When I heard California's After described to me with phrases like "Soundgarden meets Rush" and "progressive pop", I knew I had to give them a try. Any band willing to reach back and recapture some of the classic rock sound that you just can't hear today definitely gets my interest, and I gave this EP a listen as soon as I could.
Turns out the description was a bit misleading; while it is true the band clearly take many cues from classic rock music, the resulting sound is unabashedly modern. A lot of the heavy chord-driven melodies sound exactly in line with 00s post-grunge, and the songs are also heavily vocal-centric, featuring those disarmingly crystal clear and articulated vocals common in modern pop rock.
Actually, [BEGIN NITPICKING ALERT] that's the only thing that really irked me about this album: the vocal work, particularly on their cover of The Doors' "Riders on the Storm", sounds out of place. Though it is a fantastic song, and definitely the highlight of the album, After's version creates this unavoidable sense of stylistic clash. To know what I mean, you really have to love those kind of psychedelic/hard rock bands from the late sixties and early seventies, like The Doors or The Animals. They didn't exactly write terribly innovative music, but what really made them so powerful were their charismatic and emotionally powerful vocalists. When they sung, it wasn't crystal clear and over produced--it was raw and full of emotional power that you just can't really capture with today's insistence on perfect aural clarity. What I'm saying is, as much as I love it, this version just sounds unavoidably paler in comparison to the original. Jose Freitas does some spectacular vocal work, don't get me wrong; it's just incredibly difficult to reconcile with the style of the source material.
Aside from that [END NITPICKING ALERT], the only real complaints I have against this album are those that I have for altrock-like music in general. I tend not to like it because of its heavy reliance on versechorus song structures and general lack of engaging lyrics. But, of course, that's just personal taste, not a truism of the genre's musical quality in general. This is actually a really solid EP. The songs sound awesome, filled to the brim with engaging hooks and energetic playing. There are even a few pretty awesome solos, and frankly, listening to it brought a huge smile to my face. I can even hear some similarities here with 90s Rush or even Collins-era Genesis. I suppose it's fair to characterize is as an (extremely) modern take on the classic prog/pop-rock sound. It's certainly more involved than most other hard rock bands today, that's for sure. And while they aren't really breaking any new stylistic ground, what they are doing they are doing well, and to say the result is anything less than enjoyable would be a lie. It's certainly better than anything you're likely to hear on the radio, which is worth a lot in my book.
When you get down to it, it's a good, solid hard/alt rock EP from a band that definitely knows what they want and are enjoying what they do. It's only fault is that it's just not terribly interesting or engaging from a musical originality standpoint. On a guttural level, it's nonetheless impressive. If you're looking around for some awesome new rock music to jam out to while you, I dunno, alphabetize your tool shed, you should definitely give these fellows a try. You shan't regret it.
5.0 / 10
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