In 2015, Coheed & Cambria will release its first non-conceptual record after seven full-lengths. Fellow concept band The Dear Hunter was not so dedicated to completing its saga, having spent the decade thus far releasing the non-canonical EP series The Color Spectrum and the full-length Migrant. Fans of Acts III have eagerly waited since 2009 for Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise, released on lead singer Casey Crescenzo’s Equal Vision Records imprint Cave & Canary Goods.
Even though six years have passed, little has changed in the musical world of the Boy, the story’s main character. The first 47 minutes feel particularly familiar, containing all the staples of earlier acts, such as a cappella harmonies, abrupt breaks into piano solos that hearken back to “Flee the Factory,” (a song by Crescenzo’s previous band The Receiving End of Sirens), and orchestration pulled straight from the dawn of jazz. While the music is nothing short of lush, the songs are often indistinct, as if listeners are constantly barraged with a rock band in one earbud and a full orchestra in the other. Many tracks utilize the same arrangements and key changes as in Acts I-III, hinting at a desire for consistency that’s at a detriment to the songs themselves. This is especially true of “The Bitter Suites IV and V,” a redundant entry for all but the most avid Dear Hunter fans.
Ironically, “The Bitter Suite VI” provides the album with its first true moment of breathing room, a tempered exercise in ambience as well as the first of five songs that finally change things up for Crescenzo and co.: five style-hopping numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place on Coheed’s genre-sprawling Afterman albums. Some of these songs take heavy cues from The Color Spectrum, as “The Line” and “The Wait” could have easily fit on the Green and Black EP’s, respectively. Meanwhile, “King of Swords (Reversed)” swipes the melodies and attitude from Orange and throws them atop a disco backbeat, resulting in an infectious pop number that unfortunately wears out its welcome before its five minutes are over.
“Ouroboros,” Act IV‘s fifteenth and final track, returns to the vaudeville and baroque sounds of earlier tracks, making for an unremarkable closer. But it’s the jarring transition from “The Wait” into “Ouroboros” that reveals the album’s greatest flaws: the length and the track listing. With the most varied songs pushed to the back half, the whole experience is uncomfortably unbalanced. Needless to say, the storyline is to blame; no song can be cut or misplaced when there’s a narrative to tell. If Crescenzo can remember what he accomplished so well on Act I, with its concise 38-minute running time, then he might be able to finish the final two acts of the Boy’s story with less interim time between releases, all the while filling the records with only the best of songs, such as the bouncing urgency of “The Squeaky Wheel.”
Don’t be confused: Act IV has some of The Dear Hunter’s best songs ever, such as the 9-minute “A Night on the Town,” which sees the band’s musical tropes at their most effective, all in support of a massive chorus. The big winner of the set is “Waves,” a 4-minute love song that shows precisely the kind of musical growth fans should expect from the band continuing from the White EP to Migrant to now. Both catchy and haunting, the orchestral additions only add to the emotions of the track without ever distracting, meanwhile Crescenzo has never been more immediate or confident as either a vocalist or a lyricist (“And the thing that made it so much harder/Was the fact that you were someone’s daughter”).
If The Dear Hunter can mix the variety of The Color Spectrum and the balance and brevity of Act I with the sheer power of Act IV‘s best songs, the band might end up with one of rock music’s greatest concept records. As for now, Act IV is a fun way for Dear Hunter fans to spend 74 minutes–but it’s also far too wearying a listen for the uninitiated.
3.5 stars out of 5