Walter Mitty Returns to His Makeshift Orchestra for Entertaining LP

Puddles of Alligators is an excellent collection of b-sides and a welcome release for Indi-folk fans.

Walter Mitty and His Makeshift Orchestra is a acoustic folk outfit from the West Coast. They debuted in 2009 with Every Town Needs a Cowboy which found them immediate success within the underground folk-pop movement of the day. A handful of releases followed with 2011’s Overwhelmed and Underdressed as the highlights, each of them developing the band’s mix of unique instrumental pallets, carefree production, and quirky lyricism. In 2017, the band began to go by the name Walter Etc. with two releases that year which largely kept with they original style. Now, they’ve returned to the Makeshift Orchestra moniker to release Puddles of Alligators, a collection of B-sides which never quite made the cut on their early albums.

While several of the band’s best features are here in spades, there are also quite a few surprising highlights. The percussion work, though simple, is extremely effective. The ringing tambourines on “Chocolate Old-Fashioned,” and the odd cymbals and clackers on “Farm Trees and Fences,” are fascinating touches on already interesting songs. This certainly wasn’t missing from earlier releases, but there seems to be even more attention paid to it here.

Beyond this, there is some excellent guitar work on tracks like “All the Pretty Fishes,” and the closer, “I’m off to Paradise.” There’s nothing showy here, but the rhythmic acoustic is present and well played across nearly every second of this LP and the short solo near the end of the record is extremely enjoyable.

Best of all, this album features a few fantastic interludes. “Hand-Me-Downs,” is a youthful, energetic cut early on while “It’s Raining in My Living Room,” is a brilliant, atmospheric track which serves as a perfect center point to the album. These make for great connective tissue between full length tracks and the latter is especially experimental and creative. 

The album even features some strong production choices on tracks like “Suck It Up.” The raw, clipping sound fits the whimsical style of the band perfectly. The mix is dirty and inexact, but gives each track a feeling like you’re in the room with them, which is exactly where you want to be.

For fans of Walter Mitty, it’ll be unsurprising to hear that the LP is packed with fantastic kazoo parts. From the earlier “Funny Faces,” to later entries like “Scrubbing the Mold,” and “Carry Me Back to the Purple Palace,” Walter Mitty continues to be the only artist in the industry, to my knowledge, who can consistently rock a kazoo solo at a moments notice. Its use much like the way a harmonica is utilized on many folk records, but the abrasive buzz is just an entirely different sound.

The LP’s strongest point though, comes in the simply hilarious lyricism. The opener, “Pink Eye,” jokes about the millennial stoner life with a sardonic tone which is summed up in the line “nice to meet you, I’m pathetic, let me be.” “Mellow,” on the other hand, is a short turnaround which poetically celebrates an enjoyable, but uneventful day with even more sharp-tongued sarcasm. Nearly every track features a few hilarious one liners, as is often the case with any of Walter Mitty’s work.

The album certainly isn’t perfect. Cuts like the title track or “Wetter Days,” are a bit boring as they lack any shining kazoo solos or memorable lyrics. Additionally, the pacing is a bit fast for my taste, without a single track clearing three minutes and only a few clearing two.

That being said, for fans of the band like myself, this is a welcome addition to the rather prolific catalog. The excellent instrumentation, hilarious lyricism, and well-played kazoo were expected from the beginning, but the addition of interesting interludes and raw production are welcome surprises.

Puddles of Alligators is an excellent collection of b-sides and a welcome release for Indi-folk fans.

6/10

Death Cab for Cutie Drops Fantastic New EP

The Blue EP is a triumph for a band which is more than two decades out from their debut, and it’s one of their most exciting projects to date.

Death Cab for Cutie is a soft/indie-rock band from the Pacific Northwest. They debuted in 1998 with Something About Airplanes, and followed with two more records over the next three years. They finally reached prominence in 2003 with Transatlanticism, which went gold, and the platinum certified Plans in 2005. After Plans, the group slowly tapered in popularity over ten years and three more releases, leading up to their most recent project, Thank You For Today, which showed a few signs that the band may be stumbling onto a new, exciting style. With The Blue EP, Death Cab has hit a new high.

