Along with the dawn of the twenty first century came a musical movement called the post-punk revival that brought us bands like The Strokes and The Killers. These are groups that strive to sound like bands from two decades ago while keeping a finger on the pulse of modern times and pop culture. Arriving late on the scene of this “revival,” The Cinematics, a four piece band from Scotland, released their debut album A Strange Education in 2007, beginning a rise to prominence that is still unfolding.
The debut release was filled with inventive beats, memorable guitar riffs, infectious melodies, intense lyrics, powerhouse vocals, and plenty of post-punk angst. It received generally positive reviews and established a solid fan base for the band. However, some critics dismissed the project as being stale and tagged The Cinematics as a band that was retreading old ground, having been left behind by the founding groups of the post-punk revival.
Now, as if to answer their critics, The Cinematics have delivered a sophomore album that bravely explores new, darker territory in their genre and that establishes them as a fresh and unique presence on the alt. rock scene.
The album Love and Terror was created after TVT Record Company collapsed in bankruptcy, causing the band to be passed off to a New York based company called, The Orchard. According to the band, this move allowed for more artistic freedom when creating music for their second album.
Benefiting from this new creative freedom, Love and Terror is a collection of songs with distinctive character, pulsing energy, and intriguing moodiness. It is fueled by emotion and seems to flirt with Goth stylings, offering a sound that is organic and, at times, even sparse (in a good way).
The album features Adam Goemans on bass, Larry Reid on guitar (replacing former band mate Ramsay Miller), and Ross Bonney on drums. Scott Rinning contributes nuanced lead vocals and some guitar work. Extra instruments are tastefully reserved and used sparingly enough to make the instances of their inclusion have more impact.
The album wastes no time warming up, roaring to life with a pulsing opening track titled “All These Things.” The song, a stand-out from the album, strikes a somewhat forbidding and threatening tone that sets the pace for entire album. The chorus finds Rinning’s vocal trading off with a syncopated guitar riff that burns itself into the mind.
The second track, “She Talks to Trees,” maintains the established energy level and is just as catchy with busy drumming and a purposely frantic chorus the fits the lyric nicely. “New Mexico,” the only track penned by Rinning, is a well written and finely performed pop/rocker that sounds like it could be a cover of Killers’ material.
The title track, number four on the album, is the strongest song of the bunch. It opens with a relentless, trudging riff that is soon given a laid back drum grove by Bonney. As always, strong musicianship and creativity are evident in the guitar parts. In this case, the guitar fills and riffs help to lighten up the track. Otherwise, it could have been too dark, mysterious, and heavy.
Reid, the newcomer to the band, displays keen, radio friendly writing skills on this title track, and Rinnings sexy vocal, with its slight vibrato on the word “terror," is irresistible as it shines through the heavy atmosphere of sound on the recording. The song ends with an extended instrumental section that ventures away from the initial sound of the piece and builds slowly in intensity. It is a fantastic song, indeed.
Sadly, after the title track, the album begins to lose its momentum as it chugs towards its finale. “Lips Taste Like Tears” does allow drummer Bonney to show off with work on the toms, and the walking bass line has an interesting interplay with a complex and creative guitar part. But while the chorus has a memorable hook, the song overall seems a bit aimless. The track “Wish” suffers from the same lack of direction and isn’t as well composed as other numbers on the album. Unfortunately, “Moving to Berlin” and “You Can Dance” almost seem like filler material.
The album closer, “Hard for Young Lovers,” has moments that hint of an epic that could have been. The chorus, complete with nice vocal harmonies and synth effects, has a hypnotic melody that works with the arrangement to create a textured, ambient mood. Unfortunately, the verses are too long and could have benefited from a more interesting musical development. Perhaps the guys should have thrown in more experimental sounds with this number and ended the album on a bigger and more daring note.
In the end, Love and Terror boasts ten tracks that vary greatly in quality and little in style. The first four display moments of brilliance and offer well crafted melodies, impassioned lyrics, and impressive musicianship. These four tracks are tightly composed and well produced, displaying The Cinematics at their best. While in no way “bad”, the remaining six tracks don’t meet the standard set by the opening numbers and could have benefited from further work at the composition and production stages.
That being said, it is important to remember that the band have experienced some major changes in the way of personnel and management and that they are breaking in new shoes mid-game. Fortunately, the current line-up shows limitless potential, and all signs seem to point a promising future for the band.
With Love and Terror, The Cinematics have not delivered a perfect album. However, they have proven that they are learning their craft, honing their skills, and positioning themselves to take the music world by storm. It seems they are beginning to find their own voice and to step out of the shadow of the bands they have emulated.
With these guys, when they are good, they are damn good. They offer top-notch musicianship, lyrics that are far better than those from most rock bands, and what seems to be a new found passion for setting themselves apart from their peers. One can’t help but wonder if this band is on the cusp of something huge and if this is a good album that will ultimately be but a precursor to a great one.
*The record is out on October 6, 2009 and will be available wherevever music is sold. "The Cinematics" will be touring the United States in early 2009 in support of the album.
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