Gnaeus' debut album "Meditations"! An mp3 review copy was generously sent to me by the band last week, with permission to review as soon as possible, so with The Din's debut CD also coming out next month, we might as well keep things rolling with a pre-release look! To officially be released independently at their CD release show at The Rockstar Bar THIS FRIDAY, "Meditations" (formerly known as "Loomings") was recorded at Mission Control Studios last year with producer Dustin Jones, and features Gnaeus' original lineup, including singer/guitarist Aaron Alessandrini, bassist/backing vocalist Matt Fronzi, synth player/guitarist Brad Irwin, and the departed Brendan Garlick on drums (Alex Proulx replaced him after recording sessions wrapped up.)
Gnaeus has yet to reveal prices for "Meditations", or potential online availability, but a price in the $10 range would be likely, and we'll let you guys know when we hear anything in that regard! Featuring 9 songs running for about 34 minutes in length, let's begin our advance review with a look at the first song, "Lovers"! An upbeat, faster paced original with a garage/indie-inspired guitar riff, this gives fans a good look at Aaron's grittier-than-expected vocals, which give the song a bluesy bent (imagine if the song was played slower on purpose?) This studio version is a little more direct and not as poppy sounding as their early studio recording, but it's well performed, with Brad's synth playing a nice compliment, and Brendan's drumming is well paced! If anything, this song could use an extra guitar track to fill it out, as the verses do sound a little empty, but it's a very solid opener!
"Mountains" follows next with a softer and slower sound that contrasts with Aaron's passionate vocals that honestly sound like they're for the wrong song, but I like the energy and range he puts in here, especially on the choruses! Everyone's in fine form musically (especially with Matt's strong bass work), and the backing vocals add a slight haunting quality! That said, the song seems to end before it really starts, and at least in this mp3 copy, the song ends abruptly out of nowhere. Third is "Circles", which is both the longest song on "Meditations" and the Best Song award winner from 2015's VM Radio Battle of the Bands. The track contrasts a somewhat ethereal sound with forceful, sometimes yelled chorus vocals, and strong solos after the choruses. I like the sing-along style of this song, which has a nice beat, but again, the aggression and grit in Aaron's singing (particularly in the choruses) contrasts from the light instrumentation. Myself, I don't mind though, it adds a heavy touch!
Fourth is "The Edge", which is the slowest & most intimate song yet on this CD, with a pleasant yet serious aura and, despite the reserved nature, arguably the fullest sounding yet on the album! The singing is a nice match to the tone here, and Brad's synth work helps convey the melancholy yet nice mood throughout! Based on personal preference, I do prefer other songs to this one, but if you like indie and alternative music more than their punk and garage influences, you'll enjoy "The Edge"! Things pick up though on the next song, "Calling Out", which is a little darker and plays more on their garage side of their sound, with strong guitar work and a somewhat ominous rhythm and riff to go along. To me, this song tends to meander a little bit, and the vocals sound like they were lowered in the mix despite their chorus aggression but it's strongly done for it's intent and style, and Brendan's drumming keeps things rolling well!
"Exercise in Self Awareness" next for this review, and despite the removal of "An" from the start of the title, this remains one of my favourite of Gnaeus' originals! Aaron's forceful, direct vocals and Matt's backing screams compliment each other overtop strong instrumentation, including a cool solo and a nice catchy rhythm that has always caught my attention! The backing audio again has some empty qualities, and the song is way too short (an album low 2:31), but it packs a wallop while it lasts, and it's a personal highlight! Track #7 is "Fire", which is sort of a "call to arms" song asking fans to let their fire out and stand up for what you believe in. One of their punkiest songs yet in tone and message, this song still retains their garage qualities with strong synth work and nice melodic licks, but like with it's preceding track, it feels like it ends before it really gets going, and the lyrics could be a little more varied.
Second-last on "Meditations" is "When You're Gone", which has a personal sounding, romantic theme to go along with a solid vocal performance from Aaron that again has some blues influence (might the "keep it cool, kid" line be a reference to the local band K.I.C.K.?) My biggest problem with this song is the chorus, which has members providing gang vocals (good for their punk side), but uses them for a largely repetitive chorus that mostly repeat the title. I'd have varied the lyrics there, but I like the verses, and Brendan has some of his best drumming yet in this song's latter half! This album closes with "The Sound", and to paraphrase it's chorus, the sounds they make work fine on this slower, methodical garage rock number that reminds me a bit of "Calling Out". Though the song again has some emptiness in the verses, well utilized vocals from Aaron and Matt, a gradual building pace, and a very strong ending to the album for fans of Gnaeus' diverse range of styles!
So, what are my final thoughts on Gnaeus' debut CD? Overall, it's a successful debut from this potential-loaded quartet, and while the "post-punk" side of their sound wasn't always front and center, their talent and songwriting definitely was! Though it can be a slight adjustment given their sound, Aaron Alessandrini's gritty and often bluesy vocals are welcomed by this metalhead, with Matt Fronzi adding some pointed screams in the background where needed! His bass work was solid, as were Aaron's guitar work and occasional solos, while Brad Irwin's synth was always there when needed, and Brendan Garlick delivered solid drums before he moved away, hopefully he pops up again in a band down the road! Songs like "Exercise in Self Awareness" and "Lovers" showcase Gnaeus at their best (to me), but there are things I'd address. There are songs where Aaron's vocal style isn't a perfect match, "Mountains" ends very abruptly, and if you're expecting a full punk album, you may be disappointed at some of the slower, synth-heavy songs, but tracks like "Fire" will have you covered.
As well, many songs sounded like they needed an extra guitar track (either from Brad or a hypothetical fifth member) to fill out emptier stretches, but overall, this is a strong launch for this very talented band, and I know Gnaeus will have more great things to follow up with in the future! Pick up your copy of "Meditations" THIS FRIDAY, stay tuned for more details on it, and keep an eye out for our likely review of The Din's debut CD "Give In To The Din" next month! Thanks everyone!