West Of House – Drown The Wind – Album Review
“What if you woke up tomorrow…and everything was different?”
I suppose that would indeed be the case for every fan of West Of House that woke up on September 3rd to find they dropped a surprise release on the world with their brand-new album Drown The Wind, which begins precisely where their debut record Crescendo Of Silence left off. Hence the drawn out opening – if you heard the way their last cut “Voyeuristic Symphony” finished that first record, the long beginning and near silence makes sense as “Nothing Is But What Is Not” starts – I wasn’t even sure there was a track to be heard at all for a second or two there, and frantically jumped it to the middle to make sure I had a playable copy on that first spin! As it swirls with enveloping sound and starts to fill itself in, “Nothing Is But What Is Not” feels like your dreams have found their way outside of your head, and now they’re trying to come back in via the music of West Of House coming through your speakers. It’s the kind of opening that tells your ears instantly that you’re about to be in for a serious experience from start to finish…and as the one line of lyrics comes in at the end, it’s the perfect cherry on top to finish this intro and set the stage for the rest of what’s to follow on their latest offering of Drown The Wind.
If there’s one thing I can be sure of, it’s that my Canadian brethren out there are definitely gonna dig on the lead-single called “Entwined” that kicks this record into gear – the guitar riffs, textural qualities, and killer tones at work through this song can’t help but remind us of our own heroes in The Tragically Hip. As far as sensory vibes go, that’s damn good company to be keeping, no matter where you’re based out of in this world or listening from – West Of House snaps this album into place and gets it rollin’ quickly with vibrant sound & diverse material – no one comparison is gonna quite cover it all, Tragically Hip or otherwise. When those opening riffs came radiating through my speakers with such electrified energy, all I could think about was how perfectly a sound like that would slide right onto a record like The Hip’s Up To Here…and well, considering that band is still our national treasure to this very day, West Of House is keeping great company here on this side of the border. Smart cut to put out there as a single though – “Entwined” would make for a stellar gateway into the music this band makes, and through its many twists & turns in the structure & design…and how competently, capably, and confidently they collectively handle their musicianship as it plays…I mean, there’s just no doubt about how enticing a cut like this is. As to whether or not you’ll find a hook that’s any larger than the main guitar riffs…that might be another question if I’m being honest with ya…but the reality is, as musicians, artists, and bands, we’re lucky enough when we stumble upon one golden hook that’ll pull the people in – no one’s saying you gotta line songs with’em every step of the way. What you’ll hear on “Entwined” is a song that explores many dimensions within its Rock-laden vibes, from the artistic to the energetic, West Of House makes it crystal clear they exist to provide more in their music than any mere hook could simply provide – they’re writing songs that have multiple parts that lead directly to a true sense of adventure in sound. Speaking of – the final transition they lay upon ya will pretty much blow your mind as they break it down around the 3:30 mark, let the tones ring out, and come back more fired-up & aggressive than ever – “Entwined” doesn’t just have a killer finale – West Of House tries to put the finishing moves on your speakers once & for all with the scorching hot blast of energy they put into the final moments of this first full track.
This record is GRIPPING as it begins – give West Of House some major credit for how they establish our interest up front in this lineup right off the bat. “’Merican” is bloody brilliant…one of the most scathing indictments of the way things really are, how the US is perceived by others outside of the country, and of course, within as well. I’d imagine it’s pretty damn tough for many of our friends down south to not go the political route these days to begin with – and considering that West Of House is based out of California, they’re currently surrounded by it all even more right at this very moment with the recall attempt. You see? I’m Canadian yes…and I’ve long claimed that I know absolutely NOTHING outside of what I like to listen to…but I suppose if I’m being completely truthful with y’all…if I’m not listening to new music of some kind, I’m probably watching a whole bunch of US political clips online. Not Canadian shit…no…thankfully, we’re boring as boring can be in that regard & I hope that trend continues until the day I die…I’m more than happy to listen to the drama below the border & pray that’s where it truly stays – songs like “’Merican” pretty much highlight every reason as to why a guy like me would feel like that. “I don’t have time to give a damn, but I got a pretty flag for you” – like…ouch ‘Merica…you’re kinda gettin’ punched directly in the face here…but if that ain’t a justified punching, I’m not sure what would be. West Of House holds the mirror up to the country they’re from without apologies, and communicates just how insane, scattered, and crazy these times we’re living in truly are through the rambunctious design of this cut and the insane level of innovative energy & insightful creativity it has. Highly memorable hooks at work here too in the chorus – the way they sing “’Merican” genuinely stands out from its most frantic live-wire vocals, to the grounded wisdom you’ll find on display within the lyrics.