The EP opens with one of the most ambitious cuts in the band’s history in “To The Ground.” The slow, brooding opener and prominent bass guitar feels almost ripped from the pages of an art-rock act until Ben Gibbard’s luscious, calm vocal brings the track into its central groove, which covers the majority of the run time. Still, the lyrics about a brutal car crash and the Beatles influence which is even more pronounced here than it always is on Death Cab’s music, make for one of the more interesting tracks I’ve heard this year.

“Kids in ’99,” follows, and it’s one of Death Cab’s catchiest tunes in years. The vocal hook on the verses is simply infectious and the shoegazey guitars and danceable drum work makes for an extremely enjoyable listen. Only two tracks into this EP, and already the signs of life which appeared on last year’s Thank You For Today have developed into a full blown, noticeable energy.

“Man In Blue,” falls in the center of the project and it’s a classic, atmospheric Death Cab song. Dave Depper’s lead guitar, while simple, is absolutely perfect to set the mood and Gibbard brings yet another wonderful vocal performance. In classic Death Cab for Cutie style, the track never quite reaches an explosive climax, but is instead a beautiful atmosphere for a listener to just sit in for a moment.

“Before the Bombs,” is another strong showing, though I must take slight issue with the fairly cheesy lyrics on the hook which mar an otherwise strong piece of writing. It’s the harmonies, though, which really steal the spotlight hear as the strange effects and creative note choices bring a dynamic sound. Additionally, the electronic elements and fuzzy guitar effects are utilized extremely well.

The closer, “Blue Bloods,” may be my favorite track on the EP. Jason McGerr’s drums are slow and simple, yet perfectly thoughtful and beautifully played. Gibbard’s vocals and lyrics are fantastic with some really creative melodic moments on the first verse. Above all, though, it’s the band’s ability to pace the track’s five minute run-time which impresses me the most. Thanks to a roaring guitar solo from Depper and a well played bass line from Nick Harmer, the explosive instrumental passage in the last couple minutes is a tremendously effective closer.

As the EP finishes, I’m somewhat blown away. There was plenty to be happy about with last year’s album, but The Blue EP takes this to a new level. While they haven’t quite found the heights for their mid-2000’s peak, Death Cab has created a new, more mature sound which compliments Gibbard’s writing well.

The Blue EP is a triumph for a band which is more than two decades out from their debut, and it’s one of their most exciting projects to date.

5/5

Lana, Taylor, & Miley: Navigating Modern Music Criticism

Childish rants on Twitter don’t solve the problem, but only grow tensions. It’s the key virtues of restraint and maturity which will allow artists to navigate the constantly changing world of modern music.

Last Friday, Lana Del Rey dropped her fifth studio LP, Norman Fucking Rockwell! Just a few days later, legendary pop music critic, Ann Powers published a fantastically in-depth review of the LP. The review featured all of Powers’ trademark nuance and intelligent deconstruction and celebrated the album is an impressive step forward for Del Rey. She did, however, draw a few unflattering comparisons of Lana to singer/songwriter legends like Joni Mitchell, and called some of the ideas on the project “uncooked,” and criticized her reliance on her “persona as a bad girl to whom bad things are done.” This was a relatively benign criticism, especially when set against the backdrop of a rather flattering review, but Lana certainly didn’t think so.

“Here’s a little sidenote on your piece,” the vocalist tweeted in response to the review, “I don’t even relate to one observation you made about the music. There’s nothing uncooked about me. To write about me is nothing like it is to be with me. Never had a persona. Never needed one. Never will.”

“So don’t call yourself a fan like you did in the article and don’t count your editor one either,” she continued. “I may never have made bold political or cultural statements before — because my gift is the warmth I live my life with and the self reflection I share generously.” Needless to say, this is not a good look for Lana Del Rey. The majority of the music industry seems to agree as Twitter has been flooded with support for Ann Powers and defense of the critic’s excellent catalog of work and right to voice her opinion however she sees fit.

This kind of vitriolic backlash to negative criticism, however, is becoming more and more common, particularly in the increasingly competitive world of pop music. Earlier this year, Miley Cyrus responded to a relatively brutal critique of her newest EP, She Is Coming from online blog, High Snobiety. “I finally found a shitty review of SHE IS COMING,” Tweeted Cyrus, before adding “Ps thanks for putting buy/stream link at the end of your shitty article although I’m pretty sure everyone has bought and streamed but I’m sure it was helpful for those who are as out of touch as you are.”

In all fairness, this is not new by any means. Tool’s 2001 track “Ticks and Leeches,” was a clear shot at the industry as a whole and more directly at metal critics who had accused the band of going soft. Sonic Youth directly name dropped longtime critic Robert Christgau in their 1983 track, “Kill Yr Idols.” Even the great Bob Dylan went after music journalists in his song “Ballad Of A Thin Man.”

Love it or hate it, music criticism and the artist’s response to this criticism, has long been an integral part of popular music. But like every other aspect of life, social media has dramatically changed the landscape of this relationship. When Dylan wanted to respond to a journalist, this had to be done either through a new release. Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Rey, on the other hand, can fire off a tweet without a second thought and make their displeasure known. Unfortunately, this won’t change anytime soon.

And so, it may be time that every participant in the music industry, from the artists down to the fans and even the critics themselves, come to a robust appreciation for the role which critics play in the ever evolving world world of music.

First and foremost, critics can act as a trusted curator in the crowded field of new releases which come every week. Sometimes, a strong review may tell readers about an obscure project which they may not have found on their own. Other times, critics can let you know which of mainstream records may not be worth your time.

Additionally, when an otherwise successful artist drops a project which doesn’t live up to expectations, thorough, constructive critiques of the album can help that artist get back on track. All too often, when a musician is surrounded by a team, the lack of objective, outside opinions can begin to weigh on the creative process. In this instance, thoughtful reviews like those written by Ann Powers can help an artist course correct.

Of course, not all reviews are created equal, and there are plenty of awful sights who focus on sensationalized, simplistic reviews which add virtually nothing to the discourse. However, it’s the job of artists to tell constructive criticism from sensationalized nonsense, and it’s the job of respectable critics to combat the voices of those who only cloud the water.

Perhaps no modern artist had toed this line quite as well as Taylor Swift. Her first public run in with criticism came in the form of her 2011 mega-hit, “Mean,” which, though a bit cheesy, does quite a great job of pinpointing the distinction between thoughtful critique and vitriolic nonsense. However, it’s her newest album which shows her excellent ability to take in criticism.

When her 2017 release, Reputation was released, it performed predictably well on the billboard charts and caught the usual, fawning reviews from several mainstream outlets. However, many independent critics and writers for smaller publications were clear in articulating a concern with the inorganic and forced direction which Swift seemed to be taking.

And so, just two years later, Taylor’s newest release, Lover seems to planted her directly back on track with yet another enjoyable LP which addresses nearly every complain brought forward by Reputation’s negative reviews. Taylor’s perfect 180 is a perfect example of an artist taking in critiques and adjusting in the perfect way.

Ultimately, tension has always been thick between those who make music and those who review it. That hasn’t changed, nor will it anytime soon, and so artists will need to learn to take criticism in stride and use it to improve their sound.

Childish rants on Twitter don’t solve the problem, but only grow tensions. It’s the key virtues of restraint and maturity which will allow artists to navigate the constantly changing world of modern music.

Sheryl Crow’s Swan Song is a Bit Disappointing

Threads is an otherwise enjoyable project which is dragged down by poor pacing, weak production, and an utter lack of cohesion.

Sherryl Crow is a country singer/songwriter from Kennet, Missouri. Her seven times platinum, 1993 debut, Thursday Night Music Club rocketed to her to the very top of a country music boom which lasted throughout the 90’s and spawned the careers of fellow superstars like Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson. In contrast to her fellow 90’s country stars, however, Crow’s music toes the line between pop and country in a way which has allowed her to find success with fans across the spectrum. This success has lead to legendary status over her ten album career, and the singer has announced that her eleventh LP, Threads, will be her final release. So, is it a worthy swan song? Unfortunately, the record is a bit of a mix.

Crow is, admirably, quite ambitious on this album. Tracks like “Cross Creek Road,” and “Still the Good Old Days,” feature unique chord progressions and surprising instrumental styles which are certainly a treat on such a long LP. It doesn’t work every time as there are definitely a handful of awkward moments, but for the eleventh release in Crow’s discography, it’s extremely impressive to hear her stepping out of her comfort zone in such a daring way.

Additionally, the guitar work on this album is excellent! Much of this comes in the form of features from the likes of artists like Eric Clapton who’s solo on “Beware of Darkness,” is easily the best on the entire project. But tracks like the opener, “Prove You Wrong,” have fantastic leads played by guest guitarists like Joe Walsh and Vince Gill who, in addition to featuring on their own tracks, pop up all over the record on guitar.

Crow also dives headlong into a heavily blues-influenced sound which works far better than one would expect. “Everything is Broken,” features Jason Isbell wonderfully with an excellent guitar riff and strong vocal performance while “Border Lord,” sees the legendary Kris Kristofferson joining Crow for one of the most raucous cuts on the album.

The albums key selling point, though, is the seriously massive list of features, which covers every single one of the 17 tracks. From Mavis Staples and Bonnie Raitt’s electrifying chemistry on “Live Wire,” to Chris Stapleton’s soulful lead on “Tell Me When It’s Over,” or even Johnny Cash’s interesting, posthumous appearance on “Redemption Day,” this record is a who’s who of iconic country and Americana artists. The best of these are, without a doubt, Willie Nelson’s heartfelt vocal on “Lonely Alone,” and the absolutely fantastic harmony work from Emmylou Harris on my favorite track, “Nobody’s Perfect.”

Unfortunately, several features don’t work out quite so well. Gary Clark Jr.’s appearance on “Story of Everything,” and St. Vincent’s collaboration on “Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You,” are especially egregious, but they betray an issue which plagues the entire album: Sheryl Crow doesn’t seem to have a grasp on how to incorporate features. A great feature melds the sound of the guest artist while remaining true to the sound of the album and the main artist. This album, on the other hand, feels like a compilation of tracks by other artists which feature Sheryl Crow. Nearly every guest appearance takes over the sound and writing entirely and when the sound doesn’t fit Crow’s style, as is the case in the aforementioned cuts which are nearly rap/hip-hop tracks, Crow goes along with it anyway.

Beyond this, there are some serious issues with the production here. A Track like the aptly named “The Worst,” is a perfect example of this poor production, though this is yet another problem that runs throughout the entire runtime. The most prevalent problems come in the form of a very hissy mix and just awful percussion throughout, though the occasional annoying vocal effect as in “Flying Blind,” is thrown in for good measure.

Beyond this, the pacing can be a bit frustrating as nearly every track is roughly the same length and many of them sound extremely similar. Near the end, tracks like “Don’t,” and the closer, “For the Sake of Love,” do little to keep a listener enticed. This isn’t a massive issue as most of the tracks, on their own, aren’t necessarily boring, but when an album runs nearly 75 minutes, the nondescript cuts start to add up.

All in all, Threads is certainly enjoyable at times. The goal of the LP seems to be to celebrate Crow’s career with a large collection of impressive features and strong writing and while several tracks achieve this, many others don’t.

Threads is an otherwise enjoyable project which is dragged down by poor pacing, weak production, and an utter lack of cohesion.

Lana Del Rey Drops Uninspired Sixth Album

Norman Fucking Rockwell! Has a handful of pleasant elements, but ultimately it is poorly written, poorly performed, and just plain boring.

