Friday, March 11, 2011

Society of Beggars - Exit Soul review

I had the pleasure of meeting a few members of Adelaide-born, Melbourne-based, band Society of Beggars last week while on a brief holiday in Melbourne.  After a few beers, the boys provided me with a copy of their debut album, Exit Soul, imploring me to review it for this blog.  Not being one to shy away from new music, I obliged.

Overlooking the unfortunate album title, I dove into the album without bias, despite the guys from the band being rather stand up guys.  Describing their sound as straight up, no frills rock n' roll, I was eager to hear the noise they were making, and upon my first listen, I was a reviewer divided.  The first four tracks didn't really do much for me, the melodies were there, as were crunchy guitars, competent drumming, and a gravelly, cigarette smoke coated voice that suited the sound very well, but it didn't immediately grab my attention.  It was rock n' roll, no doubt, just somewhat generic rock n' roll. 

Album opener, "Skortha" (again with the unfortunate titles), are acoustic driven numbers that devolve into a showcase for guitarist Jim Michalopoulos' favorite distortion pedals.  "Grand Illusion of Nonbeing" (seriously?) is the albums closest ballad but it is hampered by a poor mixing job that makes the guitar work sound tinny and the drumming sound like Dibi (one name, kind of like Cher) was beating on a bunch of overturned buckets. 

The songs that make up the first half of the album were ultimately forgettable, however about midway through the album a raucous and jaunty tune titled "Another Mask" reinvigorated my attention.  Vocalist Yianni Michalopoulos croons and strains his voice to the limit behind a rollicking melody that reminded me of The Pixies, and is easily the stand out track on the album.  After hitting a high note, the album switches pace, with a slow burning number titled "Exit Soul", that  evokes the spirit of The Black Crowes with bluesy harmonies that really shows off Yianni's impressive hard rock pipes.  The album then gradually pulls you back to its hard rock roots with the acoustic driven song, "The Third Tree".  The jarring, creepy finger plucking coupled with neo-psychedelic chanting are perfectly balanced by the chugging beat that keeps the momentum going.

Unfortunately, the album slips back into the formulaic songs heard during the first half of the album.  "Veil", despite boasting some string arrangements, does little to save itself from it's own self-imposed gimmick.  "Beautiful Fatalism" is a throw away track, a quasi-instrumental number that focuses solely on two or three piano notes hit over and over again, which begins to feel like a tack hammer to the forehead past the two minute mark.  Album closer "Man Of The Street", sounds like a Rage Against the Machine b-side, a half baked idea that never maturated beyond the basic four-chord structure.  Yianni's vocals were uninspiring and did little to elevate the mundanity of the track, though the album does end on an interesting note...a hidden track featuring a sole ukulele.

Overall, Exit Soul has a handful of stand out tracks, however their relevance is impeded by the generic hard rock songs that bookend the album.  If Society of Beggars were more inclined to focus on their more sonically interesting tracks than being loud and brash, they would be able to put together a more cohesive collection of songs.

Society of Beggars - Skortha
Society of Beggars - Another Mask

No comments: