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CD Review: Hot Cross – Risk Revival

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hotcross riskrevivalIn some ways, this album (and this review) is a triumph against the odds. First, Equal Vision sent this CD in a plain, unpromising cardboard sleeve. No artwork, no lyrics, just a bio with a bunch of band references I didn't know. The CD sat on my desk. After some time, I discovered the actual album artwork. It was so horrifyingly ugly that I thought there was no way I could like the album. No wonder it came in a plain sleeve! The CD sat on my desk.

However, I eventually gave it a spin. And another. And another. With every listen, I heard new things. That's a sign of quality.

Casey Boland is to credit for this. He's the most creative guitarist I've heard in a while (he also writes thoughtful, detailed reviews for Lambgoat). Second guitarist Josh Jakubowski left after 2004's critically acclaimed Fair Trades and Farewells, so Boland has more room to operate now. He's all over the fretboard, tossing off power chords, spicy pull-offs, midrange slicings, and jangly noodlings with amazing spontaneity. Even as instrumentals, this album would be interesting.

"Post-hardcore" would most likely describe Hot Cross. That tag doesn't say much, so some comparisons might help. The band's tumbling, swinging rhythms recall Converge and Botch. Its sung/screamed multiple-vocalist style is reminiscent of classic Dischord bands like Fugazi and Jawbox. Boland's guitar work, too, recalls the legendary Shudder to Think, especially in the jazzy chords of "Fire the Foundations." His more straightforward melodies recall Hot Water Music. Maybe the band's own reference points are different, but they bring to mind some great acts.

This album brims with energy, which is interesting since its release was delayed for months due to a decision to re-record much of it. After too many takes, performances usually lose their spark. But this album is the opposite; it sounds like a great gig captured with perfect fidelity. The guitars are beautifully electric and edgy. The bass is a fluid undertow of low end. The drums are resonant and natural-sounding – none of this over-compressed business that's so rampant now.

The songs aren't "heavy" or "brutal," or even that fast. When they break into double time, they're more like brisk jaunts. However, the arrangements are rich and subtle, as songs rise and fall with effective, hoarse gang choruses (the vocal patterns are oddly Shadows Fall-esque at times). Boland's guitar adds inventive, colorful accents throughout. The songs are emotional, but not "emo" – they speak through music, not fancy belts.

If this album has any fault, it's that it's slightly uneven. It almost shoots itself in the foot with its brilliance. Some songs reach "restore your faith in music" heights, making the songs that are merely "good" pale in comparison. Although the album is only 44 minutes long, it could have been an absolutely killer 35 minutes. This isn't a huge gripe, though. Most bands will never write anything as deep and gorgeous as "Silence Is Failure."


Hot Cross on MySpace
Equal Vision Records

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