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The New Division


[Division 87; 2011]

By ; October 19, 2011 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

The New Division are South Californian quartet that boast a live catalogue of over three-hundred songs, always adding to it with new material that is written on “a regular basis.” Fortunately for the listener this fact hasn’t birthed a twenty-eight song heavy Captain Beefheart-style album, brimming with as much material as possible and filling up every second of a CD they can. Instead the band have opted for a somewhat heady fourteen song album that tries out a plentiful amount of ideas in the space of an hour. However, Shadows can still feel like a big undertaking, especially when it’s relentless with its up-front production style that brings everything into clear focus for the listener. Synths glisten and swell, guitars churn and twang while John Kunkel’s vocals go from a woozy hypnotized drawl (“Hearts For Sale”) to a surprising falsetto (“True Lies”).

Still, there’s still plenty of room for subtlety. For every moment when the music is loud and piercing (listening on a set of speakers instead of headphones is recommended), there’s always plenty going on in the background. The icy choral synths on opening track “Opium” help drive the song forward but are easy to miss with the chugging bass and sparkling keys taking most of your attention until Kunkel’s wordless high wail comes back into the picture, before almost dissolving itself into the music around; the way the club-ready beats emerge on “Memento”; the nimble guitar work on “Saturday Night.” Other times the most obvious things can just seem to go right by you like the sleek bass on “Hearts For Sale” or the guitar riff at the start of “Sense.”

All this makes for impressionable stuff, and when everything slips into place and creates a sort of immediate dynamism, it can feel worth writing home about. The album creates a good first impression with “Opium” where the full effect of the band crashes into the picture from a set of woozy synths that linger throughout the song. But once the fire’s been ignited it keeps burning, only made fiercer when Kunkel goes up an octave on his second chorus. “Shallow Play” follows and again shows of Kunkel’s range but doesn’t excite or enthrall quite as much as the previous track.

The best stuff, however, is huddled away on the second half of the album. First single “True Lies” groans and clatters, matching the honest sadness of the lyrics where Kunkel seems to struggle with the power balance of a relationship, all leading to a coo where he proclaims “I can’t trust you” in his highest register. “Hearts For Sale” has that aforementioned slinky bass line that slips perfectly in between the shuffling beat before the band put forth one of their best choruses where Kunkel sounds despondent, like the music and lyrics are casting a gloomy cloud over him. The real highlight though is “Memento,” where the band spread themselves out over nine minutes. The song begins normally enough – tense vocals and matching music that fidgets and glistens in the background – but before long it transforms into another creature – or rather creatures. A third of the way through it begins to cave in before swelling with an onslaught of guitar and processed vocals, the dying embers of which leave a club-ready beat that is soon joined by a frustrated and funky guitar riff. When the comedown arrives towards the end of the track it’s easy to just want things to start up again, and frankly if they had doubled the track length I wouldn’t have minded, but it’s fun to imagine them really letting this song breathe on stage.

Since all these highlights are located on the latter half of the album (or right at the beginning in the case of “Opium”), the album does have its lulls where the noise and enthusiasm are present but the hooks aren’t. Minute-long instrumentals like “LA Noire” and “Shadows” make for a welcome break from the full songs surrounding them but don’t really do much when your attention has already drifted away. “Munich” has the band at what might be considered it’s poppiest, where guitars chug like and drums thunder like on any popular emo-rock song. It’s kind of fun and a nice burst of energy but at the same time a rather vapid and cheesy. “Soft” I have more of a (ahem) soft spot for as it makes for a good middle ground for lacklustre material that precedes it and the stronger stuff that follows, all while Kunkel sounds both nostalgic and like he’s finally getting somewhere with his problems (“I had it all figured out”).

For an album that seems to play about with a lot of dark themes and topics (drugs, death, broken relationships), Shadows ends on a rather carefree note with “Saturday Night.” “When should the sun go down on a Saturday Night?” Kunkel questions like he’s addressing a crowd of dancers in a packed club, which is strange considering the album is masked in noticeably dark feel that seems miles away from anything resembling sunshine. And at the same time it sort of dispels all the nervous and insomniac worry that the album’s lyrical matter seems to address, passing it off as a series of exploits from another weekend. I guess that’s how the journey is though; the highs received from drugs, alcohol and sex are to be followed with their lows, which is quite often how Shadows seems to play out. Come the end though, they’re ready to hit the floor once again or, even more aspiringly, to be the ones providing the soundtrack for all the ravers. One thing’s for sure though, they’ve got plenty of material to pump out of the speakers.


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