Title: Through Art We Are All Equals
Label: Artery Recordings
Producer: Kris Crummett
Singer Jonny Craig has had a somewhat mixed career to date. He made a name for himself on Dance Gavin Dance’s debut album Downtown Battle Mountain in 2007, a record that elevated him to one of post-hardcore’s best vocalists, due to the enviably effortless intensity and power in his voice. Since then he’s worked with Emarosa, Isles and Glaciers, recorded a solo album and briefly returned to Dance Gavin Dance to record Downtown Battle Mountain II. Throughout these projects, the quality of his vocals has never been questioned, however multiple instances of disreputable behaviour during this time has cast his name in a negative light. Craig escaped the drama by focusing on an R&B inspired EP in 2013, before announcing his returning to alternative music at the start of 2014. Through Art we are all Equals marks Craig’s return to a scene that once considered him a prized possession.
“The Fire Down Below” kicks the album off and instantly you’re reminded why Craig’s voice is so revered. His tone is soulful and clear and with no hint of strain in his voice, it remains as effortless as ever. Craig’s attempt at a more commercial sound on his most recent solo EP should have been a match made in heaven for an individual with this type of voice, but instead it sounded homogenised and uninspired. Here though, his R&B licks and vocal runs perfectly compliment the backdrop of heavier music.
Unfortunately though, it’s the music that lets the album down. The guitar riffs are nondescript, offering nothing unique or interesting, while the drums saunter along without adding any creative dynamics to keep you engaged. The band use eight-string guitars and a six-string bass, which adds extra low-end, but it hasn’t been used to any great effect. Very few post-hardcore bands tune to F#, so this could have been a way for the band to carve a niche, but the down-tuning fails to make the songs sound any heavier; instead it just gives the guitars a ‘muddy’, ineffective tone. Even Kris Crummett, whose production skills are exceptional, fails to make a real mark on this album. The production is passable, but his skills are somewhat wasted by the band’s flat tone and uninspired instrumentation.
Compared to Craig’s previous bands, Slaves don’t do enough to differentiate themselves and as result, you don’t get a sense of who they are. The musicality of Dance Gavin Dance is among the best in the genre and the ambience of Emarosa afforded them a signature sound that was easily recognisable. Musically, these eleven tracks are indistinguishable from other bands of this type. If Slaves didn’t have the brand power of Jonny Craig to generate an audience for them, I’d wager that this album would pass unnoticed by many.
Overall, it’s great to hear Craig back in the scene and his vocals really do shine throughout the album. This is the genre that propelled him to success seven years ago, and Through Art we are all Equals proves that this is where his voice belongs. I hope for his sake that he can continue to distance himself from his vices and for his band’s sake I hope they focus on finding their own personality and voice so that next time around we get a complete package.