CD Review: Bright Light, Dark Eyes – Animal Confession

To hear of the musical roots of Ottawa’s Animal Confession, one wonders how they arrived at the sonic plane they inhabit.  Vocalist and guitarist Andrew Gharib first slipped into the music world at age six via classical piano lessons; bassist Patrick Quesnel, on the other hand, grabbed a bass, summoned the grunge within, and joined a band on a seeming whim during his teens.  From these roots, what emerged was an experimental, moody hard rock sound that evokes the careful forethought compositions of Pink Floyd and Tool and the dark experimental daring of Trent Reznor, while veering into retro, hook-laden vibes reminiscent of The Cure or perhaps early Depeche Mode.

It’s been a long time since a hard rock act truly engaged me, but Animal Confession has done it with their debut album, Bright Light, Dark Eyes.  I was lucky enough to be offered a taste in advance of its October 2012 release; allow me to tempt your musical taste buds with a track by track look.

Drown In You:  Opening track “Drown In You” slams straight into you with heavy riffs.  No easing into this album.  I’m immediately reminded of Stabbing Westward with the richness of Gharib’s voice and the intricate melody.  The influence of Deftones is also apparent here with the build and fall of verse and chorus progression.  A tale of relationships turned suffocating, it makes for a strong start.  Single potential, without question.  “Walls are falling all around me.  She’s so heavy in my mind.”

Epidemic:  The opening riff evokes U2 circa Achtung Baby! but spills immediately into something hinting at The Cure.  The attention to guitar lines really makes the band stand out.  Intricacy matters, and I wish more bands understood that.  “What you see, what you know/Doesn’t matter anymore,”  Gharib insists, describing a world of letdown within and without – an epidemic of futility and apathy, perhaps.  Very solid, sonically lush.

Fade Away:  A little softer, and I stress little, there’s a more experimental feel here in terms of transitions.  It works surprisingly well, even as the song seems to take a hard corner and then a U-turn, so to speak.  A moody piece befitting a depressive rumination, one certainly hears the David Gilmour in between the lines.

Light My Way:  Love the opening to this track, with its delicate, almost distance guitar, echoing behind soulful vocals.  There’s an artistry to Gharib’s vocals – he truly has a gift for conveying emotion in each note.  Shades of Depeche Mode here, but lyrically, kin to Deftones.  The raw desperation of a belted shout-scream is perfect.

Bridges Burned:  I could see this slipping in quite happily between tracks on Tool’s Undertow.  Elements of prog and straight up hard rock blended with catchy hooks more typical of indie-rock.  Animal Confession’s music gives me the uncomfortable sensation of being adrift in murky waters.  That’s complimentary.  “Broken down and faded… Wake me up when it’s all over.

Love/Hate/Die:  Static-loaded vocals in the background blend into the creeping guitar and almost muffled, sinister lead vocals on this one.  For this band, this is perhaps a soft song, but it’s still loaded with grey clouds overhead.  This is probably the track most likely to evoke Trent Reznor, although the guitar is far more impressive than a Nine Inch Nails composition.  “Love/hate/die is all I know.  Now it’s time to let this go.

A Thousand Lies:  Definite single potential for this track as well, with its catchy headbanging undercurrent that sounds like the bastard child of Brand New and The Smiths.  The perfect song for blasting when betrayed, served straight up with a whiskey chaser.  Strangely, in this song more than others, I can almost hear Simon Le Bon.  It’s uncanny and awesome.

Let Me Out:  After taking us down just a tad with the previous two tracks, urgent, almost playful drums underscore Gharib’s demands to be freed.  There’s a taste of older Smashing Pumpkins (Cherub Rock) in this one.  One criticism I have is that lyrically, several songs touch on very similar themes.  Sonically, each song has its own little secrets to hear.

The Last Time:  A scathing accusation of a song, the opening riff almost recalls “Where The Streets Have No Name”.  Certain songs, like this one, remind me more of early Boy Hits Car than anything else.  I’m surprised no one else seems to have made the connection yet in their reviews.  Definitely influenced by Chris Cornell.  “This is the last time that I’ll be denied… I know what you did.  You cannot lie to me.”

Wave Goodbye:  The album closer, I can almost hear a warped carousel tune in this one, and perhaps that’s fitting.  We’re coming to the end of the ride, after all.  A song of endings and letting go, there’s almost a sense of relief from the overwhelming sorrow and anger of the album in this track.   Short and bittersweet, more indie-rock than the rest of the album.  A standout.

Final Comments:  Animal Confession, by their own admission, seek to create honest compositions that, like all great music, have the power to transport listeners back to a specific time. place or emotional state.  In this, they have succeeded with their debut album:  the atmosphere and mood of the album is carefully constructed and feels genuine.  There is no one band that their sound resembles, which is refreshing as well.  I will say that all other comparisons aside, if anyone else out there remembers Fallacy Flow and/or Boy Hits Car, Animal Confession has a similar ear for song structure and blending hooks with hard rock.

In terms of composition, Bright Light, Dark Eyes is a sort of aural origami, with the foundation pieces twisted and contorted just so to form new creatures.  While there’s certainly a heavy overarching theme to the songs, at most points, it’s akin to the different sides of a die.

In future, I would like to see a little more experimentation with the softer moments in “Wave Goodbye” dashed here and there; the contrast it would provide would only further accent the heavier, expansive moments.  All in all, a strong, solid album with not a single clunker track to be found.

Highlights:  Drown In You; Epidemic; Light My Way; Love/Hate/Die; A Thousand Lies; Wave Goodbye

Final Grade:  A

You can sample Animal Confession and learn more at their official site by clicking hereBright Light, Dark Eyes officially drops in October, but in the meantime, enjoy their video for “Epidemic” (serious props for zombies!):

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