There’s always that one band.
There seems to be a common theme in music lovers, where in adolescence they loved everything that was blasted on the airwaves. Then one day, all of a sudden, it all changed.
If you were to ask them about that moment it would be like asking a romantic about their first kiss, or an alcoholic their first beer. It’s that band that changes their perspective from music, from that of a bystander to that of a participant. It’s the band that made them change their wardrobe, by new headphones, get a new hairdo, and change their lifestyle. In that moment when everything clicks, when you finally find a band that speaks to you, challenges you, and changes the lens through which you see the world–nothing can ever replace that feeling.
So when reviewing albums, there’s always that romantic notion of the underground. Currently finding great music in the mainstream is like trying to find an oasis in the desert. Yet to find buried treasure you have to go underground. So with great joy, I am pleased to review Dissonance’s Ascent, a musical tour de force with the capability of being that band to someone out there.
The first song, Break Myself is a great introduction to the album. The first thing to notice is how great Dissonance is at blending genres. Musicians have this terrible habit of stampeding to one kind of sound, one kind of style, and then when it’s beat to death, nobody wants anything to do with it. So all the innovation within that genre dies because nobody wants to be associated with it.
For example in this song you can hear traces of EDM, House, Techno etc. In fact you could probably pinpoint the decade, or even the year, in which each sound was popular in electronic music circles. Yet what Dissonance does is incredibly amazing in that each genre is blended together, synthesized, and restructured in a way that makes this album sound so incredibly unique.
Listening to this track, or any other part of this album–you understand the artist’s taste. They stuck their chin up, and embraced electronic music. Whereas other people try to runaway from a certain type of sound. Dissonance is able to evolve that sound in an incredibly unique way. That coupled with the variety of subgenres within each track–creates this electronic music fan’s wet dream of an album.
So that’s just with the electronic aspect of the track, then there’s that late 90’s guitar, beautiful vocal harmonies, and larger than life drums. It’s one thing to embrace all of electronic music, it’s another when you improve electronic music.
What do I mean by improving electronic music? One of my main gripes with a lot of EDM tracks is with the beat. People harp on how important the beat is. There are entire youtube tutorials on how to make the perfect kick, how to program 808’s, the best way to make hi hat triplets, etc. Yet it all sounds so similar, and it’s similar in a way that lends itself to mediocrity.
This isn’t the case with this track. The drums have that stadium rock kind of feel. When I first heard the drums I wasn’t thinking EDM, I was thinking Led Zeppelin. It’s details like this that push the genre forward. It would be like if there was no distorted guitars in Heavy Metal. The music could sound dark, it could sound menacing, but as soon as you introduce some distortion to the sound everything changes. Having these heavy real drum kits pound away is as important to EDM as distortion is to Heavy Metal. It’s one thing to create a beat to dance to, it’s another to create an emotion with a beat (primarily that of aggression). That’s one of the reasons why people don’t like electronic music, because it doesn’t sound human, aka has no emotion. And that’s what separates Dissonance from the kid making tracks on soundcloud.
Then we get to the next song Poison Kiss which continues this musical exploration. This track borders on being pop. In fact I could see this being some kind of mutated pop music. Where Lady Gaga was bathed in radioactive waste and blasted with gamma rays. Instead of getting cancer, she would have superhuman abilities to create really great original music. (Also it should be noted that I actually like Lady Gaga, especially her song Alejandro.)
So what do I mean by this mutated pop? This song has the structure of a pop song. It has the feel of a pop song. Yet there is this musicianship that prevents it from being full on pop. There’s this layer upon layer of synths, subtle guitar tones, and chord progression that’s far more complex than what’s on the radio.
Now this isn’t to detract from the music, or to critique it. The best comparison to make is that it would be like eating a gourmet burger at a restaurant. Everybody knows what a McDonald’s burger tastes like. Yet when you’re at a gourmet restaurant and they offer up a burger. It’s immediately going to pique your interest. Because you want to know: what does a gourmet burger taste like? The same principle applies here, you want to know, given the musicianship of the previous track, what a pop song would sound like through the creative lens of Dissonance. Which is an incredibly rewarding experience to listen to.
Next up we have Murder of Love, which has such a creative intro. It’s the type of intro that as a musician you kick yourself for not thinking of it yourself. Then the rest of this song has this sensual kind of groove. Then the lyrics which paints this kind of doomed romance that most adults find themselves in. That passionate kind of love, which is in equal parts love and hate. You want to get out of the drama, but at the same time the drama reels you back in. These lyrics are so incredibly precise and anybody who has ever been in those kind of relationships, it will immediately resonate with you.
