If you want to sample each individual song, all can be streamed at this location or this YouTube file (which is linked below through each song title), but if you like what you hear, then buy the album! Nine songs clocking in at around 40 minutes of music, so let's begin the review with track one, "Sun Perfume"! (Updated on October 26th, 2012)
"Sun Perfume" starts with an almost synthed sort of opening before Mike's singing unexpectedly starts, and it does capture attention! His singing style is somewhat unique from most local hard rock singers, as it's melodic and clean, yet deeper than you'd expect. It suits the song's tone here, which does match his claims of this being an upbeat rock album. My biggest complaint is there isn't a lot of variety to the song, and it can get repetitive, especially given it's length of under three minutes. The instrumentation seems to repeat for much of the song, though it's all well performed, and it has a sort of abrupt ending. Overall though, it's a harmless and fun opener with creative lyrics and it shows that Mike has an ear for good melodies! Second is "The Institution", which opens with police sirens and honking horns, which sets up the tone of the song well. It's hard for me to pinpoint a singular meaning, but it ranges from allusions to a pandemic and social upheaval and the effects of serotonin, "the happy hormone". The song makes heavy use of samples to illustrate a chaotic environment, and Mike's riffing suits that with a heavier and darker tone than "Sun Perfume" utilized. The vocals (though mixed a bit high) are about the same in range, but the lyrics have more resonance. The music is (on the whole) heavier and grittier, but it seems muffled at points on it's own. Still, this is my favourite of the opening two songs, and it has a sort of "driving" feel to it that makes it stand out along with it's heaviness and mood!
Next is "The Ledge/I Love You Anyways", a title which implies it has two parts. Mike provides no vocals until almost halfway through the track, so I assume "The Ledge" is the instrumental part. The song starts off with a heavy, yet almost ominous instrumental section that eventually includes synth and chime effects in the background. It's hard to describe, but it's effective at setting a mood for the song and it's latter half. When the vocals launch in, Mike uses his melodic singing well amidst repetitive (yet original) instrumentaion, but I think the music could stand to be softer. This is the "I Love You Anyways" part, after all, and the lyrics do seem to fit better with a slower ballad-type of song. It's a solid track though, and it showcases his musical strengths well, while correcting the high vocal mix from the last song. The ending seems to be going for a bit of an orchestral feel as well, which I'm always a fan of in themselves! I like this song, but it seems to float in the void between a soft ballad and a heavy rocker, and I think it'd be best suited to go for one extreme over the other. Good stuff though!
The fourth track is "Hot Summer Sun", which is definitely the slowest and most introspective of the songs so far. The opening is very light and soft, but it suits the lyrics and tone well. Once the singing finally kicks in, I was actually surprised at how well Mike kept a soft melody! His tone and style isn't much different, but he uses his range really well here to suit the material, and it's probably his best vocal work so far! He doesn't let the overall song delve too soft though, as the guitar riffs have a slow heaviness to them in the verses. Aside from my own preference of heavier stuff, my only real complaints are the repetition we sometimes see and the abrupt ending. It's not the heaviest track on "Suspended Animation" by any stretch, but it works for the mood it wants to the set and the the he wants to convey, and it succeeds on that basis, especially vocally!
After that, we have "Trinity", which is seemingly about rescuing a loved one and taking them to a happier place. His lyrics aren't bad at all, make note of that! This song also takes from the softer and heavier aspects of his music, featuring heavier low-toned instrumentation and melodic singing. My biggest complaint is Mike's double tracking of the choruses. I know what he's going for here, but they're too different from each other for it to flow, and it sounds like one of the "Mikes" is off from the other. Everything else is about on par with Mike's strengths, but I thought the inclusion of a ballad-esque acoustic section before the final chorus was a nice twist! Good song overall! Sixth is "As Memories Fade Away", another song with strong emotional lyrics, focusing on the extended feelings the title character has after the death of their loved one. Like with "The Ledge/I Love You Anyways", this song seems like it is too heavy for the subject matter, when a song with this emotion might be better suited to an acoustic ballad. Aside from that, the guitar and synth work is dependably good, and Mike's vocals show the right emotion for the subject matter without getting too up-tempo. The keyboard solo was a nice sight as well, and even if it is heavier, it's at the right pacing and key for you to get the intended feelings. If you're in the right mood for this song, you'll definitely find yourself appreciating it!
The seventh song on "Suspended Animation" is "The Day They Killed Small", which is probably the most low-tempo song so far, with more subdued instrumentation and very low, soft, and determined vocals. Focusing on the title character's apparent feelings and repressed love, the song is another that is surprisingly downbeat and emotional compared to the apparent upbeat material we were expecting. With that said, this song probably best matches the lyrical content of any of the past few songs, and it suits the song well, including a nice use of the keyboard and some added effects. It's not the most varied song on the album, or the most energetic, and it does end abruptly like some earlier songs, but it's a solid song that accomplishes what it set out to do! Eighth is a live recording of his song "Nightmare On Reed Street", which returns to the more high-tempo heavier sound that we saw on "The Institution". The song has a heavier driving riff and nice melodic singing, and the horror-movie influenced lyrics show real promise! It's a great song in and of itself, but I have two complaints: It's too short, and it shouldn't have been live. The song ends abruptly and it never felt like it expanded on the cool subject matter as much as it could have, with only three minutes to work with. The live recording feels authentic, but it's not as clear as it could have been, especially vocally. Still, this is a standout song that's worth checking out!
The album's final advertised song is "1980", a lengthy track that draws from 1980s influences with atmospheric instrumentation and high use of synthesizers. I can detect the sound he's going for, and it mostly works, especially since he's not copying any specific bands or cliched genres! Mike's singing mostly fits the song, although his falsetto parts before the actual lyrics begin seem forced and a bit off. This isn't especially heavy, dark, or high-tempo, employing a softer deliberate style that works well enough, even if it's not too heavy, and ends abruptly again. Good song, but it kinda ends the album in a too light fashion than we'd previously seen...or does it? A secret unlisted song named "The Move" is included about 13 seconds after "1980", which is probably the slowest of the songs on "Suspended Animation", and fairly dark in tone. The song gets pretty repetitive but it's deliberate pacing does give the song an ominous feeling, and Mike shows proper emotion with his vocals! As an album closer, "The Move" is better to cap things off, but it doesn't show off a wide range of instrumentation compared to some earlier songs, and like so many earlier tracks, it ends way too abruptly. It's an effective song though, and a nice surprise!
So how would I rate my first experience at a full Mike Haggith solo album? Well, I give him credit for his very prolific output, and he performs to his vocal and musical strengths on this album! His singing doesn't change much from song to song, but his unique tone and melodic style work on each track! He is very skilled at multiple instruments as well, and can play some very solid hard rock riffs and bass lines, along with some nice keyboard and synthesized sounds that you don't hear much locally! Plus, he's very good at writing lyrics, and has many songs that tell good stories, which is nice! I admittedly haven't heard as wide of a range of Mike's solo material as I'd have liked, but "Suspended Animation" is very promising! However, there are things that could stand to be fixed a bit. I'd like to see Mike show more variety on individual songs, as many did get repetitious after a while, and too many songs ended abruptly without a real closing section. The double tracked vocals weren't as clean as they could have been when they were used, and many songs had buried instruments (particularly the drums) compared to singing that was sometimes too high in the mix. And also, the album was described as "upbeat" when many songs seemed to be more introspective, dark, and emotional compared to my thoughts going into listening to the full album.
With that said, "Suspended Animation" is still an entertaining album full of solid hard rock tracks, that range from heavier rockers like "The Institution" and "Nightmare on Reed Street" to slower material like "Trinity" and "As Memories Fade Away", and I did enjoy listening to this album! A couple of songs would benefit from being in the right mindset beforehand, but if you go into it expecting some solid solo work from a talented local musician, you shouldn't be too disappointed! I personally recommend "The Institution", but there's some good quality stuff here that we'll surely see more like in the future, and I definitely plan on looking at more of Mike Haggith's solo work this year!
So there is this month's review, kicking off what should be an exciting 2011! But what will we review next month? Well, here's what I'm planning to do. If a new album from a local metal or hard rock band comes out by mid-February, we'll review that. If more than one comes out, I'll probably review the more prominent of the released albums. Note that if Sykotyk Rampage release either of their new albums in the next month, they won't be reviewed as it will still be too soon from my "Bella Disgusta" review, and the same goes for other artists who we've reviewed albums of in the last 6 months, just to ensure a spread out schedule and no artist bias. If no new albums come out, we'll review Bad Side's third and final album, "...Bad Things Come In Threes"! We're a bit off schedule for Sault Michigan reviews as it is, so the next month that comes up with no new albums will absolutely be reserved for Bad Side's last album, so keep that in mind! So whether we review Bad Side III or something new, our next review will be between February 12th and 18th, so stay tuned! That's all for today, but stay tuned for a new post featuring some LOCAL CONCERT ALERTS tomorrow! Thanks everyone!