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Transition
Artist: Philmont
Independent Release (2010)
6 tracks (21:17 minutes)
 
Many a hopeful youth has stood in front of his bedroom mirror, trusty tennis racquet or hair brush in hand, and imagined himself before an arena full of adoring fans hanging on his every word as if their next breath depended on it. If this, the quintessential rock and roll dream, were even marginally close to the default value for most groups, the men of Philmont would have long since tossed in the towel, settled down to so-called respectable (i.e. non-musical) occupations and never again entertained the notion of taking up their respective instruments. The good news, though, for all involved, is that the plucky North Carolina punk-pop quintet has weathered the departure of drummer Todd Davis, the loss of their major-label contract with Forefront Records and the subsequent challenges of independently releasing their latest effort with nary a hint of calling it a day.

Lead singer Scott Taube and his cohorts have always had the proverbial soft spot for faster, more bracing, material, and the new EP, which was largely funded by fan donations, finds the fivesome’s hard-rocking inclinations as firmly intact as ever. The frenetic rhythms and soaring chorus of the superb leadoff cut, “I Am,” seem virtually guaranteed to raise the average listener’s pulse rate by ten to fifteen beats per minute. The energizing “The Alchemist” might well be the perfect prescription for long-distance runners looking to shave those elusive last few minutes off of their half-marathon finish time. And the shimmering, nimble-fingered harmonic work of “Closer” is as awe-inspiringly beautiful as it is mesmerizing.

Quick-tempoed pieces like those above notwithstanding, the magnificently towering power balladry of “You Will Remain” seems almost a deliberate declaration that the band’s talent is anything but one-dimensional. The beautiful melody, sparkling guitar work and consummately-delivered vocals of the gently-loping “The Last Song I Sing” render the stellar acoustically-driven closer a similarly unequivocal winner. And the semi-droning mid-tempo-based  “Ringing in My Head” makes perhaps the band’s strongest case to date for the inherent wisdom of tempering their hard-rocking inclinations with a unabashed pop sensibility.

Their enviable instrumental talent notwithstanding, songs like “I Am” (I am a fuse/ Burn and glow/ If you can’t defuse/ I will explode) and “The Alchemist” (Science can’t explain/ In full detail these things to me) show that the lyrical struggles that dotted the band’s previous projects are still a factor this time around. And, while there are only a handful of unique, truly pioneering, acts  along the present-day rock landscape, more than a few listeners will find the Philmont cooperative’s work akin enough to that of artists like Relient K, Hawk Nelson and artists of their ilk to render it somewhat superfluous. 

But, while the Philmont lads’ literary skills often lag the more clever wordplay of Relient K or Hawk Nelson’s endearingly self-deprecating humor, they still manage to offset their word-related shortcomings with a corresponding number of lyrical gems. The simple, staccato-like phrasing of “Ringing in My Head” (The echo of your voice/ Breaking through the noise/ I am listening/ I am listening) heightens the cut’s captivatingly insistent energy. And the ultimately encouraging language of “You Will Remain” (The storms we’re left to weather/ Will not last forever/ When all is said and done you will remain) reads almost like classic poetry. Just as importantly, the Philmont collective is arguably more musically consistent at this point than the lion’s share of its closest peers – all of which winds up working together to vault the exceedingly engaging Transition album to the top spot in the talented band’s impressive, and thankfully still-growing, catalog.

Bert Gangl, The Phantom Tollbooth (01.20.11)


 

 
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