Through Art We Are All Equals

Written by: TL on 24/07/2014 17:20:15

Unreliable bandmate, drug addict, fan scammer, exiled escapee from the law, golden-throated troublemaker - Like the franchise villain that refuses to stay defeated or the unfaithful friend that keeps coming back asking for second chances, it was supposedly inevitable that the nefarious Jonny Craig would return once more, at least for the by now disillusioned, who have followed the ginger North Dakota native all the way from his breakthrough with Dance Gavin Dance over stints with Emarosa, Isles & Glaciers and his r&b inspired solo project. Plenty have long since written Craig off as an impossible target for sympathy or/and as a shameless recycler of the same melodies, and everyone probably shook their heads at the likely controversy-baiting when Craig's new venture emerged under the "Slaves" moniker. Yet some of us are still here - and like suckers for the teet, persistently enchanted from the first time we heard the powerfully crooned lines of "Lemon Meringue Tie", we dare to wonder if Slaves, against all odds, are going to be Craig's vessel for finding at least some measures of redemption.

Considering that Slaves are already down two members from their original constellation, things look dim, and anyone hoping for quantum leaps in style will quickly be disappointed because the project's first finished effort "Through Art We Are All Equals" finds itself as only a modest development from the music Craig left off when parting ways with Emarosa. The main noticeable differences being that the music is a smidge heavier (likely in pursuit of the djenty lows of recent trends) and - to my delight - more conventionally structured, finally allowing Craig's unparalleled croons to shine unhindered by the often free-form songstructures that made his material with both Emarosa and Dance Gavin Dance rather erratically hit and miss. As with Emarosa, the instrumental backdrop remains both competent and swelling with pathos, but the howling and soaring guitar melodies are very modestly a backdrop to Craig's vocal acrobatics, which I think is no shame considering how well they play to the man's proven strength here, helping him resolve his potential as well and as consistently as ever, if not better.

The record opens well with "The Fire Down Below", in which Craig explosively and repetitively roars "pray the gods" while the lead guitar noodles longingly in the back and the singer deploys his characteristic phrasing in singing the last word as "Goo-OOO-ooods". Fans will know what I mean and have expectations gratified whether positive or negative. The upside is that the song knows what it is and doesn't overstay its welcome, and this is a description that fits nicely on the album overall. Hooks are sprinkled consistently across the eleven tracks and the expression stays homogenous with the "weight" being the main variable, and this is only subtly manipulated. So while fans are likely to pick favourites subjectively according to identifiable subject matter, the obvious highlights stand out by virtue of the guest vocalists. Issues frontman Tyler Carter - who himself has often been compared to Craig - makes a fine appearance in "The Young And Beyond Reckless", which also stands out by featuring one particular vocal bit that sounds so Kellin Quinn that you'll likely do yet another double take to realise that the Sleeping With Sirens singer - who has seemed a frequent guest on virtually everything for a while - does not in fact appear on here as well. "The Hearts Of Our Young" would likely make a striking impression with or without the contribution of Craig's sister Natalie, while "The King And The Army That Stands Behind Him" only really reminds us that a) Craig is still interested in mediocre hip-hop and b) my complete disinterest in rap music probably makes me a worthless authority on just that. Lastly however, arriving at the close of the album, Pierce The Veil's Vic Fuentes appears just in time to share credit for one of the finest songs that Craig has ever sung on (top five at least I'd say), further boosting an arrangement so potent that one can't but be baffled that it's tucked away here at the end. Talk about going out with a bang!

The good news is that as one can read plainly already from the titles referenced here, Craig now writes (and sings) with hints of awareness and humility that, while his tendency towards despondency and indignation are not completely in the past, one almost dares to hope that this talented individual could finally have started turning a corner in his tale of woe. Then again I do feel naive just writing that and only time and Craig himself can really provide the necessary proof. Meanwhile "Through Art We Are All Equal" is still a record that has its limits, primarily that Slaves have only polished what Craig has already done to death, while not really providing outlet for any added nuances to his expression. A song like "The Upgrade pt. II" might sound to die for when Craig bellows "Girl you do it aaaaallriiight" as only he can, but such merits still drown somewhat in sheer similarity to previous Craig highlights. Especially across the midsection things feel samey, and eventually these drawbacks maroon the album in the same position as the Emarosa records. It has a handful of moments you wish you could sing and which will likely have you trying, but it also has noteworthy stretches when you're really mostly just waiting for the good stuff.

Download: Starving For Friends, The Upgrade pt. II, The Hearts Of Our Young, Those Who Stand For Nothing Fall For Everything
For The Fans Of: Jonny Craig, Emarosa, Hands Like Houses, Secret And Whisper, Saosin

Release date 24.06.2014
Artery Records

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