It’s pretty rare to come across an album that’s so incredible, it fundamentally changes how you think of music. So infrequent, in fact, I can list mine here, without taking too much of your time–so I will. Here they are, in order.
A fundamental change you say–but howwwwww??
I can’t answer that in a small amount of words. I can’t answer much of anything in a small amount of words. So I’ll explain with a large amount of words instead. Sorry.
Act II certainly doesn’t lack for ambition. Even that’s downplaying it, with fifteen songs over a run-time of an hour and seventeen minutes–but the amount of music here is about the least impressive thing about it. The impressive thing is the quality. Just take a listen to the first song–literally within a second, it’s already apparent something different is going on:
At this point, okay, that might’ve been a fluke–that was only 38 seconds of music, after all. It does then kick into what could be an intense, but fairly traditional post-rock tune called The Procession. And yeah, that’s the vibe for much of the song, but really, no it isn’t. For one, I bet you wouldn’t expect xylophone and glockenspiel in the verses. The choruses keep the energy up, but the backing vocals throughout keep the song tethered to some alternate reality that’s somehow simultaneously a combination of turn-of-the-century, circa the 1900s and 2000s.
It goes on like this for however much of the hour and seventeen minutes are left at this point. I don’t know, get off my back, I’m not into math. But really, you can’t boil it down to something so simple. I mean I can’t, since I guess I’m the one who’s doing the boiling in this metaphor.
Here’s the thing about this album…yeah, the thing the title of this blog post inquires about…the vocals. The vocals on Act II are just kind of stupid good. Like, if these vocals were a punch in the dick, I’d respectfully request to be punched in the dick. A lot. The melodies are catchy as fuck, despite staying a minimum of two full rural counties away from trite, at all times. The lyrics are fantastic too. It’s the second concept album in a series of concept albums about a boy (literally called “The Boy”)–Act II is about, well…Wikipedia sums it up better than I ever could…
But yeah, back to the lyrics…they’re great. In Act II the boy is growing up and learning about love, and goddamn if it doesn’t nail what it means to be an emotional adolescent IN LOVE. The album came out during the height of the whole screamo thing in the mid-00’s, and Casey Crescenzo (lead singer and mastermind of the project) channels a lot of that overwrought energy in Act II–but it works really well here. If I’m honest, this is the album that taught me that emo doesn’t have to be utter trash–and I’m honest. Again, there’s scarcely a hint of cliche to be found in the lyrics, even at the most tender moments, or those dealing with intense heartbreak and betrayal. “She wore a summer smile, with winter skin”, or “I was pulling out my heart, so I could pin it to my sleeve…on display for you to see, I’m on display.” Yes, very emo. But also it feels right.
The Bitter Suite 1 and 2: Meeting Ms. Leading and Through The Dime–this track takes two minutes and forty-two seconds to get to the first chorus, but every second to that point is pure fire. And the chorus is super double fire.
By now I’m hoping you’ve clicked the little arrow thingy to play some of these videos, so you should have an idea that it’s not just the lyrics and vocals that make this album so goddamn good. I touched a little on some of the unexpected instrumentation on a rock album. But it’s a progressive rock concept album, so maybe that’s not too surprising. I know the fact that there are guitars, bass, and drums on the album, isn’t. But maybe choo-choo train sounds are?
I grew up on songs that revolved around great riffs, so a strong preference for riff-based rock is sort of hard-wired into my brain…but Act II is…not that. There aren’t many standout guitar riffs on this thing, and it’s better for it. If you’d told me that before I’d ever heard the album, I’d have pointed a finger into your chest and said “fuck you, Carl, stop wasting my time”. I’m glad you didn’t do that. In fact, thank you, Carl. I love this album.
That’s not to say Act II lacks for great guitar work. It is a rock album, after all. It’s just that the guitars here (and all the other instrumentation) are almost always focused on supporting the vocals and the narrative of the story, and they rarely take center stage. There are of course exceptions. Gotta showcase those tasty guitar HOTT LIXX if you want to prove you’re legit ROCKERS, after all.
Vocals and guitars aside, the other thing that gets me about Act II is just how well everything flows. There’s not a single awkward transition to be found, and one could argue the entire album is one enormous transition. That whole choo-choo thing earlier? Perfect example. There’s a natural ebb and flow that injects a sense of life into Act II–it breathes, somehow.
The dynamics and contrast here–crucial support beams for the aforementioned flow–ensure that there’s always something interesting going on. An album of this length isn’t sustainable with anything less. Wall-of-sound rock gives way to tender, sweeping orchestral motifs, with expertly arranged harmonies serving as the anchor that bridges the gap. If you’d never heard about The Dear Hunter, and I told you about a band doing schmaltzy orchestral emo, no one would fault your skepticism. Well, someone might, but I wouldn’t. Carl.
So that’s it–that’s what it is about The Dear Hunter–Act II – The Meaning of, & All Things Regarding Ms. Leading. The melodies are novel, the harmonies are beautiful, the instrumentation will surprise you, the arrangement is dynamic, and basically the whole thing is just fucking bonkers in the best possible way. Okay, I guess this managed to turn itself into a 15-years-too-late album review. Either way, if you like your music the way you like your Jack Handey thoughts, you should check out the whole damn album, instead of just clicking around a bunch of dumb YouTube clips posted in some dumb idiot’s blog.
Oh, don’t forget–take good care of yourselves and your pets.