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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Deftones -- Deftones


Deftones is a good album from a great band.  This means it's better than a whole lot of music. But this also means it's a disappointment.
Deftones found greatness in their third album, White Pony. They fully fleshed out their sound with an experimental, unpredictable edge, and created an entirely new world of sound. Maybe they can't be blamed for stepping back a bit, but the result is still an album that feels like it could have been so much better.
"Hexagram" kicks things off in an extremely heavy fashion. It almost immediately displays Deftones' greatest strength: Abe Cunningham's excellent drumming has been pushed to the absolute forefront of the mix. On this album, Cunningham's kick drum sounds like a depth charge going off in the ocean of your mind, and it pummels throughout Deftones heavier moments.  "Needles and Pins" is a mid-tempo fistfight, and "Minerva" is a very dreamy rock song, but by track four, "Good Morning Beautiful," it becomes obvious that Deftones isn't going to do anything to break the hard-rock mold.  Then, in true Deftones fashion, expectations are exceeded.
The middle section of the album is by far its strongest. "Deathblow" is a return to moody, atmospheric rock, with Frank Delgado's odd sounding harmonica sample and sudden crackles of distortion taking the song up to a timeless level. Delgado's contributions seem quite muted on this album, mostly consisting of keyboard playing that simply serves to amplify the guitar chords, but not on this track or the following. "When Girls Telephone Boys" might be the heaviest song Deftones have recorded, but Delgado's creepy noises throughout make the song even more interesting.  "Battle Axe" is a slow-charging monster, about as straightforward as a song can get, but awesome in its power.  It may be Deftones greatest track.

The progress gained in Deftones' middle section grinds to a halt at track eight, "Lucky You." It is actually an okay song, but it is completely electronic and doesn't fit the mood of the rest of the album.  It tries to function as "Teenager" did on White Pony, but that song's quiet simplicity acted as a counterpoint that enhanced the rest of the album. "Lucky You" sticks out like a sore thumb at a point where the album should be increasing momentum.
It is followed by "Bloody Cape," a fun, snappy song with a crushing ending.  Ex-MTV personality Carson Daly secretly has much better musical taste than his old TRL-hosting gig would imply. Daly invited Deftones to perform "Bloody Cape" near the end of Deftones' year of release (2003). Check out the creepy sampling Delgado does of vocalist Chino Moreno's voice. Also, check out a bunch of people getting whiplash.

Chino's mic drop is a great period to that musical sentence.  The performance also shows that this isn't necessarily a bad time musically for the band--this album just needed some tinkering.
"Bloody Cape" is followed by "Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event" a beautiful, glacially paced funeral song that actually fills the sounds-different-from-everything-else mold quite well.  Then "Moana" happens, and the album is over.
In conclusion, plenty of moments from Deftones shine, and the rest is still pretty good stuff.  It is just not as good as its predecessor, White Pony, and while that probably isn't a fair mark against it, it's one that sticks.  As it is, Deftones captures a band who's already at the mountaintop, but growing dissatisfied, and the cracks in their lives are showing in this music. These cracks will soon widen, marriages will break, addictions will deepen, and Deftones will be swallowed down to hell. Tomorrow's review: Saturday Night Wrist. Wait, crap, I forgot about the B-Sides album.
"ALBUM NOTE: Deftones was originally going to be called Lovers, but when the titled leaked, Chino Moreno changed it, feeling it had lost its mystery.  If the album had kept that title and followed the romantic unrest direction of its midsection and "Needles and Pins" and "Bloody Cape" more closely, I can't but wonder if it wouldn't be spoken of with the same reverence as White Pony.  The elements are there to make Deftones a classic.  Then again, even a weaker Deftones album is a classic.  Check out more of what might of been by listening to the original title track, later removed when the album title was changed.

2003 Maverick
1. Hexagram 4:09
2. Needles and Pins 3:23
3. Minerva 4:18
4. Good Morning Beautiful 3:28
5. Deathblow 5:28
6. When Girls Telephone Boys 4:36
7. Battle-Axe 5:01
8. Lucky You (feat. Reyka Osburn) Deftones and DJ Crook 4:10
9. Bloody Cape 3:37
10. Anniversary of an Uninteresting Event 3:57
11. Moana 5:02

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