15 September 2010

CD REVIEW: American Hollow - Whisper Campaign (2010, private release)

American Hollow is a new band, founded in 2001 in Kentucky. While gigging and building their reputation for powerhouse live performances, the band followed their muse to Utah, looking for a more vibrant live music scene. It was in Utah that they met their singer, Jameson (previously Jimmy Holman), and solidified their lineup.

2010 sees the release of Whisper Campaign, their debut album.

Now, you probably know by now that I like to open up these reviews with some personal insights or thoughts. And this time is no different. What I’m going to do, a week or three after the fact, is take you through my initial ‘unboxing’ thoughts. Now, if you’re not familiar with the term, I suggest a jaunt over to the Tube of You and search for ‘unboxing.’ I promise, this will not come back to haunt you.


There, was that so bad?

Now, if you didn’t go and do that, I’ll fill you in. ‘Unboxing’ is the initial user experience, and there are thousands of videos up of people unboxing their new iPhones or whatever, taking you virtually through the experience of opening up the package for the first time. In one way it’s a kind of showing off thing…actually, I think in most ways it’s about showing off. In any event, doing an unboxing video for a CD would seem awfully strange, but I’d like to give you some insight into how I go about this reviewing process…

Rip open packet…notice CD and press sheet. Toss press sheet to the side and grab disc. Mmm, new CD goodness! I take a look at the cover, and am a bit bewildered…I read that American Hollow is a progressive metal band, and yet the cover looks nothing like that. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear this was some melancholic Swedish band following in the footsteps of White Willow and/or Anglaberkdoten. Very blue, chilly, ethereal. The models are stunning, and I don’t say that in a misogynist manner…they seem so fey and otherworldly. Rip off the shrink-wrap and read the liner notes…no lyrics sadly, but good notes about production and stuff. And a very cool band photo inside as well.

Then, and only then, do I pick up the press sheet and read.

This is what I try to do for every CD that comes in packed full like this. If I know I have a certain artist’s CD coming to me, I do other weird things, like…

  • Not listen to tunes from them on Myspace
  • Not look for Youtube videos
  • Definitely not look for other downloads

I want my first listen of a new artist’s CD to be fresh…I don’t want to be teased or spoiled.

And with American Hollow’s Whisper Campaign, I was able to do that.

Now, I’ve mentioned above that the band is classed as a prog metal band. And certainly there are elements of that…we’ve got heavy guitars, distortion, intense bits of music with power and energy. But American Hollow tempers this with healthy doses of ambience and space…they’re not a complete balls to the wall metal band. Take a pair of tracks like the opening duo of ‘Terronoia’ and ‘State of Decay.’ The album opener is a cool instrumental, perhaps a bit simplistic in some ways. Admittedly I think it goes on a bit longer than it perhaps could…but the gradual build in intensity is subtle and does pay off. ‘State of Decay’ leads off with some great, space rock like synth sweeps (listening, I think it could have been nicely cross faded with ‘Terronoia’), while vocal section are mostly laid back, with choruses heavier. Jameson’s vocals are nice and clear, very enunciated in the verses, almost overly so. The band shows some admirable restraint in the instrumental sections; where other groups might have started off with thousand mile an hour guitar and keyboard harmony solos, Kyle Mullikin plays more with mood, alternating between clean picked parts and crushing chords. 4:50 long, and I wish there was a bit more to it.

When looking over the track listing for this album, I was drawn to the titles for the next three pieces. Knowing that they were all mathematical terms, I had a feeling that ‘Operator,’ ‘Variable,’ and ‘Constant’ would be related, and they are. They make a nice 14-minute suite that seems to be entirely about relationships, communication and interconnections. ‘Operator’ opens things slowly, quietly, with a lovely vocalese and very reserved band playing. Jameson’s vocal performance here is great, and as the band kicks things up a notch on ‘Variable,’ we see a younger band that already is showing great skill in balancing light and shade. Chronos’s drumming is light where needed, but still with considerable power behind each stroke, while Mullikin’s use of violin-like pedal tones is a lovely touch that is wildly under-used these days. ‘Constant,’ which closes out this mini-suite, offers up just as much, with some nice shifts in mood and tone, time changes occurring smoothly and easily. I’m impressed by how well the band pulls off the music, playing tightly, but never overplaying. That’s not to say that there isn’t impressive musical skill shown here, because there certainly is. It’s just a pleasure to hear a heavier band playing with space as much as these guys do. It’s also nice to hear Nathan Alan Gilbert cutting through with some beefy bass lines as well…his tone is thick and meaty, and I wish it were more present from time to time.

Whisper Campaign’s other epic is ‘Prizards,’ a 13-minute piece that opens with some eerie atmospherics and some nice bass work high on the neck from Gilbert. Chronos’s drumming in the opening sections is great as well, with a lighter touch leading into some really excellent, fluid work as things pick up intensity. I have problems believing that this piece is actually 13 minutes long, even though the timer shows it to be such…when I am listening I get swept up by the beat, by Mullikin’s guitar playing, by Jameson’s warm, soulful tenor, and just go with the song. Jameson’s scream is pretty impressive, too…nice power, great sustain. Listening to this track, it’s a bit hard to believe that this is a debut album, because it shows a great deal of honed skill and technique.

‘Terrannoyed’ closes things out on Whisper Campaign with a second instrumental, with plenty of synth and chiming guitar to satisfy. The contrasts between these chiming, bright elements and the almost impossibly heavy by comparison crashing guitar chords is disarming at first, but these contrasts are worked so well. I like this one a lot more than companion piece ‘Terronoia,’ as it’s more tightly written, develops more smoothly and more completely (having said this, if ‘Terronoia’ had been a bit shorter, or appended to the beginning of ‘State of Decay,’ we’d not be making this comparison at all).

Whisper Campaign is a really impressive debut from American Hollow, and they’ve done a great job of presenting a full package on this release, with a great package that really complements the music held within. Well worth checking out, American Hollow has the chops and the songs to be a force in the very near future.

Track Listing:
1. Terronoia
2. State of Decay
3. Operator
4. Variable
5. Constant
6. Gravity
7. Illumineye
8. Prizards
9. Blow Wind! Bring Forth Storm
10. Terrannoyed

Band Members:
Jameson – Voice
Kyle Mullikin – Guitar
Nathan Alan Gilbert – Bass Guitar
Chronos – Time Lord (a.k.a. drums)

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've just recently discovered this album and it hasn't left my stereo since. Amazing, amazing, band. Beautifully composed album from start to finish. You're spot on in saying that it's hard to believe this is a debut. Can't wait to hear the follow up.