look – I was pretty convinced this ship might finally be going down for the first two minutes of “One Last Summer,” it starts beautifully through the music…but vocally I felt like this one was missing the mark in a few too many spots to argue its artistic-roaming, a couple notes I thought maybe I’d want redone. And then, just after a minute in, A Truth Called Nothing just EXPLODES into a supernova with the most perfectly delivered chorus you can ask for. A little more shaky terrain on the following verse, and then straight back into blissful perfection; so again…you see what I’m saying…it becomes tough to argue that they aren’t aware of their every move and satisfied with each performance as it stands. Because it’s not like they can’t get soft & tender…that’s not what it is in those first verses that I’m hearing and that’s confirmed by the breakdown hitting towards the fourth minute – that gentle moment is pure melodic-perfection, as is the fired-up anthem of a chorus they’ve created on “One Last Summer.” Another inspired sound and seriously clever flow to the song overall…even with a few random notes arguably in/out of place, you get what they’ve going for here and the contrast between the verse and chorus works wonders. Definitely ends on the highlight of its strength, power & emotional-grip.
I came out slightly mixed on “My Secret Life.” I think that the strength of the verse in this song absolutely merits multiple listens…but I think it absolutely outshines the chorus. In my honest opinion…this deep into the album at ten-songs in…the last thing I’d ever say about these two musicial-cohorts is that they’ve been lazy, cause they’ve been anything but – but I do think that the chorus on “My Secret Life” almost sounds too easy for them at this stage of the record. The verse is intricately played and fully blossomed ideas in a real, thick & rich atmosphere…I might not have gotten the message fully on this one, but the contrast of its brightened chorus didn’t match quite right or didn’t quite work for me somehow.
Redemption comes through the blissful melodies of the album’s final song, “Nowhere Else To Go” where they almost take the kind of melodic-turn you’d expect to hear on a Foo Fighters record. Keeping true to the brilliant writing we’ve experienced throughout this record, Sluggerhand’s final moments are exceptional. Tender, mild but sincere & convincing throughout the performance…it’s a seven-minute epic that really hits home as an ending. A Truth Called Nothing completely understands their sound and the music they’re looking to make…and I think they’ve really done themselves and their art proud on this record. Not a song goes by without something astonishing happening from the electro, to the guitars, the vocals, the writing, the performance, production, ideas…I mean…you get what I’m saying right? Brilliantly creative and boldly assembled – this is an extremely mighty two-piece – and Sluggerhand was an unexpected & extraordinary pleasure to experience.
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