The Dear Hunter “The Color Spectrum” Album Review

The Dear Hunter is a rare gem of a band. With every project, they create an epic auditory experience built on a cocktail of sounds and styles. The best way I can categorize them is experimental/alternative rock, but they are so much more than that. The band is the brainchild of Casey Crescenzo, who was part of The Receiving End of Sirens. The Dear Hunter put out three albums, or “Acts,” that weave heartbreaking stories of love and loss. Acts II and III are about 80 minutes each of unadulterated genius with a symphony of different sounds that somehow mesh. A single song will use the piano, harp, and electronic elements to haunting effect, then climax in a barrage of clashing cymbals and Casey biting off the lyrics with furious intensity. Each album is a unique and special journey, both musically and lyrically. Crescenzo sings with god-like range.  (If you’re new to The Dear Hunter and want a sample of their style, check out “Red Hands” from Act II. Its deliberate, catchy beat and heart-wrenching lyrics are why it will probably always be a fan favorite). The band hopes to produce seven “Acts” in total.

However, their latest project, “The Color Spectrum” EP, is a departure from the “Act” format, and a very special one. Crescenzo set out to create a four-song EP for each of the variations of the color spectrum, plus black and white. Each EP would be recorded at a different location with unique musical talent and producers. What might seem like an impossible feat to pull off resulted in a 36-song masterpiece with a running time of around 150 minutes. Most music stores carry a 12-song sampling, but you can find the complete collection plus a “Making of” DVD for under $30 online. Most of the project is a stark departure from what The Dear Hunter has done before as Crescenzo set out to define each color with unique themes and a specific sound.  Here’s a breakdown for each “color” of the Color Spectrum.

Black

The first EP of the collection is grating, dark, hopeless. Everything we normally associate with Black. The unnerving elctronic synths compunded with loud guitar riffs and bitter, hopeless lyrics make it a tough first-listen. However, once I had adjusted to the sound, this four-song journey became one of my favorite of the nine colors because it embodies its subject so well. “This Body” yells out, “This body’s not a temple, it’s a prison,” punctuated with obnoxious “Yeaaaahs.” It may be an interesting peek at Crescenzo’s worldview, which seems to be Agnostic. If you can weather the sometimes cringe-inducing sound and a few mild profanities, this is probably the most unique offering from the entire Color Spectrum.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 || Favorite: “Filth & Squalor”

Red

Picking up where Black leaves off, Red is largely driven by “angry” guitar riffs with high energy and often grating vocals. In interviews, Casey insisted he didn’t so much want to associate Red with rage, but more so with arrogance and rebellion. If you try to sing along with the Red EP, you’ll undoubtedly feel these emotions.  “Deny it All” features stinging lyrics: “Nursing stale history, and the apathy it brings. Too fascinated by the most material things, while we wait carefully and see.” The symphony of screams, cymbal crashing, and raging guitar riffs distinguish Red from the “Acts” with an adolescent-like sound.

Rating: 3 out of 5 || Favorite: “A Curse of Cynicism”

Orange

This EP highlights Casey’s knack for creating a unique atmosphere in a song. Although elements of “Red” are still present, such as more guitar riffs that remind you of the 1980s, “Orange” sets out towards brighter territory. “A Sea of Solid Earth” is probably the strongest lyrical output of the EP: “The walls are humming with a soft suspicious song, suggesting that I’ve been mistaken all along. But the words become deformed, while the notes fall and distort.” Still, Orange is probably my least favorite of the EPs as it seems to be a toned-down “Red,” but Casey really shows off his incredible vocal range.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 || Favorite: “Stuck on a Wire and Out on a Fence.”

Yellow

“She’s Always Singing” represents a turning point for the Color Spectrum. In contrast to the previous 12 songs, Yellow kicks off with a catchy, romantic anthem. The four songs of this EP feel very sunny and almost beachy with guitar strums and beats that recall music of the 1960s, particularly The Beach Boys. “Misplaced Devotion” is about convincing a lover to leave her man: “Hey girl, let’s lose ourselves today. We can go anywhere we need to get away. So say the word and we’ll turn around and leave this place behind.” The intricate guitar progressions and background vocals add to this catchy group of songs.

