West Sac Fever – Speech Therapist – Album Review
I’ve gotta say…been looking forward to hearing this album for some time now. We were approached a month or two back to assist in creating a video for the song “Some Day,” a song that excited me personally and got me hooked on the innovative ideas that West Sac Fever put into their music. Since that time, I’ve been patiently waiting to see what else this inventive band led by composer Charlie Hearns might come up with to include alongside this excellent first song I had the pleasure of listening to.
With that being said…know that the album’s official line-up of songs scares the absolute shit out of me. It’s not the fact that there are sixteen songs…I am more than fine with you all stuffing thirty tracks onto your albums if you feel as if it all strongly represents you and your sound. No, what scares me about this album, is that there are several short and extended versions included…the first three songs immediately expand into six. Is it the extension of short songs that scares me? Nope – it’s not that either.
Album layout is one of the biggest tools that we have to really put our music out there in exciting ways. Every time I’ve ever seen long & short versions, or standard-versions followed immediately by remixes…I get tense…I get SCARED. Why? Because these songs need to be so radically different when laid out like this that if they’re NOT any different, or different enough…if they’re simply the same song but in a shortened version…well…you’re taking completely unnecessary risks with your music and putting it in a position more apt to fail than succeed. For example…between the two versions of the opening song – a great track called “Game Of Love,” you’ve now got yourself the first ELEVEN-plus minutes occupying one song, similar enough that if you somehow miss the separation of the two versions, you’re simply listening to one song that’s eleven minutes long.
So you tell me – what’s YOUR favourite song of all time?
And now tell me – would this remain your favourite year after year, listen after listen if it was eleven minutes long and opened up the album each time in this fashion?
If your answer is ‘yes, no problem at all’ then I am completely afraid that there is something bizarrely wrong with you. It could of course work to your benefit I suppose…perhaps more of a good thing remains constantly a good thing for you without feeling overloaded. For me…I’m looking at the first three songs of this album occupying a staggering thirty-plus minutes on their own with the included versions…and all back-to-back, all one after the other at the very beginning of the album. Who in the heck thought this was the effective route to go down?
I can’t help but think that West Sac Fever might have put the wrong foot forward here. Breaking up this album would have been so incredibly easy…and so much more effective. As it stands right now – those first three songs spreading out into six back-to-back threaten to seriously sink this album before anyone really has a chance to listen. Why there couldn’t have been a remixed bonus EP, or a decision to include these alternate versions at the end of the album after the originals have run through, or even spread out into other spots of the album…I really don’t know. This is completely a risk that West Sac Fever is taking…one that I have yet to see or hear pulled off successfully by ANY artist or band out there throughout my thirty-five years of listening to music. I am literally and audibly confused as to why anyone would think of this style of layout would be effective in pulling in listeners as opposed to pushing them entirely away, or risk losing their attention completely.
Anyhow…I suppose you all get what I’m saying…harsh somewhat to open a review in this style…but keep in mind, this is also how we’re all supposed to be opening the album into our playlists. It’s more than a valid concern; I’m completely curious as to why this became the finalized track-listing. But I’ll let it drop right now…and head into speaking towards the songs directly. But we all know me…chances are somewhere along the lines this issue is bound to pop up again…you’ve been warned!
Between the shorts & the longs…the songs remain nearly the same…I’ll be sticking to the main aspects of each one on their own and leave you on your own completely to decide whether or not you want a longer or a shorter version in your earholes…
Opening track “Game Of Love” is a completely unique experience right from the get-go with a highly inventive and innovative electro assembly. I dig the song a lot musically apart from the vocals…it reminds me a lot of something you might find from the Linus Loves or Dada Life catalogues. As far as the vocals go…there’s nothing to knock about them; the tones and delivery are all on – but I can also tell you that generally-speaking, their timing is going to throw off nearly any set of ears that might listen. Like a salmon swimming upstream to spawn, or cutting your wood against the grain…well, there’s a way to make it all easy for yourself, or to make it all more difficult to achieve what you’re looking for. West Sac Fever have made a staunch commitment here in this opening track to immediate challenge your ears for acceptance with a bizarrely-timed song that pulses to an entirely different rhythm than you’d expect. That could be a bad thing…it could also lead to perhaps one of the greatest songs you’ve ever personally heard…people are going to react strongly and differently to “Game Of Love,” and there will no doubt be opinions of all kinds on both side of the fence. One thing I can’t imagine people being about the music of West Sac Fever…is indifferent. For good or for ill – this band makes you think about everything from composition, to layout, to structure, sound & delivery as they play through this opening tune and welcome you into their world.