Lana Del Rey is baroque pop singer/songwriter from New York City. She debuted in 2010 with a self-titled LP which largely flew under the radar, but her 2012 follow up, Born to Die scored a platinum certification thanks to her signing with Interscope Records for the release. Since then, she hasn’t quite recaptured the success of her sophomore record, though her last three releases are certified gold and two have peaked at number one on the Billboard charts. She’s also landed a handful of massive performances like a slot at Coachella in 2014 and the Flow Festival in 2017, not to mention several successful tours. I must admit that I’ve never been a massive fan of Del Ray as I’ve always found her music to be a bit more aesthetic over quality. Unfortunately, Norman Fucking Rockwell! Is yet another example of this.

It’s not all bad! There are a few elements that I enjoy, and a key one is certainly the swelling strings which adorn the majority of the album. Particularly on the front end, tracks like the opening title track and “Mariners Apartment Complex,” feature orchestrated violins which bring a real sense of weight to songs which, otherwise, may fall flat.

In addition, there are a few enjoyable melodies to be found, especially near the end. Cuts like “Happiness is a Butterfly,” and the atrociously titled closer, “Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – and I Have It,” have nice, ear-worm choruses that definitely linger in the mind long after the first listen. Without a doubt, the album could do with several more of these catchy choruses.

Easily the highlight of the LP is the genuinely great production from Jack Antonoff. The Bleachers frontman has recently made quite a name for himself in the world of production, and this project is no exception! A quick listen to cuts like “How to Disappear,” and “California,” gives a great taste of Antonoff’s care-free style. While there are a few nitpicks in terms of technical missteps, he makes up for this with a very natural mix which catches a lot of the small imperfections that make the instrumentals sound very natural.

Regrettably, none of this can save the album from the litany of issues which plague nearly every track. Perhaps the first downfall that a casual listener might notice is Lana Del Rey’s positively terrible vocal performance. Some of the worst examples come on “Love Song,” and “The Next Best American Record,” but on track after track, Del Rey acts as nothing but a wet blanket to the genuinely interesting instrumentals beneath her thanks to weak falsettos and a lack of any impressive power or range in her overall low energy vocal.

Beyond this, the lyricism leaves quite a bit to be desired as well. Songs like “Fuck It, I Love You,” and “Cinnamon Girl,” are filled with some of the most cliche and least interesting lyrics I’ve heard in a very long time. Her writing mostly consists of references to other, better songs and appeals to aesthetic which lack any real emotional weight. It’s a kind of faux depth which just doesn’t stand up to any thoughtful listen, but also keeps the record from being just mindless fun.

Worst of all, the album commits the cardinal sin: it’s boring. This is apparent on every single cut as they seem to build without ever reaching any climax or even mildly exciting moment. It’s painfully noticeable on her cover of the Sublime classic, “Doin’ Time,” as the spacey instrumental and Lana’s unenthused performance zap all the energy out of the iconic track. Perhaps the worst offender, however, is “Venice Bitch,” which, for reasons that I cannot fathom, runs for an entire nine minutes with only enough material to fill about three. The rest of the track is just middling, directionless strings and a repetitive chorus.

All in all, Norman Fucking Rockwell! Feels like a disappointment. As I said, I’ve never been a Lana Del Rey fan myself, and so this may be exactly what fans were hoping for. But, for my money, there are several artists working today to execute this sound far better while eschewing the faux-vintage aesthetic which drips from every second of the LP.

Norman Fucking Rockwell! Has a handful of pleasant elements, but ultimately it is poorly written, poorly performed, and just plain boring.

Whitney’s Sophomore Effort is Packed With Heart and Fun!

Forever Turned Around is a fun listen which overcomes technical and pacing issues with pure heart and and a massive pallet.

Whitney is an indie-folk group from Chicago, Illinois. Formed in the breakup of indie rock outfit, Smith Westerns, guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer Julien Ehrlich joined forces with a handful of friends in 2016 for the band’s debut LP, Light Upon the Lake, which received wide acclaim from critics across the contemporary music landscape. They were particularly praised for their simple style and clear inspiration from early pop groups like The Byrds and early Beatles. The record was a hit for the young indie band and for well known indie label, Secretly Canadian and launched a headlining tour across Europe. With a fairly strong fanbase, anticipations were high for a sophomore release and, three years later, Forever Turned Around has arrived.

