The Classic Crime: The Silver Cord

After the lighter iPod fodder of their successful 2006 freshman effort Albatross, and their folksy acoustic interim release The Seattle Sessions, you wouldn?t expect to see much discussion of a band like The Classic Crime within the depths of the FEARnet music catacombs. But that all changed with the second full-length outing from this Seattle-based alt-rock quintet, who have chosen (wisely) to explore darker territory ? not to mention breaking new creative ground with slicker production (courtesy of noted producer Michael ?Elvis? Baskette) and a much larger sonic palette ? including tighter rhythms, louder guitars, stronger melodies, and vastly improved vocals from frontman Matt MacDonald. The result is menacing, meaty and memorable...

The Crime have a knack for driving broad, grandiose anthems with simple, earthy instrumentation, but throughout Albatross I felt the guys showed a tendency to play all over the map with a crazy-quilt of song styles. They haven?t entirely shaken that habit with this outing, but fortunately MacDonald?s vocals are consistent and strong enough to tie the mixed bag together, along with a more cohesive over-arching theme of emergence from near-death despair into cautious hopefulness ? call it The Upward Spiral, if you will.

Taking its title from an ancient mystical symbol for the fragile thread linking life and death, The Silver Cord takes on no less than all the tangled emotions in between as its core theme. ?The album? is very simply put about life and death,? MacDonald explains in the band?s press release. ?All of the songs on the album flow out of this context? images of love, lust, mortality, death, and the fragility of life among others can be drawn from each song.?

The tracks are sequenced according to this journey from death & despair to life & renewal, even down to dubbing the opening track ?The End? and closing the album with ?The Beginning.? More than a clever conceit, it reflects a mature grasp of the big picture, and the band carries the concept through fairly well, even if the album could stand to lose a couple of weak tracks here and there.

?The End? kicks things off on a melancholy note, building to a goosebump-raising crescendo. The mood pumps up mightily with the cowbell and fist-pumping ?hey-hey-heys? intro of ?Gravedigging,? but in terms of re-playability, the CD really blasts into gear with the rock anthem ?The Way That You Are,? which is a certain hit in the making. Another solid track is first single ?Abracadavers,? which hits hard and fast with a gritty vocal delivery from MacDonald and a tenebrous riff pattern.

The more subdued songs don?t carry quite the same power, but there are still some gems among the slower fare: ?R&R? has a powerful chord structure and rich vocal harmonies, and ?Just a Man? shows MacDonald's range with its soothing falsetto. There?s a tendency to get preachy now and then, but there?s a frank sincerity in tracks like ?Medisin? which addresses the subject of alcohol abuse in an original and thought-provoking way. I was also impressed with instrumental cut ?The Ascent,? which contains some of the band's most sublime guitar work.

Final track ?The Beginning? closes the bookends and brings the show home in epic style ? definitely the album?s most pure track, running through the emotional spectrum and building to a strong, satisfying climax. As its title implies, let?s hope this is a sign of even greater things to come.

Laboring in the over-marketed shadow of genre familiars like Panic at the Disco, The Classic Crime put most of their alt-pop peers to shame thanks to a more heartfelt intensity and a soulful strength that reaches beyond your basic emo pity-party. There?s a good chance they will burst that mold and grow even further in the future? hopefully their booking on the recent Warped Tour this year gave a lot more people a chance to find out.