Written by: AP on 05/02/2011 01:38:39

Decoder is a trash bin for scene music it seems, having collected dust from at least three genre regulars to form its core. Featuring members of Oceana, Of Machines and VersaEmerge, three out of five musicians here have tasted success in variable doses, and naturally a band that looks this promising on paper comes with a loft of expectations. Right off the bat I'm going to murder the most obvious one: that Decoder is some kind of logical derivative of the three bands to whom it owes its existence; and confirm another: that Decoder plays post-hardcore.

But this is also where it gets interesting, because this self-titled effort poses a challenge for the term in the same way that bands like Circa Survive, Chiodos and Saosin have done. Not textbook nor befitting any specific pigeon hole, Decoder fully capitalize on their potential as a hungry and versatile band, airing their taste for lofty post rock ambience and indie guitar tone as often as they can. In fact, this tone is what separates Decoder from a good percentage of other, similar-minded bands - it is a kind of semi-strained, ringing proposition that makes only half use of distortion and gain, making it sound ethereal and contemplative, rather than calculated and sterile (as is the case with an alarming number of bands in the genre).

Naturally it is the three celebrities, however, that steal the spotlight. Clean vocalist Spencer Pearson - formerly of VersaEmerge - in particular, enjoys copious amounts of focus courtesy of his soaring, soulful musings. Fans of Anthony Green, Jonny Craig and Vic Fuentes should be alert for these, while the more rhythmic of heart will surely find a thing or two to appreciate in the often peculiar drumming of Brent Guistwite, whom some might recognize as the guy that used to beat the skins for Of Machines. Keith Jones, our third celebrity, who created a name for himself screaming in Oceana, on the other hand, is less striking. His screams have a tendency to sound too harsh in juxtaposition with the lingering melodies of guitarist Anthony Sepe, his metallic roar disrupting the pained aesthetics otherwise on display.

There are moments to be found on the likes of "Conflicts", where he opts for a more frantic approach with a distinct skramz (read: old school screamo) influence, and this brings forth the best in him. But next to an aficionado like Spencer, his contributions seem futile, and could, in fact, be done without. Such a bold move would instantly proper Decoder into pure post-rock territory, of course, and sever the vast majority of ties the band still maintains with the post-hardcore scene, but with one member disturbing the band's stride toward collective musical nirvana it hardly matters. Keith does manage to become an integral part of a song, on the heavier "Taker" and the fantastic crescendo "Holding On" that closes the album, but it feels too little, too late.

So where does all of this leave us? That Decoder is a willing and able band is no chore to tell, yet something about the lucid atmosphere has a lulling characteristic. Sure what has been achieved here stands miles above most of Decoder's contemporaries, but at the same time their desire to explore is what's holding them back. Because the album induces thoughts altogether airy and incoherent, one too easily descends into a trance in which the music is only heard on a subconscious level. The album lacks the instant and lasting value of, say, Circa Survive, but for purposes of relaxation and plugging out it is the perfect accomplice.

Download: Transcendence, Conflicts, The Taker, Holding On
For the fans of: Circa Survive, Oceana, Of Machines, Tides of Man
Listen: Myspace

Release date 18.01.2011
Rise Records

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