Rating: 4 out of 5 || Favorite: “She’s Always Singing”

Green

Giving more time to acoustic guitars, mandolins, and harmonicas, Green is a quieter collection of introspective, sometimes nostalgic lyrics. “Things That Hide Away” croons life’s most basic questions: “Why are we here, why do we die? Maybe we’re just never meant to know why.” On the other hand, “The Canopy” is a light love song of sorts, reflecting on a young couple’s feelings of newfound love, telling the listener to “Slow down, take time, and see the forest for the leaves. I know I should practice what I preach.” This is a great collection of catchy tunes with acoustic sound, perfect for car rides.

Rating: 4 out of 5 || Favorite: “The Canopy”

Blue

Slowing things down even more, the Blue EP lets the songs breathe. Crescenzo has such talent at letting songs come almost to a standstill in order to emphasize the lyrics and put the focus on emotion. For these songs, the emotion is primarily depression and uncertainty. In “What You Said,” the lyrics ache of heartbreak: “Starved eyes looking for something soft. Don’t go astray. You were in love before tonight. What made you change your mind? Was it what she said? Was it what you said?” This collection captures the “feeling blue” attitude perfectly.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 || Favorite: “The Collapse of the Great Tide Cliffs”

Indigo

Indigo might be the most unique of the nine EPs, because it heads off into territory that Dear Hunter fans will not associate with the band: electronica. Sounding a bit like The Postal Service at times, Crescenzo dazzles the auditory senses with sweet sounding piano progressions, high energy beats, an array of background vocals, and unique electronic elements that smooth out and make the songs feel very full and complete. The lyrics trend more towards the genius of the Acts. In “Mandala,” Crescenzo croons, “You’ve been here before. You’ve seen it all. But your conscience won’t recall. Your eyes are barely wide enough to recognize what your heart keeps giving up.” The Indigo EP also contains the one and only instrumental piece on the entire project, titled “Therma.”

Rating: 4 out of 5 || Favorite: “What Time Taught Us”

Violet

Violet is my favorite EP, probably because it’s the only one of the collections that echo the “Acts” sound with newfound inspiration. With orchestra-like elements driven by pianos and electric guitars, choruses that yell, and breakdowns that whisper, I often listen to this EP a few times through. “Mr. Malum” paints the portrait of an unprincipled politician: “Mr. Malum’s got a secret. He keeps on giving speeches. Just a whisper in precision that cuts through hesitation, with a sharp and evil whip to keep the dogs at bay.” But the Violet EP is also similar to the “Acts” in terms of tone and theme. “Lillian” and “Too Late” both speak of the loss of innocence in a woman. In “Lillian,” the singer pleads in hushed tones, “Entertain, but don’t get stuck in something painful. Something worse than nothing.” Every song of Violet is insanely catchy.

Rating: 5 out of 5 || Favorite: “Too Late.” But it’s close. They’re all so freaking good.

White

Just as Black screamed of bitterness, White soars with hope and promise. It’s Casey Crescenzo at the height of his powers. It’s the kind of sound you imagine to hear if you’re soul had left your body and you were riding on a stallion through the pearly gates of Heaven. The White EP focuses on the triumphs of life and redemption. Home shouts, “Help will come. Yeah, you can come back home. Help is on the way. So come back home.” Meanwhile, “Fall and Flee” sings, “I’m hoping it’s showing. My heart never stopped growing. I’ll take comfort in knowing, this melody has never been sung with these words…” With a symphony of background vocals and triumphant musical progressions, White is an epic conclusion to The Color Spectrum.

Rating: 5 out of 5  || Favorite: “Home”

If you just want a sampling of some of the best singles from The Color Spectrum project, I suggest looking for the 12-song version. But adding the complete project to your music collection ensures that you will own one of the most unique and special music experiences of all time.

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