It heads into “Some Day,” which as I’ve mentioned, we were able to lend an assist with in making the video for. Even listening to this song now…I absolutely love it. The glitch-style of vocals that is included with the fantastic female-lead give me a full-on music-chubby each time I hear it happen. It’s strange in the sense that there is about 3-4 justifiable great hooks in this song…but for a weirdo like myself, it’s that one effect that provides the real ride in this song…like, no joke…I look forward to hearing it happen each and every time. The low-end heavy atmosphere in this song keeps it rumbling against the lightness of the vocals, piano/keys and the overall light-mood of the song…guitars show up to crunch away every so often, filling this one in perfectly. The vocals themselves are interesting in the sense that I can think of two spots in this song where I felt she was going to jump back into another verse or part, but seems to stop short. It makes me wonder…it would be a very strange choice to make in a performance…so I am assuming it’s an editorial idea that happened in post-production. In any event, it’s a great song with great energy…and true to the West Sac Fever style, while it might all appear somewhat straight-ahead – it WILL keep you guessing once again.
Journalistically-speaking…you can visibly SEE the effect stretching your first three songs into six can have. I’ve written over two-pages. I’ve talked about TWO songs…
“Rock The West Sac” is a highly-danceable number that really gets into the groove the more that it plays. With slightly structured-vocals, this song jumps around playfully through synth & drum grooves and really sports an uplifting vibe and feel…it’s pleasant…inoffensive…inspiring at times. Love the additional saxophone sounds added subtly into this song. Staggering the vocal-flow may be something that pulls in people to listen for the uniqueness of it all…for many, this is always going to be a difficult obstacle to overcome…it’s not easy music for people to sing along with…and they love that kinda stuff.
From here on in…we’re into a little more versatility and diversity on Speech Therapist with originals dominating the line-up from here. Even though the album is a massive 90+ minutes in total length, almost unheard of…it’s going to certainly help with each song being different from the last heading through the rest of it.
Take “Language Of Love” for example…it doesn’t get much more unique than this one…especially when you get to its overhauled and extreme ending…it just gets absolutely crazy by the end with chaotic drums and ideas rampaging around. It takes you around the sun and back in a swirl of innovation and creative concepts all packaged into one.
“Wonder Girl” is definitely one of the easiest to break into for the average set of ears. With an excellently bass-driven sound, this track is smoother than your favourite vodka and goes down extremely easily. I love the lead-singer’s beautiful voice…same fantastic voice that you’ll find on “Some Day.” That being said…unfortunately what was unique through the glitch-style editing on her voice in “Some Day” gets a little exploited here on “Wonder Girl.” Although personally it’s an idea that works for me on both songs…I can also hear that much of the delivery and flow become a little too similar to that of “Some Day” to make this stand out as uniquely as perhaps it should. Totally different song…and again, much easier I think for the average music-fan to sink their teeth & mind into…but that risk again has been taken by West Sac Fever in creating similar elements to drive the song. With as much creativity and innovation as they display in their music, it simply makes me question these directions of relying on existing sounds over multiple tracks as it seems there is a ton more ground to explore. “Wonder Girl” even features the exact same guitars and chord-changes that “Some Day” does as it heads towards the end…they couldn’t be counting on us journalists out there not REALLY listening would they?
Of course…the reality of that statement is that they’ll pass quite easily by 99% of the indie-journalists out there without them realizing this has been the case…cause they don’t really listen, which is why you’re here reading this instead of whatever they’ve come up with on their pages…
G Man steps into the following cut, “Sermon From Elk Grove” to make it brilliantly different and truly shine from the rest of the album in a fantastic guest appearance. Up to this point, West Sac Fever have created many tracks that would have been adaptable to a rap-verse but had yet to explore that avenue. On “Sermon From Elk Grove,” G Man lays down seriously impressive rhymes that flow perfectly in line with the beat. West Sac Fever have strayed completely here from challenging your ears on the constant, to simply playing within the rules of music on this one and really have delivered perfection on this wicked tune. It rolls along perfectly through the verses before heading into more of an instrumental middle with solos and wild talent on display, then busts back into the rap to let G Man provide excellent hooks through complicated & complex rhymes that stay perfectly with the beat and really deliver the passionate punch this music deserves.
