Plumbiferous Media

Fortresses – Octoberman

Oct 4th 2009
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Fortresses - OctobermanOctoberman
Score: 36

Octoberman is a Vancouver indie band founded by Marc Morrissette in 2003 as a side-project to his main group Kids These Days. Drawing from his experience with Kids These Days, Morrissette has created two albums with Octoberman, both fairly well-received. Octoberman’s latest album, unfortunately, does not live up to the standard of its earlier work. Fortresses has some merit, but is ultimately crushed under the weight of its many problems.

Marc Morrissette’s vocals are not among the strongest parts of Fortresses. From the album’s beginning with “The Backlash,” Morissette’s vocal style can best be described as an emotionless whine. Accordingly, the album as a whole is desperately lacking in vocal strength, as Morrissette never shifts away from this style, which becomes onerous after a very few tracks. The few attempts to increase the intensity of the vocal element to Fortresses are not especially successful, leaving Morissette’s voice sounding strained and frankly more irritating than before. In addition, Morissette’s vocals never quite blend properly with the instrumentals, leaving Fortresses separated into several mediocre layers.

The best thing that can be said about the lyrics of Fortresses is that they’re well-suited to Marc Morrissette’s vocals, but given the vocal issues with this album, that’s no compliment. Lyrically, Fortresses has very little meaningful content (with the exception of “51,” which rather amusingly covers a US annexation of Canada). Instead, it’s composed of mediocre rhymes, badly-constructed lines, and frankly perplexing writing decisions. The opening track is perhaps the best example of these problems: Morrissette sings “‘Cause people really hate your band / They write about you when they’re online / Join in on the backlash / I guess they choose to waste their time / Ripping your band.” Whether Morrissette’s subject is truly the reaction to another band or whether he’s simply attempting to dampen criticism of his own, it’s an utter flop. Perhaps it’s meant as subtle commentary – but it comes off as an embarrassing misstep.

In contrast, Fortresses‘s instrumentals are often quite acceptable. While some tracks are not at all noteworthy, many make nice use of contrasting or contrapuntal lines. A strong example is the section starting around 3:20 of “I Know a Nurse,” which is a simple, small instrumental interlude that maintains the sound of the track while allowing the instruments to diverge from what they had previously been playing. What is then perplexing is the juxtaposition of tracks like “Thirty Reasons,” which repeat short, boring lines with little to no change through the entire track, with the end result being a very bored listener even after (in this case) only two and a half minutes.

The most likely cause of this dulling of creativity seems to be the infectious quality of the vocals, which is clearly reflected in the dynamic levels of the album. To say that the album remains at the same volume for its entire duration would be false, but to say that the volume level fluctuates much more than that would also be a blatant lie. Excluding the pauses between tracks, which become the most exiting dynamic changes on the album, volume fluctuates between a solid middle level, and medium loud (bordering on medium).

The problem with Fortresses is that even if it had one of the most incredible instrumental parts ever recorded, the vocals would prevent it from being a terribly strong album. As it is, Fortresses does not have an incredible instrumental part. There are a number of strong instrumental sections, but overall, the instrumentals are decent at best. Fortresses has good instrumentals, an overall sound that ranges from above average to well below, anemic vocals, and substandard lyrics. Overall, as an album, Fortresses is not successful.

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