(c) 2016 EMP Music
- Bastard Sons
- Trigger Finger
- Best Is Yet To Come
- Run The Tank Out
- This Is Life
- He Took Beautiful Away
- We All Die Alone
- On And On
- Holding On: Letting Go
Clinton Cunanan--Vocals, Guitars
Adam Hall--Bass, Backing Vocals
Jorge Sotomarino--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Nathan Walker--Drums, Backing Vocals
Evolution is a process; it doesn't happen overnight. Or at least it shouldn't. Sure, sometimes bands "evolve" musically seemingly from album to album, but these "evolutions" are usually just massive shifts in musical style and philosophy, or outright genre jumping. But these aren't the types of evolution that North Carolina-based rockers Another Lost Year have experienced over the past couple of years. No, we are talking solid, honest-to-goodness musical growth that is a natural progression from what was already an above average band. But where Alien Architect finds the band in 2016 is leaps and bounds beyond where they left us with their last full-length studio effort, Better Days, and their breakout radio hit, "War On The Inside".
Evolution for this band starts with a change in members, first and foremost. Cunanan and Hall remain from the last album, but Sotomarino and Walker have climbed aboard the Another Lost Year train. Also new for the band is Dave Ellefson's EMP Music Group label, as the Megadeth bassist obviously liked what he heard from the band and threw in with the lot. The results of having a big name and a high quality studio behind the music is nothing short of amazing on this record as everything is bigger, bolder, thicker, and punchier in the recording this time around, giving additional bounce and life to each of these songs.
But in the end, it is the songs themselves that have evolved the most. The songwriting here is nothing short of stellar, in my opinion. At times deeply personal, introspective, angry, hopeful, and every possible combination of these and other emotions, the self-described "Freedom Rock" songs here have a life of their own, yet meld together flawlessly to create a nearly perfect musical landscape. As good as "War On The Inside" was and is, songs like "Run The Tank Out", "Trigger Finger", and "He Took Beautiful Away" simply blow that hit single away. From the first time I heard the lead single, "Wolves", I went on record and stated that it was going to take something MASSIVE to knock that song from the Best Song of 2016 position for me. And wouldn't you know it...it's Another Lost Year themselves that attempt to do just that! How? Where? Hang on, I'm getting there.
First off...the one lone weak spot for me. The intro. There is absolutely NO SECRET about my disdain for intros/outros, and nothing changes here. So, that is a definite strike for any album when I have to auto-skip the very first track...but at least it is a separate track and not part of an actual song. Okay, now that that is out of the way...
Lead single "Wolves" comes screaming out of the gate, setting the tone and attitude for the rockers on this album from the word "go". Punchy rhythm guitars and thundering drums just crush from the start, drawing Cunanan's soulful vocals forward as he challenges the listener "I'm giving you one last chance to run like hell before I come"! Hall's backing vocals are the perfect match for Cunanan's on the chorus harmonies as both men possess soaring tenors of great power and depth, and the song is just relentless in its catchiness and snares your attention with multiple hooks, both vocal and instrumental. Months later, this is still the best song I have heard in 2016...
"Bastard Sons" picks up right where "Wolves" abruptly ends, with more chunky rhythm guitars and some nice, thick bass work, along with a blistering solo from Sotomarino that leads into the final bridge and chorus of the song. Once again, Cunanan's voice soars through this track and easily glides over the backdrop of buzzsaw guitars, churning bass lines, and some catchy drum patterns.
"Trigger Finger" showcases an energy and urgency that is missing from so much of the modern hard rock scene today as everyone seemingly sounds the same now. Not the case with this song, which has some nice tempo changes that really highlight Walker's skill behind the skins, and which give the guitars little windows which they can use to perform almost mini-breakdowns at the end of the choruses before ripping wide open once again. There's some funky bass work here, also, that gives further life to this crunchy number that additionally sports some cool jack-hammer snare and a ringing fret run of a guitar solo.
"Best Is Yet To Come" is the first time the album even allows you to take even a slight breather, but don't imagine that we have backed off into ballad territory, for that is simply not the case. The track starts off starkly with just Cunanan and an acoustic guitar, then Hall chimes in with his harmony vocals, giving the track a tease of balladry, but the guitars come ringing in shortly thereafter, bumping the energy forward without pushing the pedal down past mid-tempo, speed-wise. It reminds me a lot of the track "Better Days" from their previous album, at least as far as style and tempo.
"Run The Tank Out" is another piece of musical brilliance about youth, growing up, and making memories for a new generation. Heck, by conjuring up lyrical images of Jack and Dianne (look it up if you need to, kids...) for THIS generation with lines such as "my hand between your legs and your arm around my neck" and "stars light the path so I know it's right, turn the headlights up and run the tank out tonight", this song could've been part of the sound track of MY youth growing up in the country with seemingly nothing to do on those long, hot summer nights. The song incorporates just enough reverb on Cunanan's vocals to give them a ringing, haunting quality that further adds to the nostalgic essence of the track, and the rhythm is simple-yet-catchy as it drives you down that dusty country road of your soul. Love this song and it is easily a top three track for me!
I could go on and on about each and every song here, as there are no bad ones at all. However, I feel that there is one song that still deserves extra-special mention, and that would be the hauntingly gorgeous "He Took Beautiful Away". Surprising in its initial approach, the song starts off with just a simple drum and guitar line before a mournful slide guitar comes wailing in, along with some background handclaps, setting the stage for Cunanan to spin his web of heartache from a shattered relationship. You can hear Cunanan's voice drip with ache and angst as he wrings each word of the chorus out in his rich tenor as the guitars moan perfectly in the background, adding their sorrow but not stealing anything from the lyrics.
"Memories" doesn't turn the heartache down much on the next track, but the band manages to start the slow climb from the emotional depths they pull the listener down to with "We All Die Alone", which, admittedly, doesn't sound like it's exactly shiny, happy music, either! Make no mistake, however, "We All Die Alone" adds solid, hard-edged guitars back into the mix an the tempo takes a fairly sharp jump from "Memories", but not so much so that there is an obvious jolt in the flow of the record. "On And On" is another nice rocker with a jangly guitar line under the verses, before "Holding On: Letting Go" rounds things out in fine fashion with a snappy drumbeat and some more catchy rhythm and bass guitar work bolstering Cunanan's top shelf vocals as they lead into a smoking guitar solo from Sotomarino.
It is a rare thing that I am so moved by an album that I am actually willing to repeatedly stream it, as I do NOT like to listen to audio streams, whether it is for reviewing a record or for personal consumption. I want to be able to jump all over the place, skip forward, jump back, pause, re-start, shuffle, and do any other number of things to the music I listen to. But with Alien Architect, I was more than content to be absorbed into the experience as it was being presented to me. I can't even put an accurate number on how many times I sat through this album in its entirety. Ten? A dozen? Twenty times? Its possible. But the amazing thing is that no matter how many times I played it, it still sounded fresh and it hooked me...sucked me in. I felt like I was there, a part of the music, a member of an exclusive audience that was being treated to something extra special. And, I guess in a way I was because I got the honor of hearing this expert piece of music days and weeks before the rest of the world, and all I can say is I feel sorry for those of you who have to wait. This album is as close to musical perfection as I have encountered so far this year...and it really isn't all that much of a competition.
As 2016 slides into it's sixth month, it is without hesitation that I state that Alien Architect is the album of the year at the midpoint, and it is going to take something STUNNING to knock it from its place atop the heap. It is truly that great.
Rating: Crankworthy to the extreme. Crank this to 9.5, with only the intro holding it back...and I almost wavered on that!