During “What’s Missing,” the lush, schizophrenic track that opens Apocalypse Cow Vol. 2, SeepeopleS front man Will Bradford creepily announces, “what’s missing is old fashioned justice.” He’s on about something sinister and corrupt, but he could easily be talking about the puzzling path his band has traveled for the last 7 years. For the third time, SeepeopleS has released a stellar album. If there was any justice, this criminally ignored band would garner at least a fraction of the attention paid to the inconsequential musical abominations that populate the sales charts.
Apocalypse Cow Vol. 2 (ACV2 for short) doesn’t necessarily expand or add to themes established in Volume 1, an overtly desperate record that was released in the midst of George W. Bush’s reign. Rather, ACV2 continues a creative and musical concept that Bradford has been nurturing for nearly a decade. The lyrical content is often gripping, even morbid by some standards, but altogether thoughtful and at times touching. The music is a stylistically manic collection of ethereal electronics, agitated guitar rock, atmospheric pop, and acoustic-based song craft. At times, all of these elements collide in a massive melodic bang, and that’s when SeepeopleS truly shines.
The band tries some new things and also revels in their trademark ideas, scoring their dense sonic foundation with Bradford’s diverse vocal styles. Noted Boston producer Will Holland, who has helped mastermind all of the band’s finest moments in the studio, is back with more digital sorcery, which falls right in with what Bradford’s been up to lately (namely the electronic project Freepeoples Frequency). The album also represents a transition in the makeup of the band, as charismatic keyboardists trade place. Former Perpetual Groove keyboardist Matt McDonald has joined the band, but the album still features contributions from longtime keyboardist Peter Keys.
The addition of McDonald ties right in with the electronic leanings and epic scope of the average SeepeopleS song. Still, it wouldn’t be a SeepeopleS album without a wide range of music to ingest, and ACV2 combines the best of the band’s many worlds. The aforementioned “What’s Missing” is a true headphone track full of dramatic strings, acoustic guitar mixed with teeming soundscapes, synthesized chaos, and foreboding vocals. “What Makes It Go” showcases their sense of trancey, dubby elements in an instrumental format, bringing to mind the intermittent ambient journeys and dubbed-out rock of 2004’s The Corn Syrup Conspiracy. These tracks line up in a row with the drastically different “Modern Times,” in which Bradford brandishes his solid grasp of eerie elements and sophisticated songwriting. A demented ragtime hue brings the pulsating pop tune alive as a wild sonic scene unfolds in the background.
Bradford experiments with higher-pitched vocals a few times, pairing them with reggae-tinged verses and a gently exploding chorus on “Used to Know” and a My Morning Jacket-like Prince impersonation on “Big Heart (Modern Love Song).” “Big Heart” is like nothing the band has attempted before, and it works. A soulful, slightly dysfunctional chunk of warmed-over groove sounds surprisingly good in Bradford and Holland’s hands, and it’s refreshing to hear a ‘peepS song that isn’t disproportionably weighted by political heft or cranial spelunking – just good ‘ol longing and loss. Plus it’s got a monstrous bass groove that’s quite representative of bassist Dan Ingenthron’s voluminous style.
Other emotional manifestos are shouted through a megaphone, as on the cannonball of a song called “The Most Famous One,” or richly executed, as seen in the contemplative “Face the Day.” Bradford looks inward as much as outward on ACV2, which is a departure of sorts. “These Games” is a song of severe resignation and turmoil resolved, with the familiar Bradford stamp of eloquent dread – “When I try to calculate the future of the human race, I wonder if any of us can win these games,” he says, before admitting that he “want(s) to play something else.” “Round 12” also reflects his exasperation with the trials of life, the titular boxing metaphor facilitating a narrative on the endless struggle of humans against their own emotions. “When you Can’t Stand” would have fit right in on The Corn Syrup Conspiracy with it’s urgent rhythm and alarmingly resonant vocals, and “I Got One Thing” has the strummy, intellectual pop vibe so prevalent on ACV1.
The band’s thematic and musical consistency – which is crystallized in the closing “Last Breath Reprise,” fully tying Volumes 1 and 2 together – doesn’t hold them back from breaking new ground. “Big Heart,” “What’s Missing,” “The Most Famous One,” and others map out plenty of new territory that’s sure to be exploited in the coming years. “The Most Famous One” is one of the most representative songs the band has ever recorded, capturing their raucous rock side, exhibiting their creativity in the vocal department with plenty of conceptual harmonies and construction, and jumping wildly between rhythmic and melodic styles, leaving the listener breathless in the process. To the initiated, the stunning sounds and production perfection found on Apocalypse Cow Vol. 2 is not a surprise. SeepeopleS has constructed another timely album that conveys the uneasy hope and lingering hostility of our world circa 2009.
Rating: 9.1 out of 10
This album can be downloaded for free at the band’s website.