Posted August 28, 2013
By MaryNikkel_NRT, Staff Reviewer
The members of The Ongoing Concept may be new faces to the music scene, but with their debut album Saloon this stage-savvy freshman act displays a level of creativity and carefully channeled energy that eludes most veteran acts. Although the four piece most comfortably fits into the metalcore classification, they are unafraid to color outside genre lines with abandon. The band is the project of brothers Dawson, Kyle and Park Scholz plus their childhood friend TJ Nichols, an arrangement which provides the group a unique coherence in their performing.
"Let's Deal The Cards Again" provides the set-up of a saloon environment, narrating through sound effects and dialog an outlaw entering the room following a patron's complaint that the piano player always plays the same tunes. Title track "Saloon" immediately tears through the narrative with its frantic scratched vocals which quickly start to play off the tones of an old player piano in a brilliantly off-kilter duet. At moments the vocals stray towards conventions of old school punk, though they never hold a position long enough to be pinned to any consistent style.
"You Are the One" slouches in with almost careless gang vocals layered over clapping and stomping before Dawson Scholz's clean-cut guitar bed slices in. The melody alternates between the halting pace heard at the beginning and frantic metalcore screams. "Cover Girl" comes next, almost immediately establishing itself as an album highlight with its irony-laced spoken intro and intriguing interplay between a banjo part that could be straight from an old Western paired with brutal low growls. This song could also serve as a kind of battle cry for the band, espousing originality with the memorable line "stop being the print of someone else's painting."
In a sudden direction shift, "Little Situation" begins with acoustic guitar and obscured clean vocals, setting the stage for the song's narrative with the lines "I saw you in a little situation, I had to rescue you / I saw you in a little situation, you were stuck in your ways." Although the heavy guitars kick in quickly behind lyrics expressing the complexities and pitfalls of playing the part of rescuer, the vocal intensity is toned down throughout, making this track more widely accessible.
"Sunday Revival" is one of the most meaty tracks lyrically, voicing the frustration that comes from observing friends undergo a temporary revival every Sunday morning that only lasts until they walk out of church. The song successfully expresses the problem without straying too far into blaming or bitterness, supported by a memorable guitar hook and strong vocals from both Dawson and Kyle Scholz.
A midway break is provided in "Sidelines," a wistful piano ballad about the experience of being perpetually "friendzoned" by a girl. The thematic heart of the song feels very young, but its sincerity helps it hold its own from the quiet start to the bombastic 80s monster ballad-inspired bridge. "Failures & Fakes" takes the piano theme (an instrument that ties much of the album together as established in the introduction) and takes it in a more jangling direction, supporting the southern swagger of a blistering rock track calling out hypocrites and show-offs with the scorching lyrics "well I've seen your future-- it's not all that impressive." Though the song could easily have strayed into consequence-free criticism, the band is quick to admit in the lyrics "They all pledge their innocence / I would know because I'm one of them."
"Like Autumn" features some Dream Theater-esque chilling keyboard work from Kyle Scholtz in what may be the most traditional hardcore cut from the album, employing the genre's high speed drumming from Parker Scholz. The songs title is explained by the lyric "like autumn you've changed / but not for the better." Musically, this song ties strongly to their heritage of bands like Underoath and August Burns Red. "Class of Twenty Ten" references the graduation year of one of the members, screaming a kind of in-your-face valedictorian speech.
Tying in the piano theme again, "Goodbye, So Long My Love" leans on the Western foundation of the album again as it narrates a conversation between lovers as one of them dies. It's a surprising way to close the album thematically, and though it seems like there should be clearer ties to the opening track to achieve resolution for the listener, the track is strong as a stand-alone. The band balances some brief acapella moments with blazing screams and discordant piano, creating an emotionally intense atmosphere building into some incredibly haunting female vocals which turn the tune into a kind of dirge as it fades out.
Although this is a young band with young members, this album displays a work ethic and musical maturity that balances perfectly between creative excellence and knowing when to have a good time with some brash punk rock vocals and crushing metal guitar riffs. The theme is a call to be genuine through word and action in a world owned by stereotypes and lies, sonically supported by the band's bold blurring of genre lines and successful fusing of seemingly disparate musical conventions. Saloon is glass of cold water in a ghost town genre, offering a refreshing dose of unashamed originality amidst a multitude of carbon-copy peers. This is an incredibly strong first release which is sure to leave you hoping that this isn't the last we hear from them.
Song to Download Now:
"Cover Girl" (Get it on iTunes here.)
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