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Failure Unleashes A 'Monster'

By Casey Moffitt in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 1, 2015 3:25PM

photo credit: R. Daly

When we spoke with Failure's Ken Andrews last year, he told us the band was working hard on new material and promised an album was forthcoming. This week, the album is finally ready for the masses.

The Heart Is A Monster leaps where Fantastic Planet left us back in 1996, kicking off with a wink and a nod to Failure's previous studio effort with "Segue 4." From there Failure takes us on a wild trip trough 18 tracks that sound like they have been percolating for nearly two decades.

The Heart Is A Monster is unmistakably a Failure album, as we find a lot of similar elements that made us fall in love with Fantastic Planet so many years ago, featuring layers of guitars, synthesizers and vocal harmonies with pounding rhythms. But this is not a paint-by-numbers recording.

What's astounding is how huge the sonics get on this album, not just with volume but in the range of frequencies filled by the instrumentation and vocals. The layers fill up so much space that it's nearly overwhelming. It doesn't just sock you in the mouth, but envelopes you like a ocean wave, or molten lava, or a cool breeze depending on which tune you're listening to. When it's all put together the sounds are either lush and beautiful or agitated and dissident.

Not only is the sound wide-ranging, so too are the tones we hear on the new album. Failure has been touring with an all digital system plugged into the house system— that is to say no big amplifiers, fistfuls of microphones and miles of cable. We're going to guess the album was recorded the same way, given what we've seen and Andrew's long history recording strictly with digital equipment.

2015.06.30.failurecvr.jpg This gives Failure a lot of options with which to play when it comes to chasing tones. They utilize a lot of them, but with near limitless possibilities some restraint has to be used. The Heart Is A Monster uses a lot of unusual tones, but it never delves into the arena of tastelessness. This approach to recording an album may seem off-putting to some who would rather hear an artist tackle the limitations of plugging a Les Paul Jr. into a finely-tuned Marshall JCM 800— which also sounds great. Working in a completely digital world is a different animal that still takes a lot of skill to harness and mold into a very good album. If that's something you can't appreciate, then have fun listening to those old Mountain albums again.

Fantastic Planet was Failure's first attempt at taking on a recording project on their own. Since then, Andrews has spent a lot of time doing production work and certainly knows his way around a studio a lot better now, and he uses it almost like another instrument.

As for the songs themselves, there's a little bit of everything. If you like a cool, spacey number, check out "Counterfeit Sky" or "Snow Angel." "Come Crashing" is a wonderful slow burn that builds to wicked crescendo. Failure dips its toe into math rock waters with "Atom City Queen" working its verses in seven-beat phrases. "The Focus" takes off like an old muscle car. Reworked version of "Petting the Carpet" and "I Can See Houses," which were released only as outtakes previously, also appear in full bloom on the album.

There's certain minimalism to the songwriting, in that the riffs and progressions aren't terribly elaborate. That's not to say they aren't creative, as we don't hear The Heart Is A Monster exploring the bluesy movements or pentatonic scales that we hear in a lot of rock music. But that's something we've come to expect from a Failure album.

It's this combination of the songwriting with the elaborate sonic palate is a big part of what makes The Heart Is A Monster such a fun ride.

The details of what Failure has captured and produced are also easy to appreciate. For example, each song has a written ending. None of them just fade out. The album is not just meticulously written and recorded, but the post production is also exemplary. The Heart Is A Monster is well-crafted from just about every aspect of the recording process.

Comparisons to Fantastic Planet are going to be hard to avoid, as it's a beloved album and we've been waiting so long for new Failure material. But that is a high standard to judge an album. The Heart Is A Monster may not be the next Fantastic Planet, but at the least it stacks up very well and Failure fans are going to have a hard time finding too many flaws with the latest effort.

The Heart Is A Monster is available now. Tickets for Failure's Aug. 21 performance at Metro are on sale now.