Sound — 8
While the majority of bands tend to follow a similar lineup i.e., the guitar-bass-drum-vocal combo the past few decades have certainly delivered a bevy of fresh approaches, whether it's in the form of The White Stripes or Kylesa. The latest unusual entry comes from France's My Own Private Alaska (MOPA), which features one of the more dramatic setups: vocals, piano, and drums. With the absence of guitar and bass, the sound is actually more startling and/or captivating that one would expect. There's something about a string of minor chords layered atop screams that gives one pause. MOPA is easily an acquired taste and won't be for every rock/alternative enthusiast, but the band has developed truly a unique sound that is all its own on the new CD Amen. Although their choice to mix the classical world with screamo flair may at first seem polarizing, vocalist Milka, pianist Tristan Mocquet, and drummer Yohan Hennequin oddly enough work seamlessly together. It's obvious this is a band with a shared vision of creating an emotional, moody landscape, and that goal is accomplished on Amen. Is the result always pleasant? Far from it. Many times it feels like MOPA is creating a piece of performance art that is meant to make you uncomfortable, and that will turn off some listeners out there. Amen does keep you wondering what will happen next, however, and most CDs out today fail to ever evoke that type of reaction. The CD begins with Anchorage, a dramatic, classical piece that is driven by a stream-of-consciousness spoken word from Milka. The subtle arrangement eventually explodes with more and more percussion and intensified vocals that turn into screams. Anchorage, a song that is doesn't necessarily feature a typical verse-chorus format, is one of the most engaging and makes for a perfect opener. Of course, that's not to say there is any sort of traditional setup to the tracks on Amen, as you'll have gorgeous piano movements in one moment and a cluster of noise in the next (Die For Me and I Am An Island). Just because a piano is one of the featured instruments doesn't mean this is a CD that should ever be placed in the easy listening section. MOPA knows how to attack the senses with chaotic musical arrangements, but they are surprisingly more effective when they opt to strip it all down. Hands-down the best selection on Amen is the band's cover of Nirvana's Where Did You Sleep Last Night? It's probably blasphemy to say that MOPA's version is better than the original, but it's a close race. Milka approaches the vocals with a respectful low growl in the verse, coming as close to traditional singing as he can with his deep baritone voice while a stark piano plays in the background. MOPA manages to make it even more haunting in the buildup to the chorus, which introduces the expected fiery screams. Just Like You And I features Milka once again singing actual melodies (intermingled with screams), and it makes for another pleasing transition.
Lyrics — 8
At various points on Amen, Milka's screams do sound like they are coming from a man writhing in pain. You might expect the lyrics to reflect such torture, and for the most part they do indeed. Whether it's in Die For Me (Would you die for me? If I say please? Would you sacrifice? Would you call my name?) or Kill Me Twice (You will recall we have died once; On a f--king road, on a sunny day; I will remind I could have killed for less), Milka doesn't waste time with benign lyrics that don't raise a few eyebrows. It's exactly that in-your-face approach to the music that is a huge part of MOPA's appeal.
Overall Impression — 7
It should be reiterated that MOPA will not be for everyone. The experimental nature far overshadows the typical screamo content you'll find within the 11 tracks on Amen. The novelty of the piano-vocals-drums setup should keep your attention for a good portion of the CD, although it will be a tumultuous listen. The calmest number on the CD is the Nirvana cover, and it's that retrained track that shows just how creative and talented the players in MOPA truly are. Don't expect an altogether pleasant listening experience with Amen, as the sudden bursts of periodic noise will leave many uncomfortable. However, if you're seeking musicians that think outside of the box, MOPA will be a welcome arrival.