Well, it's time for our 42nd monthly CD review at the SMS, and as a bit of an early Christmas surprise, I have it earlier than recently usual for this month! With that said, it's our third straight new CD review from a Sault Ontario act, and this month, we're taking a look at Haggith drummer Mike Haggith's 45th solo album "Neighbourhood Watch"! Released on October 7th through Galactic Records (formerly Rotten Records), it's his first brand new studio release since January 2011's "Suspended Animation", and every song is written & composed by Mike (save for "The Day The Lights Went Out", which was written by Donald Costin-Southern.) Like most of his prior studio albums, Mike sings and plays all instruments on "Neighbourhood Watch", which has been through many delays and track listing changes since it's announcement last year, but it's out now, and for very affordable prices!
You can buy "Neighbourhood Watch" at this location for $4.50 (with individual tracks at 99¢ each), while physical copies can be obtained by contacting Mike directly on Facebook, but the full 7 track, 39 minute album can also be streamed on YouTube by clicking here, and each song below is linked to it's free YouTube posting. Let's kick off our second Mike Haggith solo CD review with the first song, "To Whom This May Concern"! It begins with a softer guitar opening with what sounds like keyboard integration, slowly building into a heavy groove about a minute in while maintaining a deliberate tone. Mike's early vocals are soft and low, though keeping with his deeper melody that has represented much of his solo songs, and there's good contrasts between the reserved verses and heavier choruses! Mike should up the vocal energy a bit on the choruses though to suit their aggression. I like the mood and tempo changes in this song, and his talent as a solo artist is clear, but I find this song to be fairly repetitive, without taking major risks or stylistic changes beyond the verse/chorus intensity. That aside, I like the track, and hopefully it sets the tone for songs to come!
Second is "Room 822", which leads off with an even softer and slower opening that almost calls to mind a country ballad, though like the first song, it builds slowly for instrumentation and intensity until all instruments are in play. Mike's singing is louder here, while fitting the song's tone a bit better. It's not as heavy, keeping with sort of a southern/country vibe throughout, which gives it a darker essence that works in it's favour, but the vocals seem oddly processed compared to the instruments. "Room 822" has some good downbeat emotion and works for it's style, but it might have been tipped over the edge with heavier stretches.That's followed by "The Ballad of K2/K3", which starts somewhat suddenly compared to earlier tracks with a mid-tempo rock groove and melodic singing overtop, and it has a driving sort of feel, though it's not as soft as the title would suggest. I like the piano sections, which breaks apart the song at just the right times, as it doesn't have a whole lot of variance before or after. The harder rock stretches are appealing though, and Mike's guitar work is solid, so it's an effective track overall!
Song number 4 is "The Day The Lights Went Out", which leads off with a drum-heavy beat and low guitar melodies, and compared to earlier tracks. Mike's singing hits some new higher and ominous tones here which help add to this song's dark and weary feel early on, almost like lights really are going out! The drums make this song work especially, as they really drive things along early, but the latter stretch of the song doesn't work as well, as the added instrumentation makes things messier and not as catchy, but the piano ending caps it off nicely! Though not overly heavy, this is one of my favourite songs on "Neighbourhood Watch", and it's very dark feel helps set it apart! Then we have the album's shortest track, "Limb Coast", which starts in a dreamlike fashion with it's rhythm and pace, with Mike almost talking over light guitar work, and it definitely puts you in sort of a trance-like mood! It works for what it's setting out to do, but it's too much of the same thing for it's length, and fans of Mike's heavier material probably won't take to "Limb Coast", though it's an interesting number for sure!
"Leon the Janitor", who fans of the Haggith band may recognize from live concert appearances in recent months! Like the band that plays it nowadays, this song has a grungier feel than some prior tracks, with a melodic heavier riff and some higher vocals with a bit of an edge, but the vocals don't sound raw like they generally did previously. The last half of the song doesn't work on the same level though, with a more reserved and quiet tone overall, including a somewhat out of place piano ending, but it's a solid alternative rock number that should please fans of both Mike and the band Haggith! "Neighbourhood Watch" closes with it's (by far) longest song, appropriately titled "Far Too Long", which clocks in at over 9 minutes in length! Slow in pace and melody, it features some of Mike's best vocal work on the album, but the instrumentation is too minimal, and like the title, this is far too long. This would work better cut in half, especially as it's not widely varying minute to minute, but if you appreciate tracks like "Limb Coast", this should work better for your palates! I don't mind it, but it's too repetitive to sustain itself for this long.
So, what'd I think of Mike Haggith's newest solo album? I liked it, but compared to "Suspended Animation", it is lagging in some areas. On the positive side, I appreciate the darker tone to much of "Neighbourhood Watch", and Mike continues to perform to his musical & vocal strengths, showing clear talent as a multi-instrumentalist! His deeper singing tends to be used effectively, and his guitar and keyboard abilities are as solid as ever, while he did contribute some really cool tracks like "To Whom This May Concern" and "The Day The Lights Went Out", so there's lots of validity here! Quality wise, it's an improvement too, with less buried instruments and less abrupt endings. However, I found a lot of this album to be repetitive (especially "Far Too Long"), and it could have used a few more solos than it has. As well, it also struck me as too short, and knowing all of the tracks that Mike axed from this album at varying points, it makes me wonder how much quality material didn't make the cut. Overall though, I like "Neighbourhood Watch", as it's another nicely varied and often dark slice of Mike's solo repertoire, and hopefully his next solo and band output builds on the good qualities of this album!
So, what CD review is coming to kick off 2013 with? I have no idea, especially as I have no verifiable new local metal/hard rock albums at access (aside from CDs by Mike Haggith's two local projects, as I'll push them to mid-2013 to avoid any biases.) In terms of new releases, check out our "Where Are The New Albums?" post from yesterday to get a hint as to what new local albums could be next, as you never know when those may come out! In terms of archive reviews (in the event nothing new comes out), I'm down to either Aftersight or Candle Hour's albums, Detroit's first EP, or Foothill Road's posthumous live disc, with Sykotyk Rampage archive reviews on hold due to their upcoming new albums, and Woods of Ypres on hold until the spring to avoid reviewing two of their CDs too close together. Note that this doesn't count albums I don't have in full (i.e. Infrastrate, As It Stands, Proposition 86 or Amethyst's cassettes, etc.), but never say never on those, as a good samaritan might be willing to help! No matter what we're reviewing next, look out for it in mid-late January, and stay tuned for more news and concert previews this week! Thanks everyone!