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The Dear Hunter - Act III: Life And Death CD (album) cover

ACT III: LIFE AND DEATH

The Dear Hunter

 

Crossover Prog

4.04 | 286 ratings

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Gallifrey
4 stars Act III: Life and Death, as the title suggests, is the third and latest part in Casey Crescenzo's forever-on-hold Dear Hunter project, a concept release detailing some over-the-top story about prostitutes (or something), which was planned to be released over six albums. But the truth of the matter is that ambition is often a double-edged sword, as Casey obviously realised after the completion of this record. The overblown concept would take nearly a decade of writing music around it, all done in the same operatic indie rock style. And in the making of Act II: The Meaning of, and All Things Regarding Ms. Leading, Casey made the rather ridiculous decision to make it a double album, stretching out not only the concept, but his ability to write music of that style. And it wasn't a great payoff. Act II, despite having some obviously solid moments, drowned itself in filler nearly to the brim, with Casey doing The Dear Hunter-by-numbers and filling every song with as many elements from Act I: The Lake South, the River North as possible, but without creating any memorable or notable melodies or themes, to the point where they are so forgettable that many of the highlights of Act II were the reprises of parts of Act I.

So I guess it's a bit surprising that Act III is any good at all. I mean, Casey essentially drained himself dry in the second part, and if what I've heard is true, he actually wrote two hours of music for that album. Part three was necessary only because he promised it, but at this point his promise of six albums was looking as silly as Sufjan's promise of all fifty states (and the same deal goes - he could have done it if he had written shorter releases, but instead he ran out of steam writing 140 fucking minutes worth for Illinois). But Act III is definitely a better release from The Dear Hunter, and actually did breathe a bit of life back into the Acts saga with some motifs and tracks as memorable as the few that were on Act I. The music here is far more consistent and less wandering, and it definitely shows that Casey has sat down and tried to make each song a bit more memorable - a strong chorus, a nice string part - just to keep the flow of the album up.

But at the same time, the parts that make this album good are also what bring it down a bit. Because let's face it - The Dear Hunter have an insanely unique style. It's a wonderful blend of indie rock with connotations of progressive and art rock. It's poppy and sweet but dashed with strings and horns and lavish Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies, and crispened out by some angular math rock and occasional post-hardcore influenced Claudio Sánchez-isms in the vocals. And yet, as cool and unique as that sounds, it does get rather tiring and predictable after a while. That was certainly Act II's downfall, and it's still here, but in a less noticeable capacity. I admit to liking every track here to a certain extent, yet I can't really push this album much higher than a 7 in my score system, because there are certainly moments when I just sigh out of boredom. It's difficult to explain, but it's the sort of sense of knowing that "The Writing on the Wall" would lead into some bombastic riff coated in horns and Casey wailing in his indie/post- hardcore croon. Many of these tracks feel like I've heard them before, even if I haven't, because this style of songwriting becomes so predictable so fast.

The hooks here are definitely the album's leading selling point, with most of the songs boasting at least one wonderful melody, from the upbeat and fun lines on "What it Means to Be Alone" and "The Poison Woman" to the melancholy of the last few tracks to even some hardcore-tinged anger like on "He Said He Had A Story". That particular song is an interesting one, being the only track with lyrics potent enough to imprint them in my brain. On first few listens, that really seems to be the biggest thing going for the track, but I can now say that the massive screaming of "WHAT WAS YOUR NAME" is now one of my favourite moments on the record (although the backing vocals are pretty damn cringeworthy with them narrating the scene, but I guess it evens out). However there are some tracks here that really seem to lean on the hooks an awful lot - "Mustard Gas" being a particular example. The opening is majestic and grand, reminding me of both Queen and Muse (with less annoying vocalists of course), and bringing the mood of the album up immensely, but aside from a few great string/horn arrangements, the rest of the song just doesn't live up to the intro.

In terms of differences between this and its predecessors, the post-hardcore is definitely down and the Beach Boys are definitely up. Nearly every one of these songs has some kind of vocal harmony involved, and they are pretty great, even if the source is pretty obvious. The hook on "This Beautiful Lie" revolves entirely around a "babababaaaaa" sort of melody, and along with the opener "The Writing on the Wall", Casey really showcases the dark and moody side of pop harmonies. Another noticeable trait of this record is the absence of longer tracks, and a general lack of prog and math rock connotations. "The Thief" is in 5/4 most of the time, and "In Cauda Venenum" has some pretty mathy twists to that bombastic opening riff, but throughout most of this album Casey focuses more on the art rock and chamber side, with massive emphasis on instrumentation and layering. Oftentimes, the strings and horns will take the lead far above the guitar, showing influence from baroque pop, jazz and chamber music (and even a bit of Streetlight Manifesto-influenced ska in the aforementioned "In Cauda Venenum"). This is a softer and more melodic album, but it is still quirky enough to define it from the melodic indie pop/rock that the band would go into on Migrant.

This isn't the last Dear Hunter record, of course, but both The Colour Spectrum and Migrant are a bit removed from this style of bombastic and horn-driven indie rock, and really act as Casey Crescenzo solo releases more than part of the band concept. But Act III is the last of the Acts series, even though it was supposed to be the third of six, and I'm glad for it. I know many bands who have written the same record decades over and never seem to get bored with it, but Casey is different. Hell, it's only been five years since this album and he's already onto Romantic-era symphony worship. This is a man who does not want to stay in a place for too long, and returning to the Acts would only bring about more duds. In my honest opinion, even though I like this record, it should have ended after the incredible Act I, but at least this one acts as a bit of an apology for that dreary second part. It's not a complete end to the story, and some perfectionists will be a bit mad, but I'm happy that Casey has left this behind. If you're coming here for music or a recommendation, I'd send you to Act I first, and then come here if you're dying for more. A solid album no doubt, and a good farewell to a (mostly) good concept series.

7.5

Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog

Gallifrey | 4/5 |

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