But here we are folks…where the proverbial rubber meets the road, as they say. For you see – to this point on the record, I’ve enjoyed myself immensely already – I’m pretty sure that’s already plenty clear. I really dig on the production & performances you’ll find throughout the entirety of Drown The Wind, but there are always moments where things are good on any album, which makes it almost easier for us to identify what’s undeniably GREAT if you’re really paying attention. “Sunshine Girl” is that pivotal moment…this is the song whereby, if you were somehow trying to resist West Of House so far and finding some success in doing that up to this point on their new album…first of all, I don’t understand you…and secondly, you may as well surrender to this track right here, and give up the fight against whatever has been holding you back from proclaiming your love for this band. This cut has the artistic depth, accessible melody, and genuine passion that’ll win anyone over – and rightly so – “Sunshine Girl” is one of those songs you experience where you can feel everything from the lefts to the rights has just surged straight to a whole other level in all the right ways. Lyrically, it’s arguably less complex & much less leaning on the words to make an impression – “Sunshine Girl” is a perfect example of how this band makes the right choices to suit the song & give it what the moment genuinely calls for. Could they have stuffed this full of words? Of course! There’s tons of room to do that if they wanted to – and in the process, they probably would have threatened everything about the magic of what makes a song like “Sunshine Girl” as special & memorable as it is. A lot of the reason this track lands with such a strong connection to it is that we really get a lot of space in the mix here as well – you’ll always hear something that makes an extraordinary impact from the bold lead vocals to the finest background details – but everything is spread out in a completely sensational way throughout “Sunshine Girl” that allows our ears to absorb every sweet morsel of sound, and the melody to connect straight to our hearts and minds. I love everything about “Sunshine Girl” – I think it’s a gem in this lineup that no one could possibly miss.
With the epic ambition & design & heartfelt melody that surges through “Beautiful Distraction,” the album’s longest cut at nearly six-minutes in length…I felt like we could start making some serious comparisons to the depth you’d find in the songs of a band like Boxer Rebellion between what we heard in the very last track & this one right here. We’re talking about substantial doses of evocative sound that uses complex layers of melody & contrast, vivid lyricism, a hint of melancholy that’s equal to the strength of the shrouded beauty you’ll find…it all adds up to powerful experiences and real highlights – when you get to the chorus of “Beautiful Distraction,” you’ll know exactly what I mean. That’s a moment that’s as memorable as memorable can be – the vocals are incredible on this cut and what you’ll hear is certainly no easy task for any singer…West Of House has a real standout on the microphone in their band, and the instrumentation surrounding it all never wavers in its support. Listen to the violin make an appearance here – stunning! It’s an important part of this entire song if you’re listening real closely, but you get extra time to spend with it in the solo, which is straight-up fantastic. As amazing as any one element or piece of this song may be – it’s the unity in which they play it that might have actually made the biggest impact on me personally…West Of House is an exceptionally tight band that is built on extremely insightful songs and impeccable musicianship, and if a track like “Beautiful Distraction” doesn’t completely prove that to be true, I’m not sure what else possibly could. Brilliant use of the horns comin’ in to enhance the finale…for a song that’s nearly six-minutes in length, you won’t find a moment to be bored, or any part of this cut anything less than completely mesmerizing.
