Lines of Hour is an experimental group from Minneapolis consisting of mainly the core group of vocalist Nana Aforo, drummer Jesse Bradley and Cole Oehler, but utilizing other, uncredited musicians as well. The Scenes in Minor is the group’s first album.
As those of you who read the site regularly may know, I have a somewhat set format for discussing the music that I review: I go song by song and critique each one. I find after a few drafts that I really cannot do that here, because almost every song has the same sonic palette and formula. So, as opposed to writing a review the normal way, I will just discuss the work as a whole.
The Scenes in Minor is split about half-and-half between full songs and one-to-two-minute long instrumental snippets. Generally, the full songs all have a very similar sound, while the shorter pieces tend to be a bit further out there, but nothing revolutionary.
The album begins with three songs that share almost the exact same formula. All three are a single drum and basic keyboard part repeated over the length of the entire song. “Crossing a Bridge” and “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” both lay some vocals over the top, and the latter has what sounds like guitar, but they still have that same basic setup. The musicians completed the production themselves and could really use some improvement. None of the different pieces sound compatible with the others on these main songs. Everything sounds just stacked up on top of the instrument below it, and the worst offender, consistently, is the singing. It wasn’t placed into the mix in a very charming way across the board.
Beyond production, I’d like to talk about the performances throughout the album. The drum parts are generally fun, well-performed and jazzy. They are the most consistently entertaining part of this brew and they mostly just get looped over and over again instead of switching up at all. The keyboard is fine; it’s generally pretty basic, but every once in a while it does some cliché “jazz” scale or something like that which, while more complex than the keyboard normally is, is also a little frustrating in that it’s so obviously pulled from jazz classics.
The lyrics are often pretentious and the vocals themselves all sound the same between songs. These issues could both potentially be looked over, but the vocals are placed so high in the mix and fit awkwardly with everything else, audio-quality-wise, that I couldn’t ignore any of these issues.
My favorite part of The Scenes in Minor was from “Real Friends” through the end of the album. These four songs seem to hit their stride a bit more, likely due to the absence of vocals. The tribal drumming on “Red Balloon” and the beautiful guitar arpeggios on “Bluegreen” are beautiful moments and I wish that there was more like this throughout the album in terms of musicianship. Lines of Hour states in its bio that they sound like Gorillaz and the Beach Boys, but I suggest that the group really sit down and study the music of these two groups (as well as the production style on Slint’s seminal album Spiderland, which, if they plan on keeping the vocals, should be a template for how to mix them) and analyze the music, really listening and dissecting it. Gorillaz don’t work because they loop two instruments for a whole song and sing over it; they work because of the originality in their use of samples and interesting, varied sonic palettes from song to song, as well as emotional vocal performances.
I hope that Lines of Hour reads this and take what they can from my critiques instead of assuming that I just “don’t get it,” because I do. I’m an avid jazz listener and I also happen to be a large fan of experimental music. This just really doesn’t work for me on the level I had hoped it would.
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