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Your Role Model's Dead
Artist: Through the Eyes of Katelyn
Label: Takehold Records
Time: 11 tracks/29:35 min.

Drummer extraordinaire for Zao, Jesse Smith has blessed us with his first solo album. While every Zao fan knows