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Music Review: My Own Private Alaska – Amen

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What is it about France that has allowed it to turn out some of the more interesting music I have listened to lately? Just check out the likes of Gojira and Hypno5e (and their side project A Backwards Glance on a Travel Road) if you don't believe me. Now we have My Own Private Alaska, a three-piece that channels experimental metal through a bizarre, alternative jazz trio. Well, at least that is my take on it. There is something strangely beautiful and simultaneously off-putting about this free-form trio.

My Own Private Alaska was recently signed to Ross Robinson's (Korn) label and the band recorded their debut release, Amen, with Robinson as producer. The album is a fascinatingly dark excursion into original music. While there is the feeling of screamo and death metal, there is also a classical and jazz element that cannot be denied. Think of someone like Underoath crossed with The Dresden Dolls with a dash of classical music stylings and you will approach something akin to My Own Private Alaska.

The more I listen to Amen, the more I am entranced by it. However, I cannot say that I love it. It is definitely intriguing and the more I listen the more I think I like it. If nothing else, these three musicians know how to create a crossover sound that is like nothing else out there. All too often a band tries to get clever and start crisscrossing genres in an effort to be original when they actually begin to sound like everything else again. Everything comes full circle, you know? It really takes some forward thinking to take you outside of the box if you want to create something genuinely unique.

This is a dark album. Once you are sucked in, there is no escape as you will be held captive to its ebb and flow. The music delivers a broad dynamic range from gorgeous piano passages to frenetic sequences that truly mess with the mind. Even more impressive is that it's all created with piano, drums, and voice. There are no guitars nor bass to be found.

What makes the album work as well as it does is the interplay between the drums and piano. At times they are in perfect sync while other times it sounds like they are headed in opposite directions. They flow and swirl, crash and burn, all in an effort to craft something different. I cannot say I have ever felt the urge to headbang to piano based music before.

Now, for as good, original, and unique as My Own Private Alaska is, they are not without their faults—at least in my eyes, anyway. My biggest issue lies with the vocals. The screamo style employed throughout much of the record is not one I have ever really cared for. There is something about it that just grates on my ears. On occasion there will be a band that makes it work and I think this may be one of those bands that I will come to like. For the moment I may not care for it, but I understand why this approach was used. It does work as an interesting, unhinged counterpoint with the piano and the drums acting as referee between them. I am also glad to hear it is not all screaming; there is a good amount of clean style vocals and a few gradations between. Taken together, Amen is unlike anything I have heard before.

Songs to focus on: "My Girl," "Broken Army," "Page of a Dictionary," and "After You."

Bottomline. What it comes down to is this is an intriguing new band to keep an eye on. It also reinforces the idea that France has a thriving, heavy-music scene that continues to introduce the world to some of the most experimental music around. My first listen revealed a new genre-bending band that was definitely unique but a bit out there for me. Multiple listens have allowed further layers to reveal themselves and turn them into a band of interest for me. And I may come to like the screamo vocal style after all.

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