Friday, July 14, 2017
Project 86 -- Rival Factions
After listening to Rival Factions, Project 86’s sixth studio album, it’s clear what went wrong with their fifth, …And the Rest Will Follow. On album number five, the band clearly wanted to experiment, but instead of diving in, the band skittered around a sound not quite committed to experimentation or their more emblematic hard rock…crafting music that seemed, for a band known for its passion, a little half-hearted. On Rival Factions, the band, now a three-piece, dive headfirst into a deep-sea of experimentation.
The Nicsperiment thinks that most great albums have a clear, decisive palette of sounds. Rival Factions is a great album, blending an aggressive guitar tone from Randy Torres that bounces from deep crunch to high-frequency freak-outs, fluid, crunchy bass by Steven Dail, keyboard that ranges from 80’s nostalgia to Halloween creep house, and a truly inspired vocal performance from Andrew Schwab, who balances some of his most aggressive shrieking with his most powerful singing to date. However, the true star of the album is Jason Gerken, filling in on drums for the recently departed (from the band, not life) Alex Albert. Albert’s drumming was one of Project 86’s most distinctive features, so for Gerken to come in and do something completely different and have it work so well feels like a minor miracle. Gerken’s fast-paced, highly energetic drumming takes every song to an unprecedented level. The production, aided by Dail and Torres, is clear and punchy. With these weapons at their disposal, Project 86 pares the tracklist down to the shortest since their debut, with shorter track times, creating a lean, mean, unpredictable snake of an album. This sound caught many listeners off guard, causing some to dismiss it outright. Considering this might just be the definitive work of Project 86’s career, that’s a shame.
Rival Factions opens with three of the more aurally vituperative songs of the bands career, culminating with the insane “The Forces of Radio Have Dropped a Viper into the Rhythm Section.” This latter song lyrically posits the band as an indestructible analog force in a digital world, ironic as Live Free or Die Hard premiered three days later (ten years ago…and man, can my facebook-less, smartphone-less self still relate to that theme!). This somehow segues perfectly into the soaring 80’s dance-influenced “Molotov,” a shocking juxtaposition with the last song, and yet somehow the only logical thing that could follow. The album only gets weirder from here, flirting with aggression again on “Slaves to Liberty” before unleashing the bizarre, dark, yet fun goth-pop of “Pull Me Closer, Violent Dancer.” These are all true things I am saying.
The final four tracks get even stranger, with the dance-mosh of “Illuminate,” the razor-sharp riffing of “Sanctuary Hum,” the sounds-like-what-it’s-called “Caveman Jams,” and the new-wave contemplation of album-closer, “Normandy.” None of these songs should work alone, and especially not in conjunction with one other, but somehow they do, and they do so perfectly. Each song complements the next ones, the former ones, it’s like this came from some alternate dimension. Yet this strangeness is not alienating, but creates a strange feeling of intimacy. Schwab’s lyrics, possibly the best of his career, discuss conflict (hence the album title) in relatable terms, matching the conflict of the disparate sounds that make up Rival Factions. Even the album artwork, featuring a sort of decoder jewel case, is some of the best of the CD-era. It’s all too good to be true.
Randy Torres, who names this his favorite of the band’s work, left after Rival Factions. Steven Dail was soon to follow. Gerken was just a temporary, hired hand. Nothing gold can stay.
2007 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Evil (A Chorus of Resistance)3:03
2. Put Your Lips to the TV 2:49
3. The Forces of Radio Have Dropped a Viper into the Rhythm Section 2:51
4. Molotov 3:12
5. Slaves to Liberty 3:02
6. Pull Me Closer, Violent Dancer 3:56
7. Illuminate 2:40
8. The Sanctuary Hum 5:01
9. Caveman Jam 3:18
10. Normandy 5:03