The album kicks off with “…And Carry a Big Stick,” which wastes absolutely no time with meaningless intros, opting to throw you right in the midst of the action. The sharp chords and angry yells set the tone for the rest of the album, describing the platform from which the story launches. The swirling guitar and crashing drums boost the lyrics. The shouts of “Speak Softly” make this sound like the true title song of the album. It transitions evenly into “Blind Tigers,” which greets you with galloping drums and a rally call. Halfway through the song melts into an emotional, heavy interlude with a hallowed echo and softly strumming guitar work that lifts and carries the song with the wind. The layered vocals, taking the stage when the meat of the song reappears, are a nice touch. You begin to realize the vocalist’s rather impressive range here.
“It’s All Yours” is unexpectedly catchy, and it got stuck in my head upon first listen to the chorus. It expresses the excitement of meeting a new love interest, and really starts to take the album up a slope. These first few songs culminate in “High Water Mark”, the most energetic piece to this point. Each part (lyrics, drums, bass, and guitar) picks up substantially, giving you the frenzied sense of drowning in water with waves crashing over your head. It also features a powerful, scaling guitar solo that takes the high end of the song to a new level. “The Edge” is the first plateau of the album. The vocals take a more monotone sound – there is a sense of estrangement, of cynicism, that wasn’t apparent before. It sounds as if the vocalist, and the album, has reached a point of mature comfort here.
“The Passionate Frame of Mind” adds even more emotion with a bluesy and soulful feel. It’s a reflective piece; the guitars do a great job of complementing the vocals. I loved the addition of female vocals. “The View From Here” has a low end that is just phenomenal – it features the kind of bass that hits you right in the center of the chest. The songwriting also shines here – through describing the sense of stepping off a cliff, you get the feeling of running away, of freedom. The outro is especially poignant; it mimics the sense of serenity described in the lyrics. This is a song you can feel in every bone of your body.
Just as you were ready to think everything was over, “Hats Off To You, Slick” appears to let you know that there is still story to be told. The vocals emphasize that running away was a bad decision, and the frantic touch that first showed itself in “High Water Mark” is back. This is an epiphany song and demonstrates another energetic peak of the album, a moment of realization. “Crush Me” takes the smoothness of the low end and applies it to a higher scale, which was a fantastic move. The vocals and instruments play a bit of call/respond, where each part is allowed to take the song to a new level on its own rather than battling for position. The balance is a real strong point, and the addition of the orchestral tone lends another dramatic edge. It melts into “The Loss of Sapphire,” which is the darkest song on the album. The vocals are grittier than before. You also hear the best guitar work of the album on this song – the technicality of the scales becomes more and more impressive as the song carries on, and the chords and pounding drums in the background give it a complementary dynamic that just blows you away.
This entire journey leaves you “Shattered,” in which guitars and piano tones welcome you to the final song of the album. The lyrics display a sense of depressed optimism. The piano is such an unexpected but powerful part of this song, adding just the right amount of emphasis of mood – and it’s incredibly well played. The song, and album, ends abruptly on a final crescendo, and though most albums like to soothe you away, this is the perfect ending for the tumultuous work.
This is not a listen once and forget it album; each listen reveals a new dynamic, a new piece to the story, and a new sense of cohesion that wasn’t apparent the first time around. “Speak Softly” is comforting, energetic, optimistic and depressing all at the same time, and as such shows how much heart and soul went into each song. One can only imagine where this band will evolve from here. Definitely give this album a few listens and allow the artfully told musical story to take you away.