Sound: This band, while achieving modest mainstream success and a few heavily played singles early last decade, is not generally well liked or known. As a longtime fan of the band, I've come to appreciate this despite my own enjoyment of the band's style and aesthetic. "The Episodes", their 6th LP, was released in April 2012 to virtually nonexistent hype. Which is a pity, because this record is actually pretty good. The sound on this record is more in the vein of alternative rock than the "nu-metal" sound that dominated Taproot's early work. But that is misleading if it gives the connotation of a more straightforward and commercial sounding record.
The band tries many new sonic tricks and manages to keep it interesting. Vocalist Stephen Richards employs several new vocal approaches, as well as many of his old staples. Mike DeWolf's has more lead guitar on this album than any previous one, and Nick's drumming really comes together with many tight grooves and occasional fills that show his ability to play technical parts if appropriate. The only member who is a little under highlighted here is bassist Phil Lipscomb, who has a few moments, but is often overshadowed in the mix. This didn't bother me overmuch, however, because he has dominated much of their earlier material with some interesting playing.
Overall, the album somehow manages to achieve that difficult feat that so many bands fail at: playing a different style while still sounding recognizable and staying true to the original integrity (Linkin Park could take a lesson). The album's ethereal sound has more in common with Aeon Spoke than Korn, and the scattered electronics and keys give it more depth. Additionally, the overall musicianship has improved substantially and the songwriting is creative. The main drawback here is that there aren't many parts of the CD that jump out at you as incredible at an immediate glance. But it will reward extra attention if it is given. // 8
Lyrics: The lyrics on this album convey a loose concept, and this give the disc more cohesion. They are, for the most part, simple, but effective in context. The vocals, as mentioned, are multifaceted and as good as the performances on their last two records at least. Richard's vocals sound more like Chino Moreno than Layne Staley here, and appropriately. However, one glaring aspect here is the intermittent use of speech synthesized "Microsoft Sam" vocals. I strongly disliked this at first and thought it took away from otherwise solid tracks. Upon further reflection, it is nice to see the band experimenting at least, and the lyrics in those sections are often quite poetic, even if I would rather hear Steve sing them. // 7
Overall Impression: I wasn't sure what to expect at first, and to be honest, the first listen through disappointed me. The album was not what I had wanted or expected from them. But after giving it a better chance, I came to admire this record. It's hard to name highlight tracks, because most of the songs are around the same level (in a good way). Particularly though, I enjoyed "No Surrender", "Memorial Park", and "Around The Bend". "A Kiss From The Sky" has a nice lead riff in it, and "Strange And Fascinating" has a strong bridge section toward the end. "We Don't Belong Here" is a potent closing track, and is perhaps the most reminiscent of the early Taproot work. In closing, this album surprised me with its depth and songwriting. I felt vindicated for still being a fan of this band. // 7