Friday, April 27, 2007

Reviews:: the New Amsterdams Killed or Cured

Since it’s such a beautiful day in Vancouver (read pouring and a bit chilly), I might as well start getting everyone ready for the Summer with a couple of interesting records that will surely be part of our camping expeditions.

The first is Kill or Cured by the New Amsterdams. If you read the hill regularly, you might be saying – “but guys, you reviewed over a year ago. What gives?” Well, Matt has had an interesting year. He settled on a full time band for the New Ams project, released a record for kiddies – The Terrible Twos – and has added some polish and production to the Kill or Cured EP he gave away for free last year.

The original EP was a collection of pour your heart out, four-tracked numbers, often consisting of just an acoustic and Matt’s voice. Now, the songs have been giving the studio treatment, adding layers, textures and depth. Are they better or worse? Well, I would honestly say that depends on what you want from the songs. When Matt wrote the songs, he was in a bad place. He was stuck on the road with the Get Up Kids, wanting nothing more than a flight home to his wife. As a result, the record played like a diary, and the sparse arrangements of songs like Drinking in the Afternoon and Strangled By the Thought mirror the loneliness and hopelessness he felt.

So I was a bit skeptical of adding too much to the mix. Losing the intimate, honesty that gave the songs life was a big risk, and on some songs I still prefer the original version. On the majority though, the band adds new life and a fresh perspective to the songs. The record starts with a gentle wash, woodblocks, and a lap steel. As Matt starts emoting, the gentle sway of the backing band really beefs up the track, especially when he laments, “the music begins, violins” and gentle strings power through the mix. The extra textures don’t take away from the original take on the song, they strengthen it.

The bowed cello on Maybe I’m a Fool is a perfect mood setter for the song. Picturing Matt writing a letter and having that painful conversation is perfectly represented with the lush arrangement. It’s beautiful; it’s sad; it’s all that he has. The album closer – Strangled by the Thought – is now a heartfelt piano ballad that exposes the frailties Matt was going through at the time, but in a whole new light. The gentle crescendo of strings almost acts as a sign of hope. As they build and build, you can feel Matt gaining the strength he may have once lost.

The band completely reworks a few of my favorite tracks. The double-tracked harmonies and piano of My Red Hand are replaced with a staccato jazz guitar, an atmospheric steel riff, and mariachi horns. Although this completely changes the result, I really enjoy the new arrangement. Watch the World Cave In was originally a simple picked riff, and a depressing take on the collapse of society. Now it uses a summery electric riff and hand percussion to really change the vibe. Adding a bouncy bass line also changes the energy of the song. It doesn’t exactly fit the original tone of the song, but it is a fantastic listen. That recipe is used on Heaven Sent as well, and the horns and upbeat electric make the song on of the least likely sing-alongs you’ll ever find.

Some of the early versions of the songs were so strong that I don’t know if they needed a rework. I can’t imagine a more perfect tone and sound to describe the frustration and solitude Matt felt when he was trapped on tour and wrote Drinking in the Afternoon. This is one song that I wish was left untouched. As other instruments enter and leave the mix, you are distracted from Matt’s words.

This LP is a great window into Matt’s soul and shows how he’s in a much better place. Both the acoustic and flushed out approaches are a great listen, but for completely different reasons.

MP3:: Strangled by the Thought (Cured)
MP3:: Strangled by the Thought (Killed)
MP3:: Drinking in the Afternoon (Cured)
MP3:: Drinking in the Afternoon (Killed)

Posted at 12:09 PM by ack :: 1 comments

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At 4:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous did sayeth:

this record is amazing.


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