Staytus – Disease Of The Mind – Album Review
Fun fact – the debut Staytus album Disease Of The Mind has its tracks listed in alphabetical order!
I mean…hey…why not, right? There are no rules on that kind of stuff. People can labor over that whole lineup & sequence stuff for days & months on end anyway…heck – I know of albums that haven’t ever even seen the light of day simply because the creators felt like they could never quite agree on how the songs were supposed to flow from beginning to end! So why the hell not alphabetical? It’s as good as any other choice…and more often than not, we can overthink the tiniest of details in the grand context of an album & what it’s all about. Some people even form entire intros to their reviews about that stuff.
You can hear both the uniqueness in Staytus, and the similarities, within the first mere seconds of Disease Of The Mind starting up with “Absolute Terror.” Musically, there’s a killer vibe presented right away as the opening cut begins…the kind of instrumentation & sound that instantly tells your ears there’s a real artist at the helm, unafraid to dig deep & get creative. As in, there’s not a doubt in my mind that Staytus will throw a few people off quickly, just from the confusion of complexity and trying to sort out whether or not things are really supposed to sound as warped as they do…which I assure you, they are. Vocally, Sam Grundemann comes out sounding somewhere right in between Courtney Love and Trent Reznor…and according to her influences, that’s pretty much where she’s aiming for overall. Described as Nu-Goth…a combination of sound that blends Industrial & Grunge together as one – I’d say those two names I’ve cited definitely fall somewhere in that realm pretty comfortably. Sam sounds more like Love in terms of her vocal tone, and delivers more like Reznor in terms of her energy and what she seems to feel is important in the way things are sung. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of both of those artists…I also really dig what I’m hearing in Staytus too for that matter – and although they can all sing to fit the scope of what they create, it’s never going to be what I’d consider to be their number one asset. Artists like these…Sam included…these are the legends you cherish for the ideas in their mind and their ability to go where most others would never dare. The chorus of “Absolute Terror” totally crushes it…you get to that point & you can hear the accessibility increase dramatically with the intensity, 100%.
I guess I just never felt like Love, Reznor, or even Grundemann had the vocals as their number one priority is all – they’re all songwriters primarily, doin’ what they can with what they’ve got. Reznor ended up finding his voice as time went on, but he still has his thing…Love’s much the same way…and both could be considered to be acquired tastes as a result…let’s be real, the ideas were always killer, but some of those vocals could be flat, flat, flat…if not outright lethargic. So…yeah…it’s a hard approach to justify wanting to emulate, but at the same time, given that Nine Inch Nails has never left my playlists ever since I started listening way back in the day…I guess that’s all the proof you need to know vocals aren’t always the main ingredient. Which is good in the case of Staytus…I can hear that people would have a tough time figuring out what the fuck is going on with “An Echo In Space” – Sam’s put in a performance that’s very much patterned in the same vein as everything I’ve outlined. Could she have sung this with smoother, more friendly, less dissonant tones? Sure! She’s clearly got a solid voice – but she’s making stylistic choices…and whenever we’re doing that, we’re essentially trading one side of the audience for another…it’s a tough road to take & please everyone. “An Echo In Space” is a stellar voyage into texture & tone…and much like “Absolute Terror,” it’s the chorus that provides the majority of its accessibility. The verses surrounding provide much more of a direct challenge to the average set of everyday listening ears, but again, that’s by design. I had moments with “An Echo In Space” where I wondered if it was the right song to have so early on in the lineup as people are trying to get into this record…I had moments where I felt like “An Echo In Space” desperately needed a more aggressive second half to it, which it seemed to hint at but never rage into…and I had moments where I felt like the hooks of the chorus provided more than enough to this dark, atmospheric vibe Staytus was workin’ with – I couldn’t tell ya what’s right & what’s wrong, I can only tell ya what I hear. I dig it…but just enough.
