Here goes another review. This time I take Quietdrive’s new EP for a spin, which will actually be the first rock/alternative review we’ve had since re-launching as a .com.
I’ve had a whirlwind romance with Quietdrive, having been introduced to them a little over a year ago. At the time, I was fully back into hip-hop, so for these guys to pull me back towards alternative music was a testament to the quality of their music. Alternative heads will be clicking on I’m sure, but I recommend that urban music followers give this a read too. Isn’t that the whole point of this site?
It’s unfortunate that the alternative genre, especially in the UK, has degenerated into ‘who can sing the catchiest chorus with an accent?’. There’s been a general starvation of a well-rounded sound since the Klaxons emerged, as bands come with offers of one or two good qualities but lack others. Although this isn’t necessarily a band-for-band comparison (Quietdrive and the Klaxons are extremely different) it’s indicative of a wider trend which spreads to the rock/punk genre. Bands are becoming increasingly overrated because of their heavy focus on one particular aspect of their music (see: Kings of Leon choruses) and ignoring the idea of becoming a great all-round group.
To do that, you need to progress both creatively and musically. Your verses need some meaning, and your choruses need to be memorable. Most importantly however, you need to know what your core audience is asking for, and deliver it. A criticism I saw in some reviews (that I personally thought was massively exaggerated. It’s not like they started rapping and using AutoTune) that was frequently levelled at Quietdrive after the release of their second album was that it was ‘too experimental’, and that it had strayed too far from the sound of the first (Personally, I enjoyed the album). Thankfully, for them and us, Close Your Eyes is easily one of the finest examples in recent memory of striking that balance between your personal creativity, progression, and what the fans want.
The happy medium they’ve struck between When All That’s Left Is You and Deliverance is immediate from the off. Jessica, which we premiered here, has the tempo switch and positive tint that Deliverance came with, but with the atmospherics and more rock-sound that WATLIY had. It probably wavers more towards Deliverance, which in terms of sequencing makes perfect sense in order to bring familiarity and consistency when transitioning from one release to the other. It’s a bouncy, sing-along track which is undeniably infectious and provides an uptempo introduction to their latest effort.
The tempo slows down a little for Just My Heart, which is a contender for my favourite track from this EP. Deliverance was occasionally difficult to read, in terms of figuring out what the mood/direction of the track was, but this track combines with the first to display a more focused, direct approach to the sound they’re trying to create. The verses are delivered superbly, with the guitars and drums toned down to bring the best out of Kevin Truckenmiller’s voice. The production all begins to progress towards the end of the verse, and culminates in a big, booming chorus. It’s a nice back-and-forth, which adds the perfect measurement of variety in the track to make it extremely replayable. It’s a funny thing, but the backing vocals for the last minute or so of the track really help set the mood for the outro, and move from a borderline-falsetto into more relaxed tones to bring the track to a nice close.
Call Me Up doesn’t quite have the epic feel of the previous track, but sequentially speaking is an important track to have. It brings things back down to a level that lets you breathe a tad, and brings a pop-rock feel to the EP. It’s very close to the Deliverance material, although I must admit it’s not close to the stronger material on that album. It offers a smooth transition into the next track, but on a short EP I’m not sure that is the intention. It’s a weaker track from the EP, but is certainly recovered by the following track. It’s A Shame is something very different from Quietdrive, and it pleased me to find it difficult to place in terms of the whole 1st album/2nd album comparison. It’s got elements of both, and it has a superb mix of a few newer elements thrown in. The guitars vary from airy plucks in the short verses to some heavier elements, which tie into the Truckenmiller’s superb switches in his vocals. It’s the kind of track that will hit you from the off as being a bit special, and although it’s not a lyrical triumph, it’s a catchy and exuberant display of the kind of quality material these guys can put out.
Lottery is a slower track, which unlike the previous track, brings a little more with its words. It’s not necessarily that it’s a metaphor-laced, lyrical intricacy but it’s lyrics are decent and they’re delivered very well. The band certainly enhance this effect by maintaining the focused sound: On Deliverance, there were occasions were the guitars and drums felt completely omitted, but here they’ve simply toned them down and brought them back appropriately which creatively (and musically) speaking marks a significant progression in being able to control the mood of exactly what they want to create without having to go to extremes. Into The Ocean further attests to this musical progression as they keep it organic with using acoustic guitars to deliver atmosphere. The drums and the rest of the production are brought in appropriately to build upon that atmosphere and deliver a very memorable performance. The nearest I can come to comparing this to another Quietdrive track is Rush Together, whereby everything seems to build and culminate into one superb climax. It doesn’t quite have the instant classic impact of Rush Together, but it’s certainly a very strong song, and one which fans of the first album will be thankful for.
The EP closes with What A Life, which has more than a hint of regret sprinkled over it, creating a bittersweet element to the track. It’s probably the strongest track lyrically too, with some very poignant references and lines: Even the chorus’ opening line is one which will certainly make you think a little. I can’t say I’m too big on the bridge of the track, as it doesn’t seem to quite fit the track, but it does help make the last verse a little bit more defiant and adds a sense of hope in a poor situation.
I suppose the lingering question is ‘what will previous fans think?’. Well, it depends which end of the spectrum you lay on: If you were more a fan of Deliverance, you’re probably going to enjoy most of the tracks individually, but might struggle to appreciate it as an entire body of work from start to finish. Fans of the first album should find themselves re-acquainted with the Quietdrive they fell for initially, whilst being gently nudged towards their budding creativity.
For both new and old fans however, the key to this EP is how the variety in the tracks is almost disguised. Listening to What A Life, and then skipping back to It’s A Shame will display how they’re incredibly different tracks. Yet, in the sequence of the EP, it feels like a natural progression which is a credit to the band: they’ve managed to fit in a few different creative ideas and make it all musically cohesive enough to work. It makes the EP extremely easy to listen to the whole way through, regardless of the individual strength of each track. However, the EP does lack the one ‘killer’ song that may have converted a lot of non-believers. It appears to be more an approach of consistency rather than the impact effect.
So, the second key point was musical and creative progression? Tick that off, as they’ve achieved an awful lot with this short EP. They’ve demonstrated the ability to control exactly the type of atmospheres that they want to create with tracks, whilst remaining a little fun with others, and they’ve achieved this whilst attempting to keep their varied fanbase happy. It’s a massively respectable display of a band attempting to cover all bases and hence improve their all-round qualities. There are improvements to come, of course, but it’s a step in the right direction which is a welcome move in a genre full of singular focus.