It probably wouldn’t be a stretch to deem Model Stranger “rock n’ roll classicists.” Their first full-length release, Dreams & Bones, is recorded in what could be considered a very crisp manner, yet calling it clean would be a misnomer. It’s an album that takes on just enough of an antiquated manner of sound to accord for a distinct vitality – while being able to retain the adoration of audiophiles.
The guitar is undoubtedly central to Model Stranger’s sound, but it doesn’t take center stage in the expected manner of a 3-person band – that is the spot they reserve for the vocalist. This allows for Dreams & Bones to have an utmost balanced feel; it sounds good played softly or loudly, in crappy iPod headphones or on top shelf stereo systems. In short – they have crafted an “ear friendly” rock-album, which still has balls.
On Dreams & Bones their ability to play fiercely, yet in a balanced manner, is probably best exemplified by the title track. It is an animated and stomping song, with a swift beat and wailing guitars. Yet one can discern each instrument as well as the vocals; implying that they retain sovereignty over their music, even when its more chaotic.
As stated, the vocalist Stephen Francis is the main projection of this Chicago band. The vocals at times come across as if the singer is attempting to stress something urgent, but only to himself. The rhythm section behind him is quite good at playing in a way that supports and reinforces Stephen’s vocal projections, a trait that communicates that they musically know each other quite well.
Model Stranger is at their best when they infuse development within the course of their songs. The two primary examples of this are Fire Fire, and Carousel. Fire Fire starts with a mid-tempo groove with calm spacey sounds lying in the periphery; yet as the song progresses they slowly ebb-and-flow toward a solid rock n’ roll crescendo. This song benefits from employing an adroit balance of musical attack and retreat.
The gem of the album, however, is Carousel. It has a tempo that is mellow, yet full of inertia, which interplays with the vocals in a way that intriguingly draws the listener in. They landed on an endearing twangy-shuffle groove, which somehow allows for a reduction in tempo without a loss of energy.
To be sure, the album isn’t flawless. A higher degree of tempo variation might have been prudent. There could be more vocal effecting (reverb in particular) and alterations within the stereo image. Maybe some songs could have benefited from more of a focus on song progression. But when one reflects upon the fact that the recording of this album was a DIY endeavor, and a 1st full length release at that, the positives comfortably overwhelm that which could be improved.
In the long run, Dreams & Bones is really an album for those who can appreciate a long-established approach to rock music; coupled with an appreciation for finesse in addition to force. It’s without question indie, but those of a former generation might take to it also. And at it’s best, it is an album that realizes that “balance” is still a tool that can be positively implemented within today’s rock n’ roll.
By Sean Brna