Even the melody buried deep in the background of “Arrhythmia” sounds like its paying homage to NIN – it reminded me of the vibe in “Dead Souls” from the Crow Soundtrack, but muted, below the surface. Staytus is creating music that is guaranteed to challenge convention, there’s no doubt about that – but I gotta admit, I do dig artists that perform as fearlessly as Sam does, with the courage to seek out something new in music we haven’t quite heard yet, even if there might be elements that remind you of a different artist or band for a couple moments along the way. Like…there just ain’t much out there that’s like “Arrhythmia” – and I can get behind that. At times, Sam reminds me of the kickassness of Christopher Hall and how he used to turn on the rasp in his vocals in Stabbing Westward whenever he wanted to…and at her most intense, she reminds me a lot of a different Sam I know of…the dude that used to sing for Fey – Sam Caviglia, who went on to later sing for Salmon Friends, and now Dyatlove in the independent scene. In any event, that’s good company to be keeping in many ways. I still think she’s packin’ in a whole lot of purposeful dissonance on the mic…and I think if she wants to, Sam could make a few tiny changes in that respect without compromising too much, and draw in that many more people to listen as a result…but that’s all up to her. All-in-all, I think what she brings to the mic on “Arrhythmia” is way closer to the mark than she’s been so far on this record; I felt like the balance of strengths we wanna hear between the verse & chorus existed here…she puts a savagely addictive energy into this performance, and it works. It’s the album’s longest cut at nearly six-minutes in length, but it’s a solid trip worth taking…the dynamics on display in this track give ya plenty to engage with.
Leaning into the sonic savagery and deadly vibes, “Crawling” takes you further into the darkness, whether you like it or not. You get the feeling that it’s the same situation for Sam in creating it all – it’s not like she might not want to be happier…shit, maybe she does – but our minds are fractured and exciting and broken machines that can never be relied on for executing our intentions, hopes, and dreams. Sometimes our minds gravitate straight towards the murky depths of the worst feelings, emotions, and thoughts we can have…the only difference is that artists like Sam have the courage required to document the madness. “Crawling” is a pretty damn killer tune overall…I can certainly get that it’s not gonna be for everyone out there – but Staytus knows this too…and pleasing the whole world ain’t what drives us to make music. Some wanna create entertainment, some are searching for catharsis, some need the creative outlet before they implode…”Crawling” feels like a stellar combination of all three. “Dying alone doesn’t matter to me” comes out as cold and brutal as you’d assume it would – that’s a harsh statement to make, but it works brilliantly within the endless darkness of a track like “Crawling,” where any light of hope seems to have been stomped out permanently, and forevermore. Gotta admire the hooks in this track though…Sam’s got’em in there from the music to the microphone.
Think of it like this…there ain’t a whole lot of people that could listen to Disease Of The Mind without having all the lights on in their house, you feel me? Much like Pretty Hate Machine from NIN back in the day displayed a bunch of brilliance in its earliest forms and hinted at way more to come later – Staytus has that same potential for sure. I listen to tracks like “Decay” and I can hear it…the dedication to the art and the craft…the perfect storm where sheer will meets desperation…and ultimately, a shitload of passion too. People like Grundemann ain’t the ones that keep me up at night tossing and turning – she’ll get to wherever she wants to go with her music over time. It probably isn’t gonna be tracks like “Decay” that bring her to that place…but I ain’t sayin’ it’s not either…tracks like this will undeniably speak to a more narrow slice of the crowd out there, but it’s still a solid representation of the sound that she’s attempting to build on. Musically, she’s freakishly gifted y’all…and she’s willing to try out some remarkably complex stuff in the way she designs her sound. The best advice I could give Sam is to make sure that the vocals come out with just as much purpose involved. Trent’s a perfect comparison in that regard…the dude makes several instrumental tunes – and I suspect it’s because he’s eventually come to that conclusion where, sometimes vocals add, sometimes they subtract. In the case of a cut like “Decay” I’m not so sure how much they’re adding, and question whether or not if they might be taking something away from the experience overall…but if this was an all-instrumental track instead? Aces.
