Mouth of the Architect
2/9/2009 - Review by: Etiam
In 2006, when Mouth of the Architect released 'The Ties That Blind', the soundscape genre was already waning. With dozens of bands churned out structurally identical 10-minute climaxes, soundscape's limited boundaries were soon reached, exploited, and rehashed. Nonetheless, MOTA's sophomore album was a surprising success full of vitality and character that was enhanced, rather than limited by, the genre's stylistic constraints. Two years later, MOTA looked to resuscitate the scene (or at least their place in it) once more with 'Quietly', their third LP since forming in 2003.
No mean feat the first time around, MOTA's task was even more challenging in 2008, as the scene had become more stagnant and audiences were trending away. Most problematic of all is that 'Quietly' rarely brings the band's A-game, and though not without its highlights, the album is hindered by an inconsistency in songwriting and stylistic identity. Exhibit A is the album's single, 'Hate and Heartache', which begins with a 'Network' sample of the belligerent and manic news anchor-cum-apocalyptic prophet Howard Beale. Such a spot is unexpected for MOTA, or any band in this genre, as soundscape metal and blatant political/social disillusionment don't usually coincide. What's more, though it is certainly heavy in its own right, the majority of 'Quietly' can't reflect Beale's fervence.
In fact, 'Quietly' doesn't reflect the MOTA we knew, either, most obviously in the distinctly post-rock aesthetic of the packaging. Leaving behind the bold lines and colors of 'The Ties...' (or the even more baroque 'Time and Withering'), 'Quietly' features a hodgepodge of pencil-sketched animals, a cursive font, and is pervasively grey. This theme makes its way into the music as well, drawing down some of their tremendous weight and supplanting it at times with musing melancholy. Towards this end, Julie Christmas of Made Out Of Babies guests on 'Generation of Ghosts'. Her lilting voice is an effective counterpoint to Jason Watkin's belly-shriek, and focuses the album's intermittent theme of tranquility. MOTA's penchant for massive riffing remains, however, and consistently has trouble conveying the necessary delicacy of melancholy. Concurrently, MOTA haven't integrated enough expressive melodies into 'Quietly' for the transformation to be complete, so much of the album exists in an inconclusive middle ground. Their riffs continue to be based on straight-strumming, reverb-heavy tremolo, or hypnotic strophes, and are consistently less engaging than those from 'The Ties...'. The result is a soundscape album that works against convention: most songs progressively becoming less interesting as they unfold, not going much of anywhere. Contributing to this are a number of filler interludes, either independent tracks or intros, that support but do not improve the album's atmosphere.
MOTA's adapting style has been implemented more effectively--albeit slightly--in the vocal department, and not only through the help of Ms. Christmas. 'Rocking Chairs and Shotguns', aside from featuring snappy staccatos around 16th notes, has vocal harmonies and layers more dynamic than standard MOTA. Although this track is one of 'Quietly's standouts, its heart-on-sleeve-of-my-V-neck attitude brings them closer to The Pax Cecilia than Isis--terrain on which MOTA do not yet have reliable footing. For now, their strength still lies in the balance between the eerie chromatic sway of 'Guilt and the Like' and the cantankerous crush of 'A Beautiful Corpse', where MOTA's heaviness of old is reprised in style. Here, the amplifier crunch of low notes and guitar wails at octaves above recall a burlier, angrier MOTA as the unsupported vocal refrain "sweeter than honey and lies" ushers out the audience. (It's also made very clear that 'Quietly' surpasses 'The Ties...' in its production, with its clarity and muscular low end that stops short of bass overload.) At last, MOTA realizes the malcontent of Beale, of those "mad as hell", that we have been waiting on all album. Unfortunately, 'Quietly' takes so much time in rising to that anger that, at the final moments, its payoff is ironically anticlimactic.
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