And so begins a new segment, in which I will listen to an album for the first time and give my impressions of said album as I go through. I will provide background information, a track by track review and then final thoughts. Enjoy!
Background – Epicloud is the most recent release from my favorite musical artist of all time, Devin Townsend. It follows up a period, which saw Devin release four albums under the Devin Townsend Project moniker. These albums ranged from the experimental (Ki), to the commercial (Addicted), to the Insane (Deconstruction), to the soft, balanced and beautiful (Ghost). Coming off the experience of writing, recording and releasing four albums in just over two years, Devin has said that Epicloud would be his most accessible album yet, featuring plenty of choirs, big poppy choruses, and once again utilize the vocal talents of Anneke van Giersbergen, formerly of The Gathering, whom previously performed on the aforementioned Addicted album.
So, my expectations coming in, based on interviews, my friend’s reviews and the small clips I have heard are pretty high. Devin Townsend is known for his ability to write extremely deep, personal and somewhat esoteric songs, so the thought of him writing a simplified “happy” sounding album is pretty appealing. I am also curious to find out if this album will continue the recent commercial success Devin has received, which is pretty new for him in his solo endeavors. Finally, this album features a re-recording of one of my favorite Devin tracks, “Kingdom.” I am not sure why he chose to re-record this and I find that its generally a bad idea, but we’ll see how I feel about this one.
And so, lets begin listening to Epicloud….
1) Effervescent! – Whoah! Starting right out of the gate with a gospel choir is a pretty unusual way to start an album. “Effervescent quality.” You have to wonder if the message is going to hit you in the face. Ok…enough with the intro, this is short and whatever, lets get to real music.
2) True North – Ok, Anneke starts us off in fine fashion here….and shit yeah! I love this intro! That was pretty excellent and much more in line with the kind of Devin intro that I’m used to. This doesn’t sound particularly more or less “Happy” than a lot of the music he wrote on the other DTP albums. Honestly, this track is starting to get pretty reminiscent of parts of Deconstruction….this is taking a pretty strange turn. If short sweet and to the point was the goal, this is not the way to achieve it….BUT WAIT, there’s the resolve back to the intro part again…ok Devin…we’re good.
3) Lucky Animals – I can tell three seconds into this song I’m not going to like it. This intro just sounds silly and I’m not impressed by the verse…and yep…the silly intro is also the chorus. This songs is pretty rare…the Devin “filler material.” Really only a couple of his albums have these kinds of songs, but they usually aren’t put so early in the album. What a strange choice for a 3rd song. I don’t know, unless something happens here, I am going to write this one off. Nope, bridge didn’t pay off either, writing this track off forever, time now. On the bright side, these songs are extremely short, so if you don’t like them, you can move on with ease.
4) Liberation – This song has a “Bend it Like Bender” feel. It is upbeat and poppy, but I would not say this is commercial in any sense. So far, this album is accessible to be sure, but I couldn’t see anything here hitting on the radio, so at least we’re safe in that regard. That chorus is pretty cool and I dig the chorus coming in here. I think this will end up being one of those songs I have to be in the mood for, but if I was in the right mood, I could bob my head along…nothing life altering though. A quarter of the way through and I’m not very impressed so far.
5) Where We Belong – This has a very old school Devin feel right off the bat…I dig this. 6/8 time too! I really really like where this is going. This verse is beautiful…please don’t let me down with this chorus…this is the kind of thing that Devin nails. HOLY SHIT IN A BOX!!!!!!!!!!!! YES. Ok, this is going to be the best song of the album…how could you top this???? This is fucking awesome! This song is every reason I feel in love with Devin’s music so long ago. This just has the feel to transcend everything and take you into a headspace where there are so many emotions and the music says everything and nothing about you at the same time. And you know what, you could play this song for someone who doesn’t even like Devin and I bet they’d dig it too…metalhead, pop, country, whatever. This is an AMAZING song.