Or think of it like this…when you’ve got something as clearly creative and innovative as the music is within Staytus, we’ll notice it more if the vocals don’t quite reach that same level. I ain’t talkin’ about tone or the ability to sing here – I’m talkin’ about the material, straight up. Songs like “Crawl” and “Don’t Die” have us wanting a bit more in that department in my opinion…decent tunes, but both cuts that could have possibly been stronger as instrumentals, given that the vocals aren’t really doing too much that we either haven’t heard in some capacity already, or the writing of the lyrical patterns seems a bit too rigid and inflexible. What I DO like, very much, is that Staytus likely don’t give a single fuck about any of this…love her, hate her…I get the feeling that she don’t really care what any of us thinks, and she’s gonna rock the way she rocks from now here on her debut album to the bloody end of time. And right on – as so she should. All I can tell ya is what I’m hearing…what’s gonna work, what might not as much, and try to help artists/bands navigate the space in between to find the modicum of success they’re seeking out. “I want to stay true to myself…but you’ve turned me into something else” – Sam says it best here, and sums up how I feel. The last thing I wanna do is honestly taint the inherent creativity of an artist like this when they’ve got so much potential to be extraordinary – Staytus is in the earliest stages of what it will go on to do…but left to her own devices, Sam could go on to astound us all.
Some folks make the case for me, and I suspect that Staytus has done that too. What I’ve been talking about, is essentially the difference between tracks like “Decay” & “Don’t Die” versus the immediate appeal that a track like “Dreams From Hell” display. While I might still not be quite convinced that the vocals rise up to the same inspired spark of devious creativity & mischief that the music possesses – we’re a whole lot closer here on “Dreams From Hell” without a doubt. What I dig is that Sam is straight up fuckin’ FIERCE in the way she sings…ultimately, that’s gonna be what leads her to success. It’s not always the wicked rasp in her tortured wailin’ – a lot of the time, it’s the smooth, straight-up confidence in the mellowest moments that reveals the extremes of her true potential…but perhaps most crucially, she’s got multiple arrows in her quiver. She could out-rock the majority at her most intense, and she proves she’s got a gift for melody on “Dreams From Hell” as well. This one track straddles the best of both worlds in that respect…you get a lil’ of column A and column B, and “Dreams From Hell” goes on to show ya one of the more balanced cuts on Disease Of The Mind as a result. Smart use of effects and the production on Sam’s vocals here too…a lot of the pathway forward is illuminated in the darkness here.
“Hourglass” has that instant appeal to it too. Musically, once again, Staytus is already firing at an all-star level without question. “I just want something to be proud of…but all I know is nothing else.” Lyrically, she’s pretty damn killer too…she knows how to make her words stand out in a way that practically makes us hurt or bleed too…what she’s got to say can certainly be a lot more shockingly relatable to the artists out there than many will likely want to admit. “Hourglass” is a testament to that for sure – especially when you consider its chorus of “time runs out, time runs out” repeating at you like it’s your alarm clock going off – and perhaps it should serve as that. It’s a reminder of how precious little of that good good stuff we’ve actually got, and a warning that we’ve only got so long to use it in the right way. “I just need your validation” comes out as one of the most powerful lines you’ll hear this year…because you can feel just how real, unfiltered, raw, honest and vulnerable it really is…we’re all searching for that in some way, shape, or form, from someone, or something out there…and the struggle we often feel, is the journey to achieving it. I think inherently, we all know we’re cut out for being more than we are in some way…and it’s simply a matter of whether “time runs out” or not before you accomplish what you really want to. “Hourglass” is a seriously strong and thought-provoking track on Disease Of The Mind.
