Sunday, 18 August 2013

Welcome The Problems - Colossal

It's often easy to label a band based on the company they keep. You assume that if they tour with certain bands or sign to a certain label, then of course they must be of a similar style. Whilst that's true of many bands, there are always going to be a few exceptions. Colossal fall into the latter category. To call them a punk band would be far too easy. Punk is too simple a definition for exactly what their music is. The truth is, there isn't really a easy definition for Colossal. The band described themselves as a “rock, post-punk, jazz, and pop, indie rock outfit” which is about as good a description as any. There is even a hint of Math Rock to their complex rhythms and stunning technical ability, though they forgo the rigid structures of that particular niche genre for a looser, jazzier feel. But their music is something more than the sum of all those different elements. There is a melancholy soul to their album “Welcome The Problems”. Perhaps its because the band come from Elgin, illinois and my preconceptions about the place have coloured my view, but to me this album is the perfect soundtrack for walking through suburban streets in the winter.

“Welcome The Problems” opens with “The Dusk Of Us”, a song that is almost the epitome of Colossal's style. A rolling snare drum beat and interweaving, chiming guitar lines. The rhythm of “The Dusk Of Us” is a pretty complex beast, constantly changing and adjusting whilst the guitar and melody lines wind just as complicated a trail to the point where its hard to separate what one is doing from the other. It could easily be frustrating or difficult to listen to, but the changes all seem to fit together perfectly. Instruments drop out and reappear throughout the song, keeping you on your toes. Whenever I return to the song, I always find there is always something new to listen to.

“The Serious Kind” is a track that had such an influence on me personally, that I named my band after it. The melancholy yet intricate, picked guitar and trumpet intro give way to energetic, nearly frantic, strumming and drums. There's an almost effortless energy to the vocal delivery as well, with little to no strain in Patrick Ford's subdued baritone, even in the louder sections of the track. Colossal's sound is all at once, energetic and relaxed, intricate, yet loose. It's undoubtably very hard to play, yet its done with such ease and a relaxed, anything goes approach that it almost seems easy.

Whilst the band alternate lead singers, there is little change to the instrumentation or production through most of the album (including having the drums distractingly forward in the mix). However, the jazz references on “Welcome The Problems” are rarely more obvious than when there is a trumpet present. Not just a one off played by a session musician, the trumpet parts on the album are played by guitarist Jason Flaks. And though not as technical and rhythmic as some of the instrumentation, it brings an air of solemnity and almost mournfulness that fits in well on tracks like the almost instrumental “Work In Prague”.

That said “Welcome The Problems” is not a dour album. There is plenty of energy and vigour on the record, but it's by no means frivolous or disposable. It's not a party album, but it's a far cry from being boring or depressing. It's a very thoughtful and intelligent rock album and, as far as I know, there isn't anything out there that sounds like it.

Sadly, Colossal did not survive long. They released their first EP in 2003, a year or so after forming and “Welcome The Problems” came out a year later. Even before the album was written there were personnel changes within the band and by 2007, with the departure of Jason Flaks and various members leaving to join the reformed Smoking Popes, Colossal went on a seemingly permanent hiatus. However quality trumps quantity and Colossal's small but venerable catalogue is rock music of the highest quality.

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