With “Roving Eyes,” you almost wonder if the intention driving West Sac Fever is to consistently create rhythms that will test you. I like the extra electro-spark that comes into this tune about just past the halfway mark, but many of these hypnotic rhythms can also tend to drone on past the point of no return and I’ve felt that many times West Sac Fever is doing everything they can to keep us from losing our attention. It’s a difficult spot in music to straddle and I can certainly sympathize with that…it’s hard to give us enough and make us want more…I get that…but the consequence of overcompensating for that can be repetitive at times…for some of you dance-music & electro lovers out there it’ll be the complete opposite effect…you’ll want these songs to go on all day long. Again, personally, I think that West Sac Fever could benefit extremely from a little more focus and creating a little more concision in their material…might very well be on my own for that…
The wandering nature of “Set Me Free” would again be extremely appealing to some…for me, I don’t need everything to be ‘normal’ per-say…but I do appreciate a little structure to those lyrics and their application to the beat of the music. It can be REALLY tough to follow the ideas of West Sac Fever…I nearly feel like I need videos with the little bouncing ball coming up over-top of the lyrics to help me figure out what the structure is or where the vocals might go to next.
Even though “Stings Of Life” starts out with another previously-used melody in the very opening of the lead female vocals, it seems to continue on a different path from there. Again, slightly risky…at this point on Speech Therapist, when they bring an old idea back onto a new track like this, I’m already now expecting that they’ll carry it on throughout the entire song. Thankfully, this comparison to earlier songs ends immediately after the first vocalizations not to return until the very end and through the middle continues on extremely strongly in one of the real highlight tunes on the album. She’s literal perfection in her delivery…whether or not I’ve heard the vocal-lines, style or flow already on this album – she puts in a perfect performance every time and is edited spectacularly.
More excellent low-end music comes through the speakers on “Our Times Are Forever,” coupled again with complex metering through the vocals…it’s a strange combination that feels slightly rushed through the delivery but again displays some innovative ideas throughout. Flowing perfectly into “You Are My Soulmate” featuring Tyson who delivers excellent vocals on beat and creates a very unique overall sound on this album; nearly like a Gavin Rossdale in sound, Tyson provides a much needed departure from the overall sound of Speech Therapist to really break up the hypnotic rhythms with something you can sink your teeth into and easily get your mind around. Fantastic addition of piano/keys into this song that really raise up the music here in “You Are My Soulmate” to bring it to full boil and create another standout highlight in the late-stages of the album.
I don’t know if at the point that “Your Girl” starts out that I should be at all shocked that much of it includes the same vocals from our female-lead as many of the tracks before do. I’m really not quite sure just what to make of all of this…really not. On one hand, you can certainly argue that this creates cohesion in the album that is impossible to ignore…on the other hand my ears are pleading with me for more diversity than is being presented. With such incredible precision and innovation in the album…such talent through every artist lending a hand…I’m just not sure what the reasoning could be to not use them in more versatile ways. The end result right now is that I’m almost through fifteen songs here…and I very nearly feel like I’ve more been listening to ONE very long song instead. If that was the intention West Sac Fever…congratulations – you nailed it.
But I don’t know that to be the specific intention…and therefore it’s hard to imagine that this could have been the intention. When “Go Everybody Go” starts up to end the album, it again becomes a welcome & diverse sound from what we’ve heard already for the most part…but at this point I’d be uncomfortable saying this final song is amazing so much as I would be comfortable in welcoming its differences in this final departure.
Tough one…I gotta say. In the past decade, I don’t know if I’ve had an album confuse me more than this one has today. I find myself not wanting to turn it off…I like the material, I like the song(s)…but it does leave me somehow wanting a lot more.
And to want is one thing…sometimes we all want something more out of an artist or band’s new album. I find myself battling what I consider the worst quality in a human-being right now…entitlement. I feel entitled to more versatile and diversity in the music of West Sac Fever because they’ve clearly demonstrated that they can come up with killer music, creative compositions and entirely new ideas as far as music is concerned. So I’m okay with being the guy to say that they’re capable of more…because I truly know that they are; and hopefully in the future to come, West Sac Fever will break through that last wall holding them back to truly unleash the innovation and creativity they’ve made obvious they’re capable of…my intuition tells me that they certainly will and the best is yet to come.
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