Trent used to do this same thing that always kind of irked me too…searching desperately for a word that’ll adhere to the rhyme-scheme, as opposed to simply saying what he wanted to say…and “Nevermore” has a bit of that goin’ on. A few of the tracks on this record do if I’m being real with ya. In the case of this particular cut…I tell ya folks…musically, again, it’s freakishly brilliant…Staytus’ gift for using texture, tone, and frequencies in the music show she’s got multiple justified degrees in production for multiple reasons. That being said…objectivity is one of the hardest things to achieve on a personal level early on in anyone’s career…we’ve really only got so many songs and so much to choose from in making our first records, and “Nevermore” is a track that has us feeling that line between what should & shouldn’t be included stretching a bit thin. Like…for me, the main hooks of this track all exist within the verses…and even those, I’m not entirely sure they’re as strong as they should be…but chorus-wise, it’s almost a complete miss as far as my ears are concerned. Repetition can be our best friend, and it can also be our worst enemy…and sometimes we don’t even realize how it creeps into our material. In the case of “Nevermore,” yes – technically, Staytus is using two different words at the end of each line in the chorus, but they both include a ‘more’ at the end: “Look through my soul forevermore, I’m falling into the Nevermore” – and there’s risk in that…which comes from the repetition involved, and/or not quite as much variation as perhaps intended. Each time the vocals finished off the chorus, and the music became the dominant aspect again, I was like…damn…there’s some extremely awesome stuff in behind the scenes here that might not be getting its proper due credit with the vocals interfering in that regard. Like I said…it’s something that Trent used to do all the time, and still does to a smaller degree in his music to this very day…some of it’s intentional, some of it’s not, some of it has purpose, some of it’s merely accidental or workin’ with what he’s got. I’m always gonna advocate on behalf of leaning on your strengths to guide you to victory…Sam’s vocals will evolve over the years just like Reznor’s did with more time and experience…this early on, it’s the ideas that are most crucial to put out there, and Staytus has plenty of’em. Even in a track like “Nevermore” that I wouldn’t consider to be among the strongest on this debut record, there’s still plenty of positives in the production techniques and Sam’s willingness to explore the murky depths of the sound she’s creating. The rest comes along over time.
Tone-wise, it’s almost crazy just how much like Love she can truly sound – like on “Nobody Cares,” she’s practically a dead-ringer. Obviously, for some, that’s great – for others, perhaps not so much. I’ll be the first to admit…I’m never sure about how I feel about what Hole created, and I was born Grunge. I like some of it, and much like what I’m hearing on this record by Staytus, there’s a whole bunch that I feel like could potentially come out a bit better in some way. “Nobody Cares” is kind of like a complete statement cut in its own right…almost like Staytus IS daring us to listen, and perhaps even call her out like I’ve been willing to do. I don’t ALWAYS go this route – I push the real creative artists out there and challenge them to be at their best is all…to recognize & realize that SOMEONE out there DOES care, and is listening to even the smallest of details. When I listen to the final verse of “Nobody Cares,” every time I hear it, I think that’s where Sam is testing us the most…this is the spot where I think to myself, ‘she could have put the right amount of melodic spin on this moment if she WANTED to – but maybe she really does think that nobody is listening, and “Nobody Cares’” – and hell, to a degree, I actually think she’s right. I wrote a review just the other day where I was making similar comments, and ended up writing some sentence completely made of gibberish to make the point that no one is reading every bit as much as no one is listening either…but there’s a freedom in that, that also allows us the opportunity to break free, own our shit even more, and be the very best we can be. Everything about a debut ends up being part of the blueprint for the way forward…you learn what works, you realize what might not, and you build on it. Staytus has more potential, talent, and capabilities than most would be lucky to ever have…and whatever Sam chooses to do from here, will build her into a force to be reckoned with.
