When the CM&WA album, Is a Beast, came to me for review, I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first glance. The artwork is compelling and thoughtful, all while keeping a minimalist approach to its delivery. What I would come to realize, after listening to the art on the inside, is that this message of a visual nature was a blatant reflection of the audio sound-scape embedded on the disc.
“Houdini” starts off the album with a very ambient and suspenseful build that drew me in and had me hooked from the first pounding of the toms. This gradual, purposeful crescendo helps give the vocal more weight and makes the explosion of sound (that comes later on) have even more impact. A stellar opening track, I had to listen to this one twice before moving on to the rest of the album.
As “Houdini” fades away, “I Don’t Believe In Magic (But All My Friends Just Disappeared)” comes in with a fantastic vocal and a strolling acoustic rhythm. The background vocals are rich and fun, and when the band comes in, the vibe reminds me of sunshine in a park somewhere. The horn solo (and subsequent breakdown) is a tasteful twist on the previous upbeat vibe.
“Dead Rose” follows up with a dirty bass line that is surrounded by guitar textures that dance with counter point. I constantly find my ear pulled towards various sounds and directions throughout the whole first section of the song. A well assembled thought, “Dead Rose” shows a depth of songwriting that is missing from most modern records.
“Let’s Make Dinosaurs Extinct” brings the tone of Is a Beast down a notch. The instrumentation is tasteful and melodic, giving the keys and acoustic guitars a moment in the spotlight. The bridge is where this song really comes to life as the baritone characters and walks help it form a whole different hue and tone.
“The Road To Hell Is Paved With Adverbs” starts off with a single vocal and an electric guitar part, which is left standing off in a corner all to its lonesome. As the song builds and progresses, it moves in a direction that is reminiscent of David Bowies’ “Suffragette City”, while at the same time being something different and unique unto itself. “The Road To Hell Is Paved With Adverbs” is delightfully unconventional in so many ways, yet it is still able to remain grounded in the musical roots of great classics that came before it.
“Michelangelo’s Blue Period” is a dramatic shift in tone. The strings and ‘bigger band’ feel make this song stand out in stark contrast to the rest of the record. While some would consider this as a weakness, I praise it as one of the bands finer strengths. They have the ability to shape their sound to fit any musical structure they could care to work in. “Michelangelo’s Blue Period” is a fine example of CM&WA’s songwriting ability, and this song will definitely be added to my Sunday morning music playlist.
“Sad Ambassador” features an instrumental intro that sets it apart from everything that has come before. The lead vocal performance takes the main focus and sells the song with a very honest delivery. Summing up many universal feelings and emotions, “Sad Ambassador” manages to show one man’s view of the world in such a way that everyone can relate to it.
“My Demons Are Organized” is a grooving song that reminds me of some 70’s classics. If I were to make a video for “My Demons Are Organized”, it would have to be done up in psychedelic colors with a Jefferson Airplane influenced theme. Although my more ‘indie’ counterparts may love this song, I find it a little less inspiring than everything else on the record.
“Someone In Another Life (Schizo Blues)” has an atmosphere about it that reaches back towards the feel that was predominant on the beginning of the album. A very dramatic and theatrical song, “Someone In Another Life” leads the listener down a road of memories, full of people from past experiences. I can’t help but look back at my friends and family who have moved on while listening to this song.
“Counterfeit” is the piano featured song of the record, and once again the songwriting and structure makes me think of David Bowie. From the horns to the background vocals, this whole track oozes passion with a feel of over dramatized emotional concepts. CM&WA were able to channel the spirit of a different era into this tastefully crafted piece of music.
“Dublin Fight Song” is an ironically titled song that feels more like a sad goodbye than a fight. The strings are beautifully arranged and the simple rhythms help the vocals along in a very symmetrical way. The repeated lyrics “Don’t Go” add to the sense of desperation and urgency that fills the entire spirit of this song. By the end, it all culminates into a full band explosion that is incredibly satisfying.
“Serious Trust” begins with the clanging of church bells in the background. A fitting end of a fantastic record, “Serious Trust” is a delicate song that focuses on the vocals above all else. The textures and layers are important, but they remain out of the vocals way the entire time, even helping keep the voice as the main focus.
Overall CM&WA’s Is a Beast, is one the most surprising albums I have come across in some time. It is rewarding in so many ways and I can’t help but go back to the top to hear it again and again. I have my fingers crossed that this will be out on vinyl because this album deserves to be played back on that medium.
Jason Gillespie is an up and coming producer/engineer whose work includes critically acclaimed albums and soundtracks including Ruthie Foster’s Grammy nominated album “The Truth According to Ruthie Foster”, Puscifer’s “V is for Vagina”, Wax Fang’s “La La Land” and the Great Debaters soundtrack.