Friday, November 20, 2009

Review: July for Kings “Monochrome”

Joe Hedges has reassembled his Cincinnati-based modern rock band, July for Kings, to deliver a highly anticipated follow up to 2002’s “Swim” and 2005’s “Nostalgia”. Unlike his darker and sonically intricate solo effort (“Curvature”), “Monochrome” is a welcome return to the melodic hard rock that made “Swim” one of the best (albeit underrated) albums of the decade in that genre.

For the unacquainted, July for Kings is similar to Matchbox 20, but with more punch in the music and more poetry in the lyrics. While “Monochrome” does have its more artful and experimental moments, the vast majority of the record is straight-up rock and roll from the heart. Hedges, who sounds a bit like Brian Vander Ark (Verve Pipe), comes across as earnest as ever, performing some amazing vocal gymnastics, He has also recruited some ace musicians who are on the same page (John McGuire, guitar; Brian Ives, bass; Dan McQuinn, drums). The chemistry of the new ensemble is evident as they effortlessly blend the thunderous guitars and drums with delicately tasty melodies.

A lot of bands have to compromise on production value after going independent from a major label, but that is clearly not the case on “Monochrome”. The sonic quality and engineering is outstanding - whether the song has multiple layers of big guitars, harmonies, and strings, or is just a stripped down tune, the music is always a perfect match for the mood.

Despite its name, “Monochrome” is radiating with diverse musical colors. The record also finds the band in a happier place this time around, full of upbeat songs that generally exude a more optimistic outlook. The band is more seasoned now and this maturity reveals itself in the 11 new tracks. Fans of “Swim” are going to love this one, from the crushing guitars in “Houses Made of Stained Glass” to the uplifting strumming in “Blue”. “Falling (How Do I?)” is a bouncy piano-driven ballad - quite a deviation for the band - but a remarkably enjoyable track. “Like A City”, which compares a girl to a city (and gives a shout out to Cincinnati in the process) is another pop rocker that treads close to Matchbox 20 territory. Other highlights include the driving “Fighting Fire”, the ultra-catchy “Emma”, and the infectiously peppy “Say It Now”. “Monochrome” is easily one of the best modern rock releases of 2009.

Don’t miss my Rock and Roll Report interview with Joe Hedges and Brian Ivesclick here!

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

July for Kings on MySpace. Official site.

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