A Hostage and the Meaning of Life
A Hostage and the Meaning of Life is a good album. A great debut, in fact, from a band that deserves the attention that they’re getting.
On the other hand, it’s an album that’s also pretty easy to dislike: at first listen (especially album opener “A Hostage”), it sounds like another unceremonious At The Drive-In copycat, with the vocalist trying to be both Cedric Bixler and Coheed and Cambria’s Claudio Sanchez at once. The fact that the album was produced by Alex Newport, the man who helmed the recording sessions for ATDI’s Vaya EP and In/Casino/Out, probably doesn’t help play down those already damning similarities. The lyrics, also vaguely Bixler-esque, are intelligent but aloof, pretentious and peppered with fragments en Francais. And we Americans, we despise the French, n’est-ce pas? So therefore, we should align ourselves against these folks. Right?
Fortunately, like most Really Good Stuff, the more you listen to Brazil the more you end up liking it. Although the Bixler/Sanchez similarities pretty much hold throughout, frontman Jonathon Newby does it so well and with such near-perfect delivery that it’s difficult to fault him for it. His inflections provide just the right accents to all of the songs, providing a sense of urgency, or of melancholy, or of desperation where necessary. The music itself, after a few listens, actually seems to bear more of a resemblance to (more recent) Codeseven than it does to ATDI, with a dreamy emo-rock feel and significantly less emphasis on the aggro parts. However, some songs, like “Zentropa” in particular, contain the same manic approach and unstoppable energy for which the other band is known so well. And although they’re great songs that stand on their own, it’s difficult to ignore the similarities if you’re looking for them.
Brazil’s most distinguishing feature, aside from Newby’s voice, is probably their use of piano/keyboard as a prominent instrument in the mix. Unlike most of their peers, the use of keys is calculated and thoroughly integrated into their musical approach rather than being a half-baked afterthought. And it shows. The songwriting and overall execution here is fantastic for such a young band, and the whole package comes together and feels seamless at the moments when the band is at their best, such as on the complex, sprawling “Metropolis” and the simpler but undeniably powerful hooks of “The Novemberist.”
Although some would argue that it’s unoriginal and wears its [relatively recent] influences on its sleeves, A Hostage and the Meaning of Life is a solid, consistent and powerful beginning from a band that should grow into something even more interesting as they mature. Forgive them for the ATDI indulgences, put aside your pre-conceived notions, and you’ll find an effort that is thoroughly enjoyable on its own. And besides, is sounding just a little bit like such a great band such a bad thing?