Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Waking Ashland – The Well

Band: Waking Ashland
Album: The Well
Release Date: April 17, 2007
Label: Immortal

I’ve been a fan of Waking Ashland, for a while, basically since their debut, the “I am for You EP.” At the time when I was first turned on to them, piano rock had a stranglehold on me and their infectious sound immediately grasped me, particularly the track “The Politics of Life.” However, since then my tastes have changed quite a bit, but as they continued to release more music (the “Telescopes EP” and “Composure”) I still found pleasure in listening to their lighthearted and often upbeat sound. So, as the release of their latest, “The Well,” drew nearer I wondered if their genuine charm would hold up to my evolved tastes or if their not-quite-so-unique sound would leave me hoping for something more.

I am pleased to say, that they kick it off right! As soon as I began my first listen I was immediately grabbed by the indie sound of “Salt Lake Jam.” However, as the CD wore on I found myself losing interest, and fast. After the fifth track (of twelve) I found it hard to continue listening. Not that the music is bad, it just isn’t very interesting after the first half. It seems that somewhere along the line they lost faith in their newer sound, and reverted to what they do best.

The instantly lovable “Salt Lake Jam” starts off the album with some brooding piano and a perfect sprinkling of blues guitar. This foot-tapper ebbs and flows perfectly as it builds to high points and lets off steam at just the right moments. Jonathan Jones’ vocals are strong here and show that his always-pleasant voice has been even further refined since we last heard him. “Diamonds in the Hillside,” the album’s fourth track, shares a lot with its opener. It has a very deliberate pace and some more, well placed blues guitar. Its theme of change is easily discernable in the obvious and unfortunately uninventive lyrics. Yet, it still retains Waking Ashland’s signature charm.

“Handful of Names” is upbeat and poppy but has an interesting and somewhat-unique allure. The chorus is extremely catchy and will probably have you signing along by the second time it comes around. While it teeters on the edge of being a bit too repetitive, it is instantaneously endearing. Picking up next is “Your Intentions” which is an equally poppy number, that sports a bit of vocal dimension that gets away with sounding a bit strained at times. While this pair of songs don’t carry the same indie growth of “Salt Lake Jam” and “Diamonds” which frame them, they’re nestled nicely and provide an acceptable balance.

Expecting this nice pattern of old and new to continue I found it easy to accept “Change” for its slow pop sound. It is after all this very sound that stole my heart just a few years ago. Following this is where, even on the first listen of the album I began to lose interest. During “Sinking is Swimming” I found myself thanking my lucky stars that the uninteresting track garnered with uninventive lyrics was rather short. It slows down the waning CD and unfortunately “Mark Like Mine” doesn’t do much to change the pace. While it certainly picks up from its comparably slow start, it doesn’t offer much of anything new. It, like most of the rest of the album is easily forgettable and repetitive.

The only bright star of the remaining tracks of the CD is “Money” which seems to share a very similar piano line as my favorite “Salt Lake Jam.” Aside from this, it has just about everything I love in one song; some good piano rock, handclapping, and the whole band joining in an energized chant. While it’s a last minute switch to the new and improved style, it is just too little too late to save the CD for me. While overall the album grew on me after a few more listens, I just can’t find what I was hoping for all along. However, if you’re content with some more of the same, you should be pleasantly unsurprised. While not all of the tracks in this release show the progress of my “Salt Lake,” “Diamonds,” and “Money” their sound is overall much more refined than it has been in the past. Jones’s voice is improved and polished. The musicianship is quality, yet there seems to be an overall lack of creativity, in much of the music and even in the lyrics. Although the album started with a new and addictive flavor, it turns bland pretty quickly.

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