The Lowdown: Methyl Ethel could have had their pick of producers on their new album, Triage, after teaming up with all-star producer James Ford last go-round. Instead, frontman Jake Webb decided to take the job himself, and the result is a bombastic declaration that says: “Methyl Ethel can do whatever they want!” Webb corrals all the group’s eclectic sounds into intriguing packages, like using sonic manipulation as an intro to a bunch of gnarly guitar chords. Varied in its depth and ambiguous in its inspiration, Triage ventures forward, as its title suggests, by trying to find the most urgent musical avenue to explore.
The Good: Thankfully, Webb has a handle on the songs, even if the listener does not. The band’s use of piano riffs is a definite highlight; it’s what acts as the pulse on their single “Scream Whole” and gives “Trip the Mains” its hypnagogic pop spirit. Holding all the songs together is Webb’s idiosyncratic, high-octane vocal range that goes from a sweet whisper to a frightening war cry. It’s that kind of stark contrast that makes the album fully formed in its expansive approach. Triage is at its best when the band stops being subtle and soft with their arrangements and are aloud to unleash their catchy, layered but powerful choruses like on “Hip Horror” and “All the Elements”. They may not seize you right away, but they eventually will.
The Bad: So far, it looks like Methyl Ethel have accrued an aura of foreboding in their music that doesn’t align itself with any form pf whimsy or irony. This sort of outlook could lead itself to more emotionally charged lyrics, but on Triage it just scratches the surface. Webb touches on some sensitive subjects, but the lyrics never go in any of the same directions that the music does. It would’ve almost been more interesting if they decided to just go for it and composed actual instrumental pieces that would fit with the album’s mold more. Maybe Brian Eno will be available the next time they’re in the studio.
The Verdict: Every song from Methyl Ethel’s latest album seems like it is trying to outdo all the others and that is never a bad thing. Triage is probably their best album yet because they only seem to be competing with themselves, which makes for the best form of uncompromising music. At only nine tracks, Methyl Ethel has no time for filler, so they make a statement whenever they can. During the first listen, you may pick up on some of their faults, but multiple visits can expose you to all their hidden treasures.
Essential Tracks: “Scream Whole”, “Trip the Mains”, and “Hip Horror”