“None Of It” embodies much of what I’ve been saying, both the really good, and the not so great as well. In terms of interest, Staytus generates a metric ton of that instantly with the way this track starts – and continues to display really amazing levels of innovation through the music and the backing vocals you’ll find in this track too. Rhyme-scheme wise…yeah…I’m very much on the side of ditching that altogether when it comes to the lyricism of a track like “None Of It” – cause that’s what I’m having here – “None Of It.” Sam’s strongest moments come right towards the end of this song in its final twenty seconds or so – and that’s one of the things about being objective that takes time & experience as well…knowing where those moments in music really connect truly are. The design of the verses is brilliant right from the get-go – it’s the words that need to be retooled here in my personal opinion…but the flow, the intensity, and the melody, is all spot-on – the IDEAS work. Listening to the background vocals too…I’m practically amazed – Sam’s creating serious magic in behind the scenes, and hopefully that gets noticed as much as it truly should be. That final twenty seconds is straight up killer in every way…and to me, the part of this song that connects with severe strength, even as mellowed-out as it may sound as the song drifts out to the end. Standing back from the material can definitely be important – but it’s also the hardest thing to do as an artist, given how close to the material we can be…there are things about “None Of It” that could have made this song the most defining moment of the entire record, but they’re almost added in like an afterthought, as opposed to making things like the melody and background vocals the real star of the show. Staytus will get there…I’ve got no doubt about that…”None Of It” feels a bit like it’s got a whole bunch of missed opportunities right now, but some major highlights in the mix for ya as well.
“Part Of Me” works pretty well…I felt like this track came out strong for Sam & Staytus. A lot of the time it’s when we’re exploring the sounds outside of the norm that can lead us to some of the biggest victories – and I’d argue that’s probably what happens here. There’s no doubt that when you’re listening to “Part Of Me” that you’re listening to the largest departure in the set when it comes to how things sound – this would be the outlier and the most unique of the bunch by comparison to the rest. All-in-all, that ends up being something that works in Sam’s favor here…”Part Of Me” really stands out for all the right reasons, and it’s crystal clear that this would be the mellowest & most delicate track that can be found on Disease Of The Mind. The sound selection is stellar, the vocals come out great, the words are a bit here & there with that need for finding the right word that’ll rhyme again…but overall, I felt like “Part Of Me” showed us a different side of the Staytus sound that can really work wonders. You’ll get what I mean when you hear it…Staytus doesn’t search for that most to get over-aggressive or brutally intense – this is that song on Disease Of The Mind that convinces ya that Sam completely knows & understands how crucial it can be to go with what the material is truly calling for, and sticking to that. As a result, the ideas on “Part Of Me” remain seriously strong and never get stretched too thin in any one direction…the confidence is there, the writing is solid, and the performance is one of the very best.
“Really Gone” finishes off Disease Of The Mind with a tougher vibe…asking “are you really that far gone” at one of the hardest parts to love in terms of accessibility…the masses out there are gonna struggle with a lot of this record, but it’s safe to say that Staytus isn’t exactly looking to cater to them directly. So…yeah…I’ve kind of got a foot firmly in both worlds at all times – I respect what an artist is looking to do & what they want to create, but I can certainly acknowledge how much of a challenge that can be to the average everyday listeners out there – and perhaps even more importantly, I can full understand that it’s not everyone’s intention to please the people, so much as create the art & music that they want to create. I’ll put it to Sam this way…and over time, we’ll see how she feels…there are going to be songs on this record she’ll probably play for life – and there are probably a bunch of’em that she already feels like have evolved in a way that she can get more out of them when playing them NOW as opposed to when the album was recorded…because an artist like Sam is always looking for something new to keep the ideas, music, and moment fresh AF, if only to keep thriving & surviving, you feel me? “Take your time and ridicule me” – I don’t know that I’ve gone quite that far…ultimately, I’m trying to do nothing else other than encourage Sam to lean on her biggest strengths and let them guide her forward from here. Because I’m just another asshole with an opinion at the end of the day, and I get that – but there’s things she’s excelling at years beyond what a debut should offer, and elements that can still evolve – and it’s important to know the difference, recognize what each of those are, and build on’em all. Like I said…I worry about the vast majority of you artists & bands out there – y’all keep me up at night – and while the results might be a bit more mixed here on this debut record from Staytus, I’m 100% confident in a musically-inclined mind like Sam has going on to achieve anything she sets her mind to, completely.
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