What’s not to love here? “Fall Down” is freakin’ genius, and another song you can truly feel as it begins. West Of House does sensory vibes so much better than the rest – part of that’s in the performance, and part of that really belongs to the efforts put into the production here as well…for as involved as this band is, everything you’ll hear is spectacularly crystal clear and remarkably engaging as a result. A track like “Fall Down” reminds me a lot of the band Perren Street Parade from the indie-scene here, but like the vibe & idea have been fully realized, enhanced, & strengthened through the instrumentation, vocals, and production you’ll find in West Of House, but they do dive into similar hazy, dream-like songs in comparison. When was the last time I heard a flute solo in a Rock song, you ask? I’ll admit – it’s been a while. Is it what makes “Fall Down” a great song for me personally? That might be a bit of a stretch – I’ve got no objections to it, and I’m always up for a band diversifying their material with clever decisions like adding that in here – but if I’m being real with ya, it’s probably how it complements & supports the rest outside of that main solo that has me excited about the addition of flute in here the most. What I do appreciate is the fact that West Of House continually makes time for their instrumentation to shine every bit as much as the vocals do, and keep the variety & versatility of their music as a top priority. As far as “Fall Down” is concerned, I’m probably more in love with the bass than any other element of this particular cut…Erick’s vocals give it a true run for its money, but I felt like Lance’s bass-lines really carried a ton of weight to the rhythm & flow of this track, and stood out for all the right reasons. That flute solo is INTENSE for what you’d probably assume a flute solo could potentially provide ya with…and don’t get me wrong, I dig it – I’m just saying that listening to the way it continues on from there to add to this song and help raise the stakes even further from there on, reveals their real professional insight at work.
“Cattywampus” will sell itself to ya – I don’t really need to say a word at all here, do I? It’s one of the most significant switches in style & sound that you’ll find at any point in listening to Drown The Wind – “Cattywampus” comes out with explosively riotous vibes that are every bit as exciting & intense as they are undeniably entertaining. You’re not even ten seconds into this tune before it’ll come ROARING outta your speakers without apologies – there’s not a set of ears that could listen to this track play in this lineup of songs and not recognize how significantly it gets the energy surging harder than ever. Everything is so spectacular CRUNCHY and WILD and COLORFUL and I just freakin’ LOVE IT – West Of House put on an audible clinic of how to do chaos, mischief, and mayhem in music the right way y’all. They’re working with dynamics here that are akin to the vibrant way a band like Muse structures their sound at its most involved & epic – and West Of House proves they’re not afraid to get a lil’ weird with it all when the moment calls for it in their music…”Cattywampus” can’t help but stand out as it beams its electro-infused vibes at ya; it’d be impossible to ignore this savage dose of stylized Progressive Alt-Rock.
I don’t ever really know which of the three main axe-masters in West Of House are crushin’ the guitars – I just assume they’re both in there somewhere, and considering that Kevin & Dave & Erick never give you a single reason to be anything less than amazed by what they can do & what they contribute, I’m just gonna declare them all to be the verifiable all-stars we can hear they are. Listen to the way they roar through a cut like “The Oracle (Speak To Me)” – they’re as controlled & cool as cool can be! There are a couple of times where they’ve actually reminded me a little bit of The Cult on this record as well, which is truly rare when it comes to comparisons out there in this world…but there’s a real commitment to thick sound & lively, enigmatic vocals on a record like this that brings out similarities in a few spots, this song certainly being one of them. Tracks like “The Oracle (Speak To Me)” really speak volumes on behalf of the knowledge this band has beyond what we hear in their music…it’s a real hybrid that’s essentially got pieces of just about every era from the 70s on forward, which gives West Of House a wildly engaging collage of sound that attacks on all fronts with surgical precision. While we’re digging into the instrumentation they possess as well – bonus shout-outs to drummer Tommy Maras as well; he’s not the kind of guy to simply sit & hit the 4/4, you feel me? This dude’s an innovative machine back there on the throne, thundering out beats that fuel the adventurous structures in these songs West Of House create, and they wouldn’t be the same without the man commanding the kit with full authority.
