I like stories.
Maybe that’s a nonsensical thing to write — not worth the energy required to move my fingers onto the keyboard. After all, who doesn’t love a good yarn? The sharing of narratives is one of the few (virtually) universal aspects of humanity. Even through differing perspectives, goals and messages, all tribes of Planet Earth are united by a proclivity for storytelling.
The thing is – I really like stories. If I’ve enjoyed something I’ve read, it’s only a matter of time before I revisit the pages. I’ve spent countless hours (probably days, at this point) discussing and debating movies with my friends. And I’m currently toying with the idea of teaching high school English not because of a fondness for grammar, but because of a genuine belief in the power of narrative.
Some stories are so affective that they keep me up at night, warding off the sandman until I’ve scribbled some quasi-coherent notes. And these are the tales I like best — the ones that want you to keep working, peeling away a bit of skin before getting to taste the fruit. I don’t consider myself a snob and definitely think there’s something to be said for straight-forward stories told in a straight-forward manner; but who doesn’t like finding a prize at the bottom of the cereal box?
With this stance in mind, it is no mystery as to why I’ve always been a fan of the concept album. First and foremost, the product is a musical collection and therefore is designed for audio-pleasure. But unlike “standard” albums, the listener may then elect to dig deeper, using the lyrics, booklet and artwork to reveal a story. While this format is a staple of the prog-rock world I once swore allegiance to (Hey, we all make mistakes), it is hardly confined to a single genre.
Finally getting to the matter at hand, I present Defeater’s Lost Ground — a refutation the concept album as it has come to be known. There are no synthesizers, ballads about dark wizards, or masturbatory instrumental sections that make you scream “THIS SONG HAS BEEN ON FOR THIRTY-SEVEN MINUTES WHEN THE FUCK DOES IT END?!?!” While my favorite album of all-time may very well be a fair target for such criticism, Defeater manages to avoid the pitfalls. So whereas double-lengths like The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Quadrophenia popularized the concept album, Lost Ground reimagines its purpose.
In fact, Lost Ground is a six-song EP that comes into your room, tells you what’s up, and then gets out despite your pleading for more. Musically, I suppose the second release of the Boston-based group would be considered something along the lines of melodic hardcore. While there are definitely hard-hitting sections of soaring guitars and pounding drums, there are also many moments in which there is clarity, a refined levelheadedness. For instance, the introduction to The Bite and Sting sees an exchange of bass and guitar, a teasing that helps to build anticipation. This tension is furthered by the verses, in which soft staccato guitar is cleverly doubled over with a clicking on the rim of a drum. By the time the chorus hits, the listener feels liberation, a rejoicing at the prospect of open chords!
In terms of musical narrativity, the EP is actually a complement to Defeater’s first effort, Travels. Summarily, the band’s debut tells of one man’s journey away from life he hates and his unavoidable return home for a final confrontation. One of the highlights of that disc is Prophet in Plain Clothes, a track about a bum who sings his songs of woe. Lost Ground, in turn, is actually an exploration of the Prophet – chronicling his life as a young African American who decides to enlist in the Army for World War II. Horrors are witnessed, the post-war celebration is less-than-ideal, and we learn why it is that this man sleeps in barrooms.
Thematically, I think Lost Ground is an improvement over Travels. Maybe it’s because of the groundwork laid on the first album, but I find myself sympathizing much more with the narrator on this EP than I do with the one on the full-length. Furthermore, Derek Archambault’s delivers his vocals in such a way as to actually convince the listener that he was in the trenches, fighting Germans in the Second Big One. I think the artwork is a step above too, with the inclusion of a propaganda poster which depicts the misleading means by which blacks may have been enlisted. My only complaint about Lost Ground is that it isn’t a full-length, but I suppose a band can consider a release successful if it leaves people wanting more.
I’m not sure if Lost Ground is a World War II period piece that rocks my socks off or just an EP that happens to be historical fiction — but in either case, I’m better for having listened to it.
Give it a spin.