Act III: Life And Death

The Dear Hunter

Triple Crown Records, 2009

http://www.thedearhunter.com

REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/09/2012

We now reach Life And Death, the third act in The Dear Hunter’s continuing saga of things happening in a story I can’t quite piece together. This time around it follows the protagonist’s time as a soldier during a war, and near the end the plot takes a twist when the main character takes the place of a fallen soldier after the war. That’s a genuinely interesting plot development. So that’s a mild thumbs up in the lyrics department.

The amount of garish vocal yelling and over-emoting in general is curbed by a significant degree on this record. The few times Casey Cresenzo yells on this album actually feel earned now that he isn’t doing it on every second line. Act III is 20 minutes shorter than Act II, and focuses more on songs instead of being loud and exciting. But despite featuring improvements in all of those areas, Act III still falls short. Previously, bad Dear Hunter songs were usually ruined by one avoidable thing or another, whether it was an overcooked vocal, a bombastic arrangement, or excessive length, but the songs themselves were still good. This time around, the songwriting is weak. Not awful by any means, just dull. The Dear Hunter has eliminated many of their weaknesses but they haven’t replaced them with any strengths, and the result is a bland album.

Only a small handful of tracks come close to being as melodically strong as the second half of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Act II. “Saved” features a gentle piano and picked guitar intertwining to back the best ballad on the album. It might have been even stronger had the band focused on the folk elements inherent in the song instead of building it up into a wall of harmonies, but it’s lovely nonetheless. “This Beautiful Life” has some very strong tunes at both its start and partway through, but doesn’t make the most of it, instead switching to a more rocking but less memorable approach for much of its length. A slightly missed opportunity, but a mild highlight nonetheless. “Go Get Your Gun” is nearly a country song, and one I was a little skeptical of at first since it initially seemed like a generic war anthem. But it quickly reveals itself to be smarter than it seems painting a picture of the futility of war from the perspective of those who are in the midst of enduring it. Its chorus features the strongest hook on the album, and its bouncy banjo rhythm grabs my attention immediately.

The album ends with a trio of rather dull tracks. Lyrically, they’re among their best yet, forming the emotional climax of the album. But musically we get slow tempos and only a couple tunes that might stick with the listener (one of which is a reprise of the cute piano melody featured near the end of Act II).

This record does have some solid material, but the majority of it sounds decent when it’s on and slips out of my ears when it’s over. Many of these songs have moments that make my ears perk up, mainly in the production (which is the band’s most varied yet) and arrangements. A novel instrument will pop in for a few moments, a really tightly performed instrumental section will twist about in the foreground, and fun arrangement quirks are spread all around. But they’re all in service of songs that are just okay, and it amounts to a shrug of the shoulders in the end.

Having an overarching goal can really help with focus, but it can also fatigue; and it feels like the latter has begun to set in. The initial burst of inspiration that birthed Acts I and II has drifted away, and this record sounds like the product of someone desperate to burst out of the shell that he created for himself, but content to continue plugging away at the project he’s committed himself to completing.

Supposedly, six “Acts” in this series were planned but Crescenzo has yet to follow this record up with Act IV, preferring to focus on writing music free from this concept. There’s no telling yet whether he’s just taking a break from it, or if he’s left it behind for good. Either way, it’s a change I welcome with open arms since despite making some positive musical progressions, Act III finds The Dear Hunter feeling lackluster and tired.

Rating: C+

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© 2012 Ken DiTomaso and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Triple Crown Records, and is used for informational purposes only.