Rating : 6.5/10
Words : Sam Lawson | Image : Jason Parsons
For some, me reviewing this band’s work might come as a bit of a surprise. There was an incident not so long ago where I had been caught (for lack of a better term) telling my friends that I thought they sucked and the local music scene, the younger generation at least, exploded for 24 hours. I was public enemy number one and I tried to maintain that it was my opinion and that I was entitled to it. With that said however, I delivered my opinion in a way that could be considered less than mature or professional but due to me not believing it would ever surface and would stay between me and my trusted circle of friends, that my delivery didn’t really matter at all. The point behind me bringing this up is that I want to make it very, very clear that there is absolutely no way that any friendship/disagreement I share with a musician or band as the individuals that they are would ever affect my view on their craft. I had only seen Hacienda in a live performance setting and I will continue to maintain that at the shows I saw them at, I wasn’t impressed BUT this is rock and fucking roll and no one should give a shit whether I am impressed or not, as long as they’re happy doing what they do, fuck me and my views.
That said however, there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to review new local music from a band that I had only ever seen live.
You will be shocked to find out that their debut EP actually won me over, by quite a large margin. I won’t pretend that there aren’t production flaws. Sometimes the treatment on the vocals is a bit over bearing, the delays even a tad out of time. Occasionally a beat is missed in the drumming and there are flat/sharp vocals throughout. When you consider, however, that this is a punk/grunge band there is of course the possibility that all of these mistakes were intentional or at the very least, heard by the band during production but were kept in on purpose. It’s hard to say without going back in time and being there during the production period of this release.
Some songs stand out more than others, as with almost every compilation of music ever released throughout the history of man. For me, ‘Monochrome Dreams’ is probably the best song on this record along with the closing track, ‘Siamese Dream’. I am unaware as to whether these two songs are in anyway connected based on their titles, however I tip my proverbial hat to the Smashing Pumpkins reference and equally, the chorus vocal harmonies. There’s some Daron Malakian style, eastern sounding, melismatic phrasing taking place there.
Throughout this EP there is a lot of ambience, real world recordings, heavily treated audio and so on and it’s actually quite endearing to hear it given the setting. There’s spoken word too, and that’s possibly my favourite part of the first half of this EP. In the opener drummer Mina can be heard reading some poetry which ends with the line “If you are not outraged, you’re not paying attention. Do something.”. This brief passage of new wave style spoken word (eerily similar to the opening segment of ‘Behind The Mask’ by Goldfinger) is followed by one of the strongest melodic moments throughout the EP, where you can hear Josh and Mina harmonising together over some lush sounding guitars, just before a drum fill and some samples of in-studio chaos featuring the voice of Sam Windsor (Hamartia guitarist/partial producer of this release).
My only real issue with the production other than the occasionally slipping of vocal levels is the cymbals, ; THEY ARE LOUD AS A MOTHERFUCKER. The hi-hat cymbal is particularly overwhelming, other than that though the drum mix is actually really great.
The second and third tracks ‘Fly Song’ and ‘With The Lights Out’ didn’t really blow me away in all honesty. The former sounded like some heavy Nirvana embellishing but I can’t quite put my finger on what song. The low, moany vocal delivery throughout both songs was cool though, very stylistically fitting. It is safe to say that I think punk is a less fitting term for this band as grunge certainly is. I can hear Billy Corgan, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley and even The Melvins, occasionally but I can’t hear Rotten, Ramone or Rollins anywhere. The latter however, just didn’t have any musical elements that I really enjoyed very much, the riff wasn’t for me. That said, the lyrics were great. Apologies if I misquote but that’s the price you pay for a gritty vocal sound – “Cigarettes and civil debts / sex and skincare on her mind, going down for another line”. This song has some venom in the lyrics that’s for sure, I feel sorry for the girl Josh is singing about here.
In the past Hacienda have been referred to as “ketamine grunge” which is a direct reference to the dangerous and debaucherous lifestyles often lived by the members of bands such as this one, who play this style of music. I find myself being torn between loving and hating the lyrical content throughout. Lots of reference to cigarettes, alcohol, snorting lines or taking pills and so on. Occasionally it’s quite funny in it’s satirical delivery, like in ‘Siamese Dream’ for example – “Valium dreams and cups of tea”, how British can you get? Regardless, I still find it to be futile practice as every good drug song has been written. For me, it was all over when I first heard James Hetfield say “chop your breakfast on a mirror” and Cedric Bixler Zavala shriek “Carcinogen tar turns to smoldering asp, of this I ate, communion shaped, serpents rays in prism trail rainbows escapes”.
I believe one day these guys will end up finding a more creative way to talk about their own inner turmoils and I can only imagine myself enjoying it a lot more and I certainly hope so because the vocals are without a doubt my favourite thing about this EP, they’re haunting and the contrast between Josh and Mina’s voices is so abundantly clear yet totally comfortable to listen to.
Overall this is one of the strongest debut releases I’ve heard from a band who are in their younger years and relying on college recording equipment. There are catchy hooks throughout, the dueling vocals are great for the most part, except at the times where one or both vocals are turned down too quietly and I am forced to try and pick them out and it will distract me from other things in the song I should be paying attention to.
This is an honest collection of songs and if you’re reading this, you need to go and listen to ‘Monochrome Dreams’. The chorus is one of the catchiest things going, the harmonies are great even if they’re slightly discordant but I mean, that lends itself to the meaning of the song if anything. It also features the bass performances from every member of the band on their respective instruments in my opinion as well, K-Ci’s bass playing on this song and the opener (during the aforementioned spoken word section) is very tight and the tone of the bass is actually really nice.
Overall Hacienda have won me over about half the way with the release, if I see them live in the near future and they play these songs – this way – I’ll hold my hands up and call myself a fan of the group. An EP full of twists and turns, plenty of elements that I just simply wasn’t expecting to hear and a refreshing take on the grunge style. The band are moving to Bristol later this year and I can only assume the scene there being as I know it to be, will take them in with open arms and only good can come from that move.