Devin references seasons in this song too. For some reason I really connect with references to seasons and time and this song just takes me to a warm spring afternoon cruising with the windows open. Well done Devin, well done.
6) Save Our Now – Wow…this is a very cool intro. Sounds almost like modern electronica and I really dig the female vocals in the background. Now this is the song that could be commercial. If radio were worth anything, this would be a top 10 song, because it has all of the elements, down to the dance drum beat. This is the kind of song which gives me hope for pop music, because it CAN be done right. On another note, I could see drugged out Euro-trash rocking out to this one on a dance floor in Berlin. That being said, this will also be a track on this album that I come back to over and over again.
7) Kingdom – This is a disgrace. I mean honestly, there isn’t one thing better about this version. I don’t like the ridiculous vibrato when he sings the verses, I don’t like the strange timing he uses and he even messes up the bridge. This isn’t very powerful and I just can’t conceive of why this was recorded. This would have been cool on the bonus disc, but following up two great tracks…I just don’t get it…I dare you to listen to the original and tell me this is a better version of the song.
8) Divine – Ok…this intro is pretty soothing after that trainwreck. These lyrics are kind of cheesy, but I’m in Afghanistan and in no mood for sentimentalism, so I could be a little too jaded. Hmmm…that was an interesting transition track there….I think in the right mood I could enjoy it, but not really sure how it fit into the context of the album.
9) Grace – I love Anneke’s voice. So much so that I really wished I like The Gathering more, so I could enjoy her work. But I really like how Devin uses her here. WHAT???? Where did that come from? Things just got heavy as fuck all of a sudden. This little double-bass heavy progression is interesting, but I’m left wondering where its going, as there is four minutes left in the song…..
And the answer is nowhere, but in circles. This feels like another transition track, coming right after a transition track. That’s two songs in a row with no chorus. Devin does some nifty stuff in this song, but it doesn’t really take me anywhere…once again, this is a Deconstruction song with prettier vocals.
10) More! – I’m sorry…I’ve been listening to this song for two minutes and I forgot I was listening to it. Another filler track I’m afraid…..wait a minute…this bridge is pretty interesting…lets see where this goes. Damn it…nowhere again. This song really didn’t do much for me.
11) Lessons – This sounds almost exactly like “The Mighty Masturbator” off of Deconstruction…a little too much so. So, Devin ripped himself off on yet another transition track….what the hell is going on here?
12) Hold On – This intro sounds like new Iron Maiden, I dig it. And this is a great chorus!!!! Where are more songs like this? You can break this album down into songs with choruses and those without. Every song that has had a chorus has been pretty awesome and the ones that haven’t have been extremely weak. This is almost goes into Nickleback territory, but with it being Devin, its done with many more layers and is much more badass. Another great song here.
13) Angel – I’m waiting for “Like a Prayer” to break out here….cool organ intro. Massive wall of vocals! I like it! Man, once again, a song with a chorus and its done really well. This is a really cool way to go out on the album. So big. And the choir outro, huh? Well, I guess you go out the way you came in….and it all ties together, which is strange considering this album doesn’t tie together well at all. All in all a great song though.
Final Thoughts – This album seems to be all about moments, as opposed to the grand themes we are all used to with Devin albums. If I had to compare this to another Devin album, it would easily be the Ziltoid album. I guess, this is comparable to a modern rock/pop album, in that there are great songs on it and then there is filler. “Where We Belong” is going to be in my head and in my iPod for weeks.
All in all, I’m a little let down by the album, but when you set such a high bar with your previous works, that’s bound to happen. There is certainly plenty to enjoy here and I look forward to listening to this album about a hundred more times, as I continue to break this thing down. I will say, on a final note, that if you’re looking to introduce someone to Devin, this would be a great starting point, because if you give them Terria, they may not jump on board with you.
Many thanks to Richard and Virginia Hammond for hooking me up with this album while I’m over here in Afghanistan….you guys are amazing!!!!