The Ongoing Concept, now on to their third album, is a band that was made up of three brothers and a childhood friend. Since the second album released, two of the brothers and the friend have left Dawson Scholz (on, apparently, good terms) to record their third effort, Places. Their brand of progressive post-hardcore/metalcore/heavy, fast and occasionally screamy music, has in the past been pretty great.
Places, on the other hand, is alright.
The lead single, “You Will Go”, is good. It represents a departure from their usual sound, but not an unhappy one, with hooky clean guitar ostinatos being layered over unusually subdued verses and the best chorus on the album. It’s not as progressive as some of their past singles perhaps were, but it’s a great listen for when you want something interesting but light to rock out to.
The rest of the album can sometimes get nondescript, but there are enjoyable moments! The synths on “Shake It” and “Punisher” stand out as parts I could actually remember well enough to sing back to you, and Dawson Scholz’s voices shines throughout. He has three voices: melodic, screaming, and a rare kind of harmonic screaming that is best described as … having the ability to scream chords. It’s lovely to listen to. And, there’s a sort of glee that comes from finding the weird glitches they have thrown in their production on “The Print” and “Off the Cuff”.
The Ongoing Concept have a habit, though, of playing grinds as verses around a catchy chorus – and the catchy chorus’ have a habit of being one (or, on special occasions, two) repeated, melodically sung lines. See “The Print”, “Owe Me”, and “Punisher” for examples, and “Bargain” for another one line chorus, this time surrounded by the appearance of a piano. This seems to be an attempt at creating light and darkness, but rather creates songs where you have to trudge through to get to the good idea that made it worth being on the album.
The exception to this is “Domesticated”, a rocky jazz song. Walking bass lines and horns under heavy distorted guitars, a la The Diablo Swing Orchestra, is always hilarious, and this song is graced by two catchy one line choruses repeated throughout. It is also the set up for one of the references to their back catalog, with lines from “Saloon” being revisited. It is nice to see that The Ongoing Concept has some form of ongoing concept between albums, yet I cannot help but rather that I was listening to “Saloon” than “Domesticated”. When comparing the lead single “You Will Go” with the lead singles from their previous works, Places just seems to be less experimental, and to have less heart behind it, than their last two albums.
There is the occasional odd mixing choice. Everything distorted, including Scholz’s fairly unique voice, is mixed and produced well. This album is nothing if not tight. That said, the clean guitars on “You Will Go” – with lush reverb and well produced in themselves – do not feel like they really belong above the distorted guitar of the chorus. I am glad that they are there – they fit incredibly well into the beat – but, perhaps because they are so repetitive, they sound more like a sample that has been layered over the top than a part of the song itself. Or, in a slightly more plausible chain of events, like someone sat with their guitar, played the song, recorded some clean parts to add to it, and then didn’t properly mix it in.
“Bargain” suffers from a similar issue, with the clean guitar and the piano of the verses turning slightly muddy. The two parts do not complement each other, are played at similar volumes, and seem to compete for your attention in a way that manages to take away from the enjoyment of both.
My overwhelming reaction to this album has been that these are songs that rock, but which do not leave much of an impression when, or after, you listen to them. This album is less experimental and hyper than previous records, and more like straightforward rock than in the past. It will probably stay on my iPod for a while, because it is not a bad album. Nothing other than “You Will Go” is likely to get listened to, though.
Notable tracks: “You Will Go”; “Domesticated”
FFO: The Crooked Sound, I The Breather, Currents