Review: Failure’s The Heart is a Monster is a Monster in Our Hearts
When a friend and fellow music journalist snagged us tickets for Failure’s recent pass through the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve attended in a long time. And not just because it was the perfect Old Guy scenario: no warm-up bands, a considerate mid-set intermission and an early enough start time that even my hour’s drive home put me in bed well before midnight (Welcome to my own personal Lamesville). No, what sealed the deal was that Failure sounded amazing through the entire show. The sound crew completely knew what they were doing, and the band landed every song hard.
All fawning aside, though: Who records a grungy ’90s alt-rock record in 2015? Well, Failure do, and they do all of it right, too. (Okay, I’ll concede there are probably a couple dozen other bands making serviceable strides in a similar direction, and I’m just too overwhelmed writing about the hordes of scalp-splattering shredheads to notice.) The magic that Failure work through Heart lies in the consistent illusion of sonic density while deceptive simplicity walks through a charming set of damaged pre-millennial pop songs. Or maybe it’s simplicity that’s the illusion, while a brace of dark and skittering complexities lock together into pseudo-logical patterns. Either way, somebody’s hand is waggling misdirection while Failure park a Buick behind the other one.
What does all that mean? (Good fucking question.) The notes and chords that Failure find in their instruments rarely feel familiar or even possible, almost like each tone is an unwilling participant that required cajoling and promises that Failure would leave them alone if they’d just come out to play this once. Sounds silly? Listen to “Atom City Queen” and tell me I’m wrong. Or any of the other rockers that shuck and shuffle through the album’s cohesive hour-ish run time. “A.M. Amnesia” sports a toothy rhythm section and brittle tunefulness that feels a little like Pyramids, if that band had ever tried to write a straight-ahead rock track in a radioactive bunker. Knowing “Counterfeit Sky” wasn’t written by Steven Wilson doesn’t decrease its occasional Porcupine Tree vibe. The regal chime and buzz of “Otherwhere” is an easy late-album charmer. And the more reserved numbers are no less enchanting – “Snow Angel” hovers early in the record, “Mulholland Drive” is a Pink Floydian portal directly to a dusky and smoke-filled back-alley lounge, and “I Can See Houses” rambles toward the album’s end in a hazy glory.
It’s odd (maybe) that Ken Andrews’ voice reminds this listener of A Perfect Circle’s mellower moments, given that the latter band so capably covered “The Nurse Who Loved Me” twelve years ago. Additionally, fans of dredg should definitely burrow into Failure’s Heart. Not that Failure really sound much like dredg, but anyone who still hasn’t worked out the right combination of ingested chemicals and blunt-force head trauma to make Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy listenable will appreciate the highly personalized rock vision that this album offers.
Fantastic Planet hit shelves (yeah, physical goddamn shelves) nearly two decades ago. That’s a long time for an underground gem to become a cult favorite and attract the guardianship of petrified curmudgeons. Will The Heart is a Monster replace Fantastic Planet on the turntable? Why should it have to? Both are extraordinary albums, each has its own idiosyncratic appeal. The Heart is a Monster just happens to be a much more current snapshot of what these guys want to accomplish right now, which makes it all the more valuable. I wove a bunch of simpleminded comparisons through the above paragraphs, but that was only to lure in the fence-sitters. Heart shows Failure hitting a curve ball over the wall of their very own weirdly shaped park.