- Thus far, The Channels Speak

May 20, 2010 by Luke O’Neil

The Subtle Way - Thus Far, The Channels Speak

Purchase it at:
iTunes Amazon

January 20, 2010 - Negative Progression

AP Rating:

People have been making stupid predictions for about as long as people have been talking. Over the past century or so, there have been some pretty notable ones:


  • "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" --H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927

  • "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." --Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

  • "We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." --Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962

  • "I think we've pretty much heard all of the varieties of genre mash-up that we possibly can by this point." --Luke O'Neil, five minutes before putting the Subtle Way's new album on last week

    Well, we never said we knew what we were talking about. Apparently we overlooked the creative possibilities of merging the disaffected, mechanical style of Auto-Tuned vocoder pop with the intensity of screamo metal. Not sure how we didn't see that one coming. And what's worse, apparently it's, like, a thing now. Particularly among metal bands going for the pop-cover irony grab (Confide's "Such Great Heights" and Surrender The Dance Floor's "Just Dance" come to mind). Meanwhile a band like Brokencyde combine crunk hip-hop, Auto-Tuned vocals and screamo into what may well be the absolute nadir of musical achievement.

    However, there's a way to do anything well, no matter how ridiculous it sounds on paper. The Subtle Way land on that non-embarrassing side of the divide with their second full-length. The key is their (no pun intended) subtle approach. This is largely a screamo record, hook-driven and soaring, that uses vocoder occasionally to color in the edges. It's not the point of the production, it's just one of the tools in their belt, and it doesn't rear its silly head on every song. "Hardwired And Inspired," the lead-off track, is simply a cascading deluge of swirling riffs and coarse-throated, melodic bellowing. By the time the vocoder comes in on "The Breath And The Breathing" it doesn't feel like you're slamming into a brick wall because the shiny production leading up to it makes it a natural progression. Once the song devolves into a house-style synth rave, your ears have been trained to blend the disparate sounds together.

    One wonders whether stunt production like that is necessary, particularly when things get a little Top 40 radio R&B on the beginning of "The Getaway," but goddamn if the Subtle Way haven't gotten themselves to stand out in a pack of a soundalike screamo cookie-cutter acts. The secret isn't in the style, though; it's in the songs. In the musical version of the old rock-paper-scissors game, hooks beat production every time.