The art of album sequencing has been declining for decades. That's hardly surprising, as we live in the days of random playlists and irregular release formats (singles, EPs, etc.). The concept of the album has been in evolution at least since CDs asserted their domination in the late 80s. Mellon Collie heralded the age of the bloated "album," and even great bands (and Smashing Pumpkins, while not great, wasn't half-bad) succumbed to the need to treat each album release as a notebook dump.
In any case, the whole idea of programming a 40-to-45 minute listening experience has been relegated to the back benches. American Idiot was one of the few "mega-albums" to actually use the extended time frame to make something coherent, but I think referencing concept albums when talking about sequencing is kinda cheating. Not entirely tangentially, a high school friend once commented that he thought Rage for Order told a much more interesting and complete story than Operation: Mindcrime. I disagreed at the time, but now that I have moved past my literal phase and into my Never Mind the Lyrics, Here's the Kick-Ass Music mindset, I can see that he was right.
Hailer is not dull. And these boys know how to build an album from the ground up. The first couple of songs serve as mood-setters--except that they don't set a mood. They simply provide a zero-entry opening to listeners. By the time the listener gets to the heart of the album ("Holding Hands," "Tina," "Don't Let It Kill Your Love" and "It's All On"), the hook has been set. Hailer doesn't stick to any one sound. The early pieces are a definite nod to the alterna-dull rock that predominates today. But there's an edge to the sound, an edge that blooms with extreme prejudice as the album moves along. Hailer gets loud--to the point of noise at times--and then dials things back as it sees fit.
I mentioned "Don't Let It Kill Your Love" back there. This is a barely mid-tempo song that would be stripped of its impact if it didn't appear after the chaos of the previous songs. It is an unabashed alt-rock power ballad. There's more than a hint of the ol' Flying Nun atmospherics--I could definitely imagine this song on Melt--but nonetheless we're talking about "Everybody Hurts" territory. I generally don't like those kind of songs, but "Don't" works amazingly well in its slot.
The sequencing of this album is so good that I ran a small experiment and listened to the set in random order. It still sounded pretty good, if not quite so coherent. I tried it with a different random order, and I remained impressed. Just not knocked out. Which is to say that many of these songs are freakin' brilliant, no matter where they sit. But the best way to listen to this album is in the sequence decreed by the band. Do that a hundred or so times before you relegate the songs to randomizing. You'll thank me later.
Hailer is a rarity, the fearless band. I have to admit that it is easier to not give a shit when you're not tied to a label or really making much money at all from your musical endeavors. But most self-released bands are retreads or worse. Hailer has worked exceedingly hard to create music that doesn't really tie itself to any particular sound or era. This is rock and roll with a purpose. Hailer wants to immerse listeners in its world, and all elements of this album (music, lyrics and production) combine to do just that.
By the time the fractured folky psychedelics of "Two Feet" have faded (in a most unusual and engaging manner, I might add), the jonesing has begun. Again. And more. And then more. I've been mainlining this album for a week or so, and I'm still in thrall.
In the olden days, unsigned bands from Australia had exactly zero chance of reaching an American audience. But we live in the brave new world of Bandcamp and iTunes, and such things are commonplace. Hailer, however, is most uncommonly awesome. These boys wave the rock banner proudly. I salute with smiles blazing.
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