Sunday, June 13, 2010

Leiahdorus: Ode to the Builders Review

Leiahdorus has done it again. And what I actually mean is, they've done something entirely different. Ode to the Builders is a relatively ambitious album for the indie synthpop band, but for the most part, it works and represents a maturing of the band's style.

The first obvious change is the addition of a real drummer and more present guitars (is that a guitar solo I hear?). To my relief, I found that they had not abandoned their electro style in favor of a more mainstream indie rock sound. Instead, it's just closer to an even blend than it had been. The opening song, "They Have Eyes" is the biggest showcase for their style, not to mention that it's easily the most accessible song they have ever done. The featured songs from previous albums enchanted genre listeners for their uniqueness, but let's face it; not all of your friends would be able to listen to it and say, "Damn, that's a good song." "They Have Eyes" gives you that.

The title song is what I really think of as the beginning of the album. It sets a far darker tone than the band's previous albums have had. It also establishes a musical direction for the remainder of the songs, although not all of them are as consistently strong (more on that later). It's a great song, nuff said.

"Childhood's End" is where the accessibility ends and I'm reminded of the old Leiahdorus. Not that this is a bad thing, but some may be very suddenly turned off by the sharp increase in "weirdness." Or should I say uniqueness? That depends on your ability to stomach it. If you're a fan of Leiahdorus already, you should feel right at home. It's for the sake of the new listeners that I think it might have been better to save "Childhood's End" for later in the album to ease the musical shift a bit.

This is only the beginning of the awkward transitions and sharp shifts. "When Hello Meets Goodbye" would have been a much better candidate to follow "Ode to the Builders" than "Childhood's End," although the latter is the better song overall. "Forward Blindly" borders on heavy with a pounding distorted bass and high electric guitar in 6/8 meter. It, too, feels out of place, despite being one of the better songs.

"Malory" is track 6. From there forward the album goes downhill. That's not to say it gets bad, but it (quite suddenly) mellows out tremendously and lacks any real standout tracks. "Malory" is a pretty little tune and little more. "Snow in July" is enchanting, yet too repetitive for its own good; even though it's relatively short already, it could have been shorter for the sake of avoiding the stale feeling it gets. "Blankets" is the longest song on the album, and rightfully so in this case. It might not make it onto your favorite playlist, but it follows up on some earlier themes and is probably the most worthwhile song in the latter half of the album. "Nautilus" is fittingly unique, but not particularly strong. I think it would have been better suited for a B-side or special edition release.

I feel weird saying this, but to me, the album seems to end at "In 20 Minutes the Light Will Change." It's neither slow nor heavy, but it sounds very dark and gives the impression of very strongly driving the album to a close. Then, "Tristessa" comes out of nowhere. A bonus track? If it is, then the following two songs are bonus tracks as well. What's going on here? "Tristessa" is one of those songs that screams "bonus track," not because it's too weak for the core of the album, but because it's so blatantly out of character. After this awkward sequence, we are treated to a real closing as strong as the opening (though not quite as good a song as "They Have Eyes") in "We Have Burn."

I don't mean to complain. I only nitpick this album because there is so much right with it and some better organization and planning could have made it excellent as a complete album. I think this is especially important for Leiahdorus because they have never been a band for the iPod generation; that is, their songs are not good for playlists and they will not appeal to everyone. The real appeal of the band is to listen a full Leiahdorus album. Perhaps for that, Parallel Universe was their best. But Ode to the Builders just has so much that the previous albums lacked: far greater accessibility (in a few songs), a more mature and better-blended style, cohesive recurring themes, and dare I say more than one song that I could argue is their best to date.

Yes, if you're new to Leiahdorus, this is where I suggest you begin, and I think you will be glad you did. If you are a longtime fan, you may be bothered by the flow of the album as I was, but still, within it you will find more than a little bit of their best work. They took their time and they made it count. It's not perfect, but it's essentially what I had hoped for during the long wait.

Caius's rating: 3.5 stars

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