This review was written in 2005 and originally published on AbsolutePunk.net. It has been very minimally edited before being republished.
Ever since this debut full-length was first played in my car stereo on the drive home from The Militia Group’s home office, I’ve had one goal in mind: review this before Rohan does.
Okay, I’m only half kidding.
I’m reviewing this CD for one reason: I believe in this band. I think my faith in Cartel is evidenced through my desire, and utmost excitement, to ‘leak’ the band’s album on this very website. I’d never do such a huge promotion with a band I wasn’t 100% behind. There’s a variety of aspects to the band’s music that touch me in a way few bands are able. I hope to convey these feelings as best I can through the following words; however, there are things that you will only discover through sitting down for a good hour with this album, alone, in your room, and with the volume turned up very loudly. My conviction and sharp pose on this band are apparent from any visitor’s every day visit to this website, and this is exactly the review you expected me to write.
Let’s be straight up about this before we go any further: this is a pop record. And, I for one, am thankful the band can be forward with their fans about what they play. They don’t run from or conceal what they are. They’ve never masked their sound with words and descriptions coined to hide the fact that they play pop music. I think their open policy is a testament to the band’s willingness and desire to change how people look at the pop-punk genre. There’s nothing worse than looking at an article on one of the mainstream pop-punk bands where they try to claim to play “rock music” or toil an angle that moves them out from under the “pop-punk mantle.” It is this author’s attitude that there’s nothing wrong with pop music. It’s a shame that this genre and term has picked up such a soiled connotation. It’s even more refreshing because this band pushes the limits of what the world expects a pop-album to be. Furthermore, while no one will ever call them the next Radiohead, Mars Volta, or Sigur Rios, the band never set out to break the musical mold (we’ll come back to this point later).
In a scene that is reaching saturation levels, it’s important for bands to make strides to reach the top tier of their genre. In one colorful and bold stroke Cartel have raised the bar for what we should expect from the pop bands that hook their way into our hearts. Cartel’s new album was coherently created to be a work of art as heard as a whole and not just individual parts. I believe that listening to this album is like witnessing a master craftsman at the pinnacle of his game.
Seeing as we are currently streaming the album on this very website, I’m going to let the songs speak for themselves. You don’t need a play by play of what you can readily listen to with a few clicks of your mouse. Instead, I want to highlight a few of my favorite tracks and explain my reasoning for holding this album on so high of a pedestal.
“Say Anything (Else),” the album’s opener, sets the tempo for the album. With the first words being sung (literally) through a telephone, it perfectly alerts the listener to what they should expect from the subsequent 12 songs. It sets forth a standard, pace, and theme for how the record (and I do mean, record) will play out.
“Matter of Time,” the album’s fourth track, punches it’s way through the speakers. The bass and drums pounding out a sonic beat. With Will’s vocals being masterfully pulled in and out of the mix, it’s the small intricacies of the song that make it stand out. For example, when the music fades and we hear, “because all things considered, it’s a game and you’re not the winner..” I can’t help but smile. It’s these small details that put the song together in such a beautiful manner.
“Burn this City,” and “Save Us” are both stand our lyrical tracks. And while some will be disappointed by the re-inclusion of “Luckie St.” I think the new version is a great addition to put the album into over-drive as it heads into its second-half.
Not a single review of this album will go by without mentioning Track 10, “The Minstrel’s Prayer.” This song is what, in this writer’s opinion, single handedly puts the band on a whole new innovative echelon. 68 drum and 80 string tracks come roaring into the airwaves. A single guitar begins to play. Then Will’s angelic vocals begin. The song’s theme is a message to the listener about how the band understands their purpose has always been to write “silly (pop) songs” about girls and love. For years, song-writers (or minstrels as Will croons) have been writing songs to win the heart of others. The song, as I take it, is the band saying that they are only one in a long line of bands that have written this variety of music, and that they only hope to keep this torch burning bright. This song pays homage to those “minstrels through the ages”, and to the melody and love that can be found within music’s mending words.
“Q & A,” essentially the final two tracks on the album are two parts to the same song. One, well, the question, and the other, the answer. What we find in the album’s closer is the band’s allusion to some of the great song writers of past. Whether that be Brian Wilson’s (and many jazz and blue’s musicians) concept of weaving the refrains from previous songs back into the final track, or the electronic experimentation you see in the final minutes. It stands out and achieves its intended dramatic purpose. I’ve never been more inclined to want to start an entire record over again as I have after listening to this CD.
The bar has been set. Scratch that. The bar has been raised. As the kid who has been known for his love of pop-punk: this is an opus.
There are those with more diverse musical taste than me that will probably hate this CD. There are others who will call it run-of-the-mill-pop. My “e-zine credibility” will probably take more shots than anyone down the street in the bar this Friday night. I fully expect to be called out, made fun of, and to see the above words used as just another reason why I’m a ruining the scene and should be silenced. But, with this realization I still put forth the above declaration in writing. I’ve never been one to listen to the coolest music. I only listen to the music I like.
Take my words for what they are: a small 10 minute trip inside my mind. I hope some of you reading can appreciate a good pop-album. I know there are other genres out there, I listen to them. I know there is deeper music out there, I listen to a lot of it. I understand where the critics are coming from; however, no one can change how these songs resonate inside of me. If you think I’m out of sorts for saying these things, I feel sorry for you for never having felt the way I do while listening to my favorite albums. I’m a firm believer that the more selective and pretentious one’s listening tastes become, the more you find yourself unable to allow music to be fun. Pop music should make you forget your worries, allow you to nod your head to the melody, and smile at the “stupid songs.” Let me be candid: these are the bands, and tunes, that will become etched in your mind with memories for years to come. Cheer up, music shouldn’t be a sedative – it should be an experience.