Any time that this crew reminded me of the Boxer Rebellion, I felt like it was a song that brought out the best in what makes the endearing melodies of West Of House as special, powerful, and substantial as they truly are – and you can consider “The First Time” to be a part of that list. When these guys pour just an ounce of extra sugar into the sweetness of their sound, it’s a remarkable thing to witness, I’m tellin’ ya. “The First Time” is a beautiful song, straight up, full-stop – you couldn’t ask a thing more from this band than exactly what you’ll find in this tune. From the design of the songwriting, to the focus on display in the lyricism, to the highlight smoothness of Erick’s vocals & most intense melodic moments, to the impeccable way they’ve played this song on such a unified front from the lead to the background once again…I mean, you gotta hand it to West Of House – not a single detail has been overlooked in the making of this record, and the results of their efforts have them standing out brilliantly track after track. Drown The Wind might have been a surprise release for us listeners out here, but make no mistake & don’t get it twisted y’all – they were ready for this moment beyond what you can comprehend – and the way they play these songs to such sparkling & glimmering perfection is all the proof your ears would need to know that’s the truth. The planning, the practice, the preparation…it’s all there – it HAS to be – you just don’t get to a record that’s as well assembled with such flawless fluidity without every moment being rehearsed & ready to roll when those studio lights come on and it’s time to make some music. I’ve said it time & time again – preparation makes such a massive difference in the final results – to me, you can always hear when something’s been rushed, or even when a song is newer to the lineup than the rest of the material and the band or artist isn’t quite as familiar with it as the rest of the set. The difference in what you’ll find on a record like Drown The Wind is that there’s not a single song that sounds any less prepped & ready than the others surrounding it…West Of House came to play on this second record of theirs, and they should be extremely proud of what they’ve achieved with their efforts, dedication and commitment to getting their very best onto a record – because they’ve done that here.
Erick! You beautiful man you. Listen to this guy’s vocal flow and the way the lyrics move throughout “Where To Begin” will ya? As somewhat of a wordsmith myself, I gotta say, I admire the writing a lot on this album, and this track in particular is a highlight example of the clever choices being made with the pen that are leading Erick to stellar performances where he can proudly stand behind every word he sings. In fact…I’d go as far as to say he pretty much steals the show on “Where To Begin” – there’s no doubt that’s it’s the result of having a band he can completely rely on from the start to finish of any song – that all leads to a spectacularly warranted confidence in the material that allows Erick to really get his melodies across in ways that completely connect. Essentially what I’m saying is, the band itself is as solid & seamless as they always are on “Where To Begin” – but with the dialed-back energy & slower pace to this cut, you get the opportunity to really appreciate just how immaculate Erick’s vocals can be. Everything about “Where To Begin” is as subtle as it is bold, cautious as it is confident, echoing that mix of emotions on display throughout the lyricism. It’s like Toad The Wet Sprocket went through a full-on update of their sound to design it for the right here & now…the songwriting stands out, the contrasting emotions work perfectly in tandem with the mix of sweetness & melancholy you’ll hear – all-in-all, a track like “Where To Begin” will speak to your heart just as much as it’ll move your mind in the process.
Gettin’ their crunchiest riffs on for the finale, “Apropos” finishes Drown The Wind on a solid Rock-filled affair, amping-up the energy to deliver one last reason to keep on coming back to this record. I’ll say this – “Apropos” was about as close as I ever came to feeling like a song may or may-not fully belong to this particular set – personally, I think it’s still an inarguably well-played cut, but it’s harder to say whether or not it furthers the story of the record overall by comparison to the rest of what we’ve heard, or if in fact, it might have benefitted from a different spot on the lineup. Part of me suspects that, even though the energy of “Where To Begin” might be a lot more subdued, it might have made for a more conclusive ending to this album, whereas “Apropos” feels like we’re all about to fire up the amplifiers and head into a whole next chapter of this ride still to come. Y’ain’t though – like I said, this is the final cut & it’s all you get…for now. Obviously West Of House has proven this year that you can’t predict what they’ll do, or when they’ll do it next – and that’s an exciting part of this band’s approach that should really have’em landing firmly on the playlists of music-fans all over the globe looking for that added level of excitement combined with undeniable professionalism. West Of House has spent an entire eleven songs continually crushin’ it with something spectacular for you to experience & listen to – and in that respect, “Apropos” is exactly what its title implies – it’s a strong ending to what’s been a killer record to check out from start to finish – these guys are building themselves a bulletproof legacy.
Find out more about West Of House at their official page at Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/westofhouseband
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