Baroness – Yellow & Green
Genre – Progressive Rock/Sludge
“Yellow & Green” is the third album by riff titans Baroness, the long awaited release since 2009’s sludge-conquering “Blue Record”, which brought a lot of attention to the band. Headed by guitarist and vocalist John Dyer Baizley, who is known for his art (for other bands as well as Baroness), the band has been known up to this point as a band that changes unashamedly, and “Yellow & Green” is no different.
Whereas Baroness has always remained heavy and thick in sound during past changes (if you compare the “First” EP to “Blue Record”, very different yet still heavy), this release shows the band moving in a lighter direction, if not more direct and accessible than ever before. The most notable change is Baizley’s vocals, which are a lot cleaner and completely void of guttural roars that were present on previous releases. The general approach to songwriting is a lot less flashy, and even the guitar tone sounds cleaner. The change will obviously split fans and cause controversy, but again, this is not the first time Baroness have changed their sound.
So “Yellow & Green” is a double album, clocking in over 75-minutes, it would seem that the change is not without reason. Yellow Theme opens up its side with a sweet and gentle melody with shining reverb, not unfamiliar to the intro and outro tracks on the “Blue Record”. Then Take My Bones Away kicks through the door, with this fuzzy jumping riff while Baizley bellows, and when the chorus eventually comes in, you can’t help but join in with the catchy “Take my bones away / I’ll find them everyday”. Soon after, there’s a short solo that reminisces the “Blue Record” again, but then changes into a synth jam, almost prog-rock-ish.
Next track March To The Sea is the first clear sign of change, sounding poppier, almost something you’d expect to be played during footage of life on the road for a band – just sounding and feeling full of cheer, memories and passion. Fourth track Little Things again has a pop sensibility, but with a morose mood. The delivery of the chorus even sounds like Matt Skiba’s toying vocal style – if he were slowed down and deeper – especially with lyrics like “You’re a greasy little thing / You scream before you sing / And you make a lotta noise”. It also features this fun solo at the end with pinched harmonics and background synths, along with some driving yet simplistic drums.
Twinkler, a somewhat decieving song title, has a morose acoustic melody and intertwining background sounds, building up as the track progresses while Baizley announces “Though I’m laid to ground / I will walk ancient sound”. Then Cocanium picks up it up slightly with clean wah-ing guitars, not afar from Little Things during the first two and a half minutes. However, it kicks into a more desperate tempo and the bass comes in, yet it isn’t long before the band returns to the stage before.
It is from Back Where I Belong where “Yellow & Green” gets spotty, being either hit or miss. The song returns to the more livelier sound of the earlier tracks, but yet again his vocal delivery sounds oddly like something you wouldn’t expect of Baroness at times (in this case, to me, like Rob Swire of Pendulum, if he were on a Radiohead track… really!). Sea Lungs suffers from the all too familiar sound of some of the other tracks, and falls short of really reaching a climatic moment, despite the undeniable grandiose tone. Eula, on the other hand, manages to restore the momentum. Starting softly with creeping guitars and shingling effects,
Then we come to the second disk, Green, which starts with the Green Theme – the same approach as Yellow Theme but more upbeat. Board Up The House is another track that highlights the change in Baroness’s sound. Although one of the heavier tracks on either albums, the catchy riffs and cheery choruses resonate the same change of approach as Torche have done on their latest releases. Foolsong is unfortunately one of the forgettable tracks, feeling lacklustre, perhaps only in comparison to the previous two tracks but sounding hollow nonetheless. Collapse also suffers from this, never really grabbing the listeners and staying at the same continuous level, and almost all too familiar at this point in the double-album.
Psalms Alive changes the mood with its almost indie-rock intro, with an odd drum pattern (for Baroness at least) as Baizley’s vocals kick in with this fun and cheeky attitude… then something goes horribly wrong, as he quickly wavers out of tune and time with the instrumental side. But then around the 2-minute mark, a more aggressive section kicks in, but not quite rescuing the track from the nightmarish moments earlier.
Stretchmarker is an instrumental track that finds Baroness treading new waters in their playing, never really resembling anything they’ve done before, and almost acts as a pick-up after the last few songs. The Line Between starts off with these thick chugged guitars, busting into a big beefy riff full of urgency; but then it falls into verses that again feels all too familiar, although the riff and chorus will up some excitement more than other several tracks. The guitars in the solo sound so good, however the bass and drums sound so quiet and unimaginative that it stops the short section from ever reaching climatic potential.
If I Forget Thee, Lowcountry is the last track, an instrumental outro that would probably be justified for its position and genuine beauty had this side of the album deserved it. Needless to say, I far prefer the Yellow side to the Green.
And so, “Yellow & Green” is one of those examples where ‘less is more’ might apply; if some tracks had been left off the double-album it would probably be a lot more consistent in quality and mood. It’s sometimes too bipolar, switching between catchy riffs and fun moments to being downright unexcited and never really leading anywhere. While it hurts to be negative about the band, this is an overall disappointment – the ideas are great, but the general execution is poor.
Favourite tracks: Take My Bones Away, Little Things, Eula.