From the opening seconds of the LP, Julien Ehrlich’s drums are a standout highlight! Tracks like the opener, “Giving Up,” and “Valleys,” showcase a uniquely simple form of drumming which fits the band’s sound extremely well. There are no flashy fills or difficult time changes, but instead a nice steady rhythm with great cymbal work. The drums are also wonderfully mixed, with a crisp snap on every snare and a full thud to every kick.

Max Kakacek is also hard at work on guitar with a similar approach. Late cuts like “Day & Night,” or my personal favorite, “Friend of Mine,” feature some nice lead licks, but the majority of his best work comes in the rhythmic, acoustic work that makes up the melodic bass of most of the album. Again, he rarely stands out, but it’s that consistent performance which forms the strong backdrop for everything else to shine.

Kakacek does get a chance to take the spotlight a bit more, however, as the band’s lead vocalist. His soft harmonies and ringing falsettos on “Used To Be Lonely,” are able to sell the somewhat cheesy lyrics fantastically while his work on “My Life Alone,” is far less front and center but much more energetic and dynamic. Because of the band’s style, his vocals aren’t always front and center, but they always act as a wonderfully entry point to the band’s unique sound.

Without a doubt, however, the album’s best quality comes not from any one single member, but the group as a whole and their delightfully wide pallet. From the folksy brass sections on “Before I Know It,” to the oh-so-smooth saxophone on the excellent instrumental cut, “Rhododendron,” or even the swelling woodwinds on “Friend of Mine,” there always seems to be something interesting right around the corner and the pallet serves to color in the simple canvas at the base of each song.

Unfortunately, I am left with a handful of criticisms. Perhaps the most consistent issue comes in the production. With such a large array of instruments and a unique style to start with, this is a difficult album to mix, but the majority of it is muddy and lacks any clarity, so much so that a lot of great work is lost on tracks like “Song for Ty,” or the closing title track in a wave of indistinguishable sound.

Beyond this, there are certainly pacing problems which didn’t really exist on the debut. Even for fans of this falsetto heavy, folksy crooning, the lack of diversity in the tracklist starts to weigh on a listener by the end. Each track, on their own, is perfectly enjoyable, but the album, as a whole, definitely drags a handful of times.

Despite these complaints, Forever Turned Around is a solid sophomore effort. The simple, heartfelt shell of solid songwriting and melody is filled to bursting with a wide array of unique instrumentation and quirky harmonies. This album may not find a ton of crossover success, but for fans of this genre and this style, this is yet another solid release from an excellent group.

Forever Turned Around is a fun listen which overcomes technical and pacing issues with pure heart and and a massive pallet.

6/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

Tool Lives Up to the 13 Year Hype!

Tool is back, and it was well worth the wait.

Tool is an alt-rock/prog-metal four piece who rose to popularity in the early 1990’s thanks to their unique sound, bizarre live performances, and their fantastic 1992 demo EP  Opiate. At this time, their sound was heavy, often droning, and far more melodic than the majority of the underground metal in the early nineties. As they progressed, there were extended delays between releases as 2006’s 10,000 Days was the last studio project from the metal legends before one of the longest hiatuses in music history. Throughout the 13 year gap, the infamous “new Tool album,” became almost mythic and when Fear Inoculum was finally announced, fans worried that no band could live up to 13 years of hype. Luckily Tool can and did.

The record opens with the title track and lead single. The song’s original drop about a month ago was the final gas on the fire needed to raise the album’s hype to a fever pitch, and for good reason. This song is, undeniably and essentially, Tool. With the long, spacey intro, the track seems to descend onto the listener with Maynards calm, melodic vocal as the cherry on top. But as the cut progresses, new layers of guitar and bass riffs are slowly unraveled, presenting a complex midsection which finally shifts into a brutal finish with all four members bringing their all. From the beginning, it’s clear. Tool is back.