I-I’ve been a victim of your love, like many before
So many before
You- You strangled me with all your charms
I yearn for more
It doesn’t get it any realer than that.
Then when we get to the chorus and this is where another one of Dissonance’s talents shine through. Listening to all of the tracks that preceded it, you get a glimpse of how incredibly talented Dissonance is at vocal harmonies. But it’s in this track that you really understand how well it’s done.
The best comparison I would make is that the vocal harmonies are like George Harrison’s guitar playing. George Harrison is famous for his incredibly precise, and melodic lead guitar. And while he wasn’t the most technical, or the most blues inspired guitarist, his guitar always served the song. It always made the song better. So for vocal harmonies to take on the technicality of a musical instrument, and still retain that simple melodic structure is an incredible feat. If you don’t believe me play a piano chord. Then when you’re done, try to layer your vocals to that piano chord and see how difficult it is.
Next up we have Taste. This song in particular, calls back to a Nine Inch Nails influence. Which isn’t a bad thing. If you don’t like Nine Inch Nails then you are a mouth breathing troglodyte. Yet as great artists, Dissonance manages to make their own unique take on it. Which can be attributed to a more modern sound. Dissonance as I’ve said before isn’t afraid to take pieces and parts of modern electronic music and making it their own.
One example of this would be panning the synths all around your ears, and having this 3 dimensional kind of sound. So while it does have a throwback to a band that was incredibly popular in the 90’s (and is still pretty popular but for the sake of argument, we’re going to be looking at 90’s Nine Inch Nails) it still manages to make it incredibly fresh. By being so progressive and using modern production techniques.
Then we get to Drive which also begins with this crazy creative intro. And it’s also interesting because it starts off so atonal, and so abrasive. It’s one thing to have an abrasive sound, it’s another to warp and bend that abrasiveness into a melody. We as listeners know and trust that Dissonance will resolve this in their music, but the mystery is how they are going to do it.
They accomplish this by anchoring this abrasive sounding synth to the vocal melody and beat. And when they do this, no longer are we talking about abrasiveness, we’re talking about an atmosphere. The sultry vocals and the instrumentation, combined with the abrasive synths create this cool vibe. The abrasiveness creates a sense of danger, while the sultry vocals ooze a degree of coolness. But nothing is cooler than flirting with danger.
I touched on briefly on the vocals, but the vocals throughout the album are incredibly well done. But it’s in this track where the just fit in so perfectly. It’s like when you see an actor in a certain movie role. Like Al Pacino in The Godfather or Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad. If you were to replace either actor in the movie/tv show that they were in, it would completely change the entire movie for the worst. Likewise you cannot have this song with any vocals, except for the vocals in this track.
Finally we end on Starstuff a track that is so incredibly fun to listen to. Usually artists do one or two things when ending an album. They either make the last song the most depressing song ever, as sort of a statement on society/their emotional state/political views etc. Or they end it on a high note, a celebration of all that has come before it.
Dissonance chooses the latter and decides to end on a celebratory tone. Which is absolutely perfect for this album. Because this whole entire album is really a love letter to electronic music. It’s a celebration of everything that has come before it, during it, and improves on areas where it is weak. Which takes a certain love and devotion to electronic music to understand it’s flaws and improve upon them. While at the same time embracing what made electronic music resonate with them so much.
The whole entire album can be a “Best of” selection electronic music. But it’s not the synths that sell the album. Though expertly done, it’s the vocals, the beat, the guitar, all of the other elements that are usually in electronic music. That are usually neglected, but here are fully fleshed out, and because they are fleshed make this album such a joy to listen to.
A bad musician always defines themselves to a genre, a mediocre musician defines themselves to what they aren’t, and a great musician defines themselves by who they are. Dissonance understands that they are an electronic music band. Yet they know enough about their own particular strengths to allow them to shine through. Those moments of individuality that really sets the album apart from the rest of the music scene.
And as I have said before great individuals make great art, and it’s when a band makes great art that they become that band. When I said that this group had a potential to be that band. I sincerely meant it. There is enough innovation, and individualism for even the most hardened music cynic to take another look. So I implore anybody who makes music to check these guys out.
And with that, I undeniably give this band my full recc.