By this time, if you’ve been a music lover long enough, the term “supergroup” more likely than not carries a negative stigma with it. Too many times have your hopes been dashed upon the rocks by the sirens of… Well… Rock. For every Foo Fighters, Dead Weather, and Damned Things, you get Chickenfoot, Hellyeah, and Five Finger Death Punch. The latest supergroup we’ve been delivered from Mt. Metal consists of vocalist William DuVall (Alice In Chains), guitarists Ben Weinman (Dillinger Escape Plan), and Brent Hinds (Mastodon), drummer Thomas Pridgen (The Mars Volta), and bassist Pete Griffin (Dethklok)… Hehehehe. All severely talented in their own right, is it possible that there are just too many composers penning this oratorio? I’ll simply do a track-by-track analysis to guide you through the fun-house that is Giraffe Tongue Orchestra’s debut album, Broken Lines.
1. “Adapt Or Die“– Okay, this is what I was talking about. This definitely falls under the “Chickenfoot” category for me. When you get a bunch of talented people together trying to pen a piece that follows the most basic of rules of any given medium (“This sounds like a song, right?”), more often than not each member of that bunch is going to lose at least a smidgen of their individuality. I’m wondering if this was picked as the first track to more or less get it out of the way. From the basic, fast strumming patterns, to the lackluster chorus, to the spaz-out, wah-pedal solo, this one was just boring. I’m sorry, guys. I am. I feel bad typing that. But, there it is. Very generic feeling album opener.
2. “Crucifixion”– I was worried about this one when it started. It had the same vibe as the first track. Predictable, straightforward strumming, and chord progression. But then the verse kicks in, and it’s trippy, psychedelic delivery is welcome after what we just went through. A bombastic pre-chorus, and then unfortunately back into the straight-forward fare, again. Then we get an even trippier interlude! Pete Griffin (hehehehehe) jazzin’ it up on bass, and (really, this goes without saying that it is kind of the highlight of the entire album) Pridgen’s chops just blazing through the song, giving it its momentum and carrying us to the Valhalla of badassery.
3. “No-One Is Innocent”– Yes. Alright, let’s finally get really weird. Dig in, get groovier, heavier, and more fearless. Creepy, ghostly back-up vocals (Brent?) abound, giving this track more atmosphere and character. This is definitely one of the good ones, but also still suffers only slightly from the “Holy shit, we’re gonna chug bar chords and it’ll make it faster and heavier, right?!” I may be biased, but I fell like most of this is DuVall and Hinds’ doing. Nonetheless, this is the strongest track thus far on the album. I’d be happy to listen again.
4. “Blood Moon”– Remember what I said about groovier in the last track? Yeah, take that and turn it up to 11. I love this track. The groove, the dissonant jazz chords from (presumably) Weinman, the tight, feel-it-in-your-chest bass and drum combo, and haunting vocal delivery. This falls in the same category of really dark atmosphere as the previous track.
Plus, the official video is just the right amount of bizarre, awesome, campy, and funny. Showing that these guys probably don’t take themselves too seriously. Which is, arguably, one of the biggest problems with most supergroups. If they stuck with this vibe throughout the whole album, I’d be more than happy with the result.
5. “Fragments & Ashes”– Immediately getting into weirder chord progressions and song structure. This one reeks of (in the best way) Weinman. I’m biased, as Ben Weinman is a personal favorite of mine from a guitarist/songwriter standpoint. I feel like he and Pridgen had a blast with this one. With an interlude that took me back to Dog Fashion Disco’s “Albino Rhino“, this one is just a fun listen. Trying it’s absolute hardest to distance itself from the opening track, and thus the casual radio-friendly listener, it throws all of what they’ve got at the wall, and I’m liking all of what stuck. Even the ending is very reminiscent of a DEP song from “One of Us is the Killer“. I’m not even mad. But, it did lose the atmosphere, and darker, creepy feeling of tracks 3 and 4. But still more enjoyable than the first two.
6. “Back to the Light”– Starting things out with a very dirty, chuggy, guitar riff, and Pridgen trying his damnedest to make it stand out from what we heard earlier. DuVall mentions wolves again (2nd time that I counted). We get another off-kilter verse with a spastic guitar lurking just off in the distance, and then a different approach with the chorus. Instead of trying to amp it up, they build a little tension by bringing everything down again; soulful lead vocals with the haunting backing accompaniment. The bridge in this one has a similar guitar solo to the first track, without the wah-pedal this time, and much more jazz-fusion (guessing Weinman had a heavy hand in this track as well). The solo breaks into an extended bridge/interlude and we get to hear more from Pete Griffin’s (hehehehehehehe) jazz chops which then ends up becoming the outro to the song. No complaints here.
7. “All We Have is Now”– The “this-is-kind-of-the-middle-of-the-album” slow jam. Everything is edged back a little, not only in intensity, but also in the mix. Everything has am airy feel to it. Like you’re hearing this song played from a bluff overlooking the ocean, and you’re relaxing by plodding your toes in the wet sand as the tide meanders in and out. It’s a change of pace. Not a bad alteration. Nothing outstanding, though, either. It’s a light interlude to the album, and it’s pretty, and fine.
8. “Everyone Gets Everything They Really Want”– Disco?! Alright, more of the darker tone… But with disco flare. Let’s see where this goes. Smooth bass, discordant jazz guitar chords, sassy vocals… Odd, unilateral movement into the “chorus” that has more of a Rod Stewart doing a parody of disco feeling. Organ/keyboard, and horns bridge into a low-in-the-mix grungy guitar with military snare rolls that peak into a ballad-like chanty outro. Not my favorite track, but it gets points for being experimental with their dynamics.
9. “Thieves and Whores”– Odd, film-noir-score guitar intro. More discordant jazz chords, chanting “whoas” spliced with intermittent grunge guitar progressions. Rinse/repeat/mix/repeat. Not bad. Not great. Shortest track on the record.
10. “Broken Lines”– The eponymous track leans on more discordance, blending it the best it can with a toe-tapping beat. The vocals on this track deter and dissuade more than they attract or lure the listener in. I wonder if they considered leaving this one as an instrumental at any point. An interesting bridge comes in a little less than halfway through, dropping the vocals. We’re treated to a spoken word section over the building bridge. After vocals come back in, they continue to layer as the bridge progression repeats over and over as the song stumbles to the finish line, ending rather anticlimactically. Mostly boring, unfortunately.
And that’s a wrap! Again, I could be biased because of my love of Weinman and Pridgen, but this definitely isn’t the worst supergroup I’ve been exposed to. To me, they seemingly reversed the usual song-flow and book-ended the album with the weaker tracks, and put the good ones in the middle. So far, if I were to grade the album/group, I’d put them more in the Them Crooked Vultures category. More focused than The Sound of Animals Fighting, less experimental than Oysterhead, but much more interesting than Dead By Sunrise. I’d love to hear more of these guys if they have any material like tracks 3 and 4 left in them.
What’d you think of Giraffe Tongue Orchestra’s first outing? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!