Baroness - Yellow & Green
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Apparently, just one primary color was no longer enough to cover the volume of ideas produced by Atlanta, Georgia's Baroness for its third long-playing release, and thus the 2012 follow-up to 2007's Red Album and 2009's Blue Record has become an 18-song double set named Yellow & Green. The irony is there's no obvious cohesive theme or musical direction particular to either color (Green might be a shade more morose, if at all), as each contains an equally schizophrenic array of musical touchstones, too eclectic to easily categorize. In fact, the biggest headline about this release pertains to something else entirely, and that is Baroness' not entirely unexpected evolution into something other than a heavy metal band; one focused on expanding its arsenal of sounds and moods while embracing big choruses and more commercial songwriting tricks targeting maximum immediacy. "March to the Sea," for example, boasts a new wave pulse and singing harmonies à la Big Country, while "Little Things" borrows something from the Cure (and "Sea Lungs" from U2!); the melancholy country of "Green Theme" owes more to the Band than Black Sabbath or anything metallic, for that matter, while the gothic folk of "Twinkler" takes a left-hand path approach to Fleet Foxes' wistful vocal choir; and perhaps most telling, a few cuts like "Cocainium" and "Back Where I Belong" feature keyboards more prominently than guitars. When those six-strings do get plugged in and their Marshalls properly cranked for songs like misleadingly heavy opener "Take My Bones Away," the Thin Lizzy-praising "Board Up the House," or the thunder pop nugget "The Line Between," it's not like they've been stripped of all their cojones and distortion (and these had already been toned down for the Blue Record), but the higher melodic quotient puts them squarely into the hard rock category, at most. And while one can't help but respect Baroness' general bravura and overwhelming success rate on these songs, the band inevitably falls flat on its face now and then, including a second-half stretch spanning the sleepy "Foolsong," the snoring drones of "Collapse," and the New Order horror show "Psalms Alive" (which admittedly, does come alive near the end). In sum: Yellow & Green undertakes such a massive creative leap that only time will tell whether it goes down as a triumph or a blunder. In fairness to Baroness' heavy metal fan constituency, all this experimentation has almost nothing in common with the band's initial, Isis-inspired post-metal EPs; but between the steady maturation displayed by those ensuing color-coded works and the quantity of songs here, both undeniably infectious and innovative, many more fans are bound to embark on the Georgians' strange, strange ride. Chances are, it will get even stranger from here on out.