There must be something in the Savannah, Georgia water that brews such sonically tempestuous bands as Kylesa, Black Tusk, and of course, Baroness. On July 17, the progressive sludge rockers released their newest opus, the two-for-one package, “Yellow & Green”: A brightly impassioned bit of musical reverie.
Released separately, the band’s first two full length efforts, 2007’s “Red” and 2009’s “Blue” were considered to be aural bookends to one another. This time Baroness put it altogether in one eclectic package.
First it must be stated that to fully appreciate the glorious enigma of this offering one should really invest in the vinyl version. Music like this must be appreciated in its most organic form, and dropping the needle is as close as one can get to feeling it live. CDs and mp3s are just too impersonal for Baroness.
“Yellow” carves its way into the cerebrum first. The band has already launched three singles from this disc; “Take My Bones Away”, “March to the Sea” and the side one closer, “Eula”. From the beginning it is clear the band has no problem with pushing the boundaries of the signature it developed on the first two records.
Rather than settle into a specific signature, Baroness, and in particular frontman and guitarist John Baizley, has chosen to expand the palette through, in many cases, simplification. This is a more direct record than “Red” or “Blue”. Baizley has added more melody, more hooks, without surrendering the foundation he started the band with.
“Take My Bones Away” helps the listener transform from the fractal edginess of “Blue” to the warmer tones of “Yellow & Green”. Call it a hinge song, if you will. The fuzziness and grunge root remains, but the metallic weight is tempered by maturation. This sets us up for the anthemic feel of “March to the Sea” which flows into “Little Things”.
By now the shock of the band’s new resolve may have softened into amazement. Then “Twinkler” will bring a smile and a twitch with its folkish vibe—a precursor to the psychedelic rush of “Cocanium”. The “Yellow” side concludes with another “hinge” song, “Eula”, an emotive and weighty collusion of harmonious vocals, enthralling guitar work from Peter Adams and Baizley, and spectacular drum work from Allen Blickle. This final inspired and rousing piece is the arc to the “Green” side.
If the album’s first half did not cause the fans to drop their collective jaw, the second half will. After the “Green Theme” intro the band breaks into the melodic, “Board Up the House”. One of the record’s stand out tracks, the spiraling guitar threads recall memories of The Allman Brothers. This is an example of the band’s more direct songwriting efforts—making each song a step on the journey, rather than a journey unto itself. This lends itself to the idea of a complete record instead of a collection of songs.
“Green” is rife with mood and ambience, undulating textures, and progressive meandering. Sometimes the band doesn’t quite pull it altogether, but for the most part, they succeed gloriously. “Mtns. (The Crown & Anchor)” and “Stretchmarker” are prime examples of those successes. “Psalms Alive” is one of Baizley’s weaker moments, but Adams helps pick up the slack.
Adams has outstanding moments on the track, “The Line Between” before Baroness closes this entire work out with the bucolic “If I Forget Thee, Lowcountry”.
Baroness returned to producer John Congleton (The Paper Chase, Marilyn Manson, Modest Mouse), who also handled production duties on the “Blue” album. Baizely aside from adding bass duties to his resume for this record, Baizley, as he has for all the band’s records, created the album artwork. He has also created artwork for the likes of Darkest Hour, Gillian Welch, Kylesa, Black Tusk and Skeletonwitch.
Artsy critics might call “Yellow & Green” a daring effort and applaud the group for its willingness to take risks. In truth, this is another logical progression for a band not willing to ride its own coattails. Musicians by their nature grow, as people do in general. What “Yellow & Green” does is show us another side to one of rock and metal’s more intriguing groups, and offers listeners one of the year’s best new albums. It all leaves one to wonder what shade will come next for Baroness, and how willing fans will be to embrace the ever changing and expanding landscape of the group’s colorful vision.
Rustyn Rose is a veteran music journalist who owns and operates Metalholic Magazine and Metalholic Radio.