Act I: The Lake South, The River North

The Dear Hunter

Triple Crown Records, 2006

http://www.thedearhunter.com

REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/17/2012

The Dear Hunter is a band founded and led by songwriter Casey Crescenzo. They play a style I would describe as a combination of post-hardcore and emo, with progressive rock elements. Now, I generally dislike anything that could be described in some way as being “emo,” but there’s something that intrigues me about reviewing a group that plays a genre that doesn’t necessarily appeal to me. So it’s with some trepidation that I dive into this band’s discography.

Act I: The Lake South, The River North is the band’s debut album and it is, as you may surmise by its unwieldy title, a concept album. Actually, it’s the first part of a multi-album conceptual cycle. Apparently there are supposed to be six acts in this series, each one furthering the story of a boy known only as the Dear Hunter. This first act tells of his birth and childhood, and about his mother, a prostitute named... wait for it... Ms. Terri (groan). Beyond that I couldn’t tell you a single thing about what actually happens in the plot here because the lyrics fly by fast and often make no sense whatsoever. Reading them out of context doesn’t help either, since most of the lyrics read like the poetic ramblings of a teenager who believes he can write emotionally powerful prose despite lacking any real life experiences.

Casey’s vocals are a big sticking point for me. When he’s belting loudly, nearly every line is sung with an overwhelming, nearly shouting passion that frankly, gets exhausting. And when he’s singing softly, it edges too close to “whiny” for comfort. There’s nothing at all wrong with putting emotion into your singing, but these vocals are too over-dramatic for my liking. There just isn’t any subtlety. On top of that his voice isn’t very distinctive; I’ve heard hundreds of guys with voices just like his. However, I don’t hold that against him too much, since not everybody can be blessed with a unique sounding voice.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

I’m not fond of the production style The Dear Hunter uses either. It feels hollow and nondescript. Every sound on this album sounds like it originates from the inside of a medium-sized cardboard box in the middle of the room. The album is reasonably diverse, yet paradoxically, when I think about it after, I can’t shake the feeling that most of the songs pretty much sounded the same.

However, once you get past the album’s many flaws, Casey Crescenzo reveals himself to be a fairly good songwriter, and that alone saves the record. “City Escape” quickly cycles through numerous different sections, going for different atmospheres within each, yet the song still manages to hold together. “1878” has an obnoxious chorus, but the syncopated 7/8 drum beat in the verse is enough to draw me in, and halfway through it gives way to a pretty tasty Hammond organ solo. The other tracks are more bland and forgettable, but never sink low enough that I could call them boring.

Ultimately, my favourite moments on the album are its least typical, namely the two intro tracks “Battesimo Del Fuoco,” and “The Lake South.” The former is an a capella song with the best vocal harmonies on the album (as much as I take issue with the lead singing, there’s a definite Beach Boys influence in the backing vocal arrangements, which I have no problem with), and the latter is a lovely horn-led waltz that reminds me of something Sufjan Stevens might have done.

This album does have one more advantage: brevity. If you subtract the intro and outro tracks, you’re left with barely 30 minutes worth of proper songs. There are only five tracks taking up those 30 minutes, which means the average length is pretty long, but nevertheless, the album is over before you know it. So despite featuring a style that could potentially get old fast, the disc doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Even taking into account the generic emo vocals, the cardboard production, the stupid lyrical concept, and the general feeling that this kind of album has been done before many times, I can’t shake the fact that the songs are still pretty decent, which is enough to sway me in a favorable manner towards The Dear Hunter’s first record.

Rating: B-

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