“Pneuma,” follows and seemed to draw some of the most attention from critics with early access to the record. The attention is very much deserved as this is easily one of the most daring efforts in the tracklist. The clean guitars in the intro are a surprising touch, but it doesn’t last long as Adam Jones’ signature, distorted tone rips into the track’s first real groove. Justin Chancellor’s bass really shines here as well with a thumping groove driving large chunks of the early sections. “Pneuma”’s highlight, for me, comes near the end of it’s 12 minute runtime as the band breaks into a punishing breakdown featuring all four members performing as well as we’ve ever heard them and leading toward an awe-inspiring crescendo. This is yet another full throated proclamation of Tool’s return, and it’s a blast to hear.

“Invincible,” falls third on the album and readers of my most recent Tool Concert Review may remember that this song absolutely blew me away at their live show in Saint Louis. It’s no less effective here, I can assure you. This is another instrumental powerhouse with some of the best bass work on the entire album and one of the most brutal breakdowns yet. With every listen, though, I find myself more and more moved by Maynard’s performance and lyricism as the track follows an older warrior coming to terms with his aging body and giving up the chase of youth. This is of course, and analog for the band itself and for any long time fan, it’s a bit of an emotional listen. It reads like Maynard preparing to write and perform one last Tool album, and god am I glad he did!

“Descending,” is another track which had been played live before the official release, but this one seems to have grown quite a bit since it’s appearance on tour. Once again, the band utilizes long, atmospheric builds in its first few minutes and goes through sections of rise and fall, each more complex and creative than the last. Every element really works together here with Maynard’s performance being one of his best on the record, Adam and Justin’s interplay flowing fantastically, and Danny Carey playing drums with a skill and speed that genuinely seems like it shouldn’t be impossible.

The record continues with “Culling Voices,” and a large portion of this track is surprisingly calm. The opening minutes are a fun listen as the clean guitars and simple chords under Maynard’s tight vocal runs feel almost like a calm in the storm, but this doesn’t last forever, of course. When the track finally crescendoes into its big finish, it’s one of the best on the record. Adam’s central guitar riff is simply fantastic and the thunderous drum and bass combo near the close brings the song to yet another overwhelming wave of music.

“Chocolate Chip Trip,” is an interesting inclusion on the record. The track itself is simply a Danny Carey drum solo which seems to have been workshopped across several tours as the first part of the band’s encore and, while we will of course discuss the drum work, it’s worth pointing out that the backing track, composed of a buzzing, sci-fi groove is the perfect backdrop for Carey’s style. The drumming itself is, as expected, remarkable. On first listen, the flashy fills and inconceivably fast rolls will catch the ear of most listeners, but after revisiting, it’s Danny’s creative timings and unconventional beat placement that will have me coming back again and again.

Finally, there is “7empest.” The 15 minute odyssey closes the album and it becomes clear quite early that this is what we’ve waited for. There isn’t a moment of down time here. Maynard’s vocals harken back to the Aenima era as he angrily growls the confrontational lyrics, Justin’s bass is rattles away with intensity, and Danny Carey’s drumming is, once again, jawdropping, but we simply must talk about Adam Jones on this track. “7empest,” is, without a doubt, the masterwork of Adam’s career as his guitar drives every second of the track with biting leads which layer over each other for a cacophonous tidal wave of sound. There isn’t a second of this track which isn’t filled by Jones’ fantastic lead guitar and it makes the perfect finale to a perfect LP.

Is it possible for an album to live up to 13 years of hype? I’m not sure. This album has meant something different to many people and everyone will experience the record differently. That being said, as far as I’m concerned, this is everything I could’ve hoped for. As a dedicated Tool fan for the majority of my life, I couldn’t ask for much better. The long track lengths could easily have been filled with wasted space, but instead, every track is an event in of itself with long builds, breathtaking climaxes, and perfectly paced movements and each of the four members sound as fantastic as we’ve ever heard them.

Tool is back, and it was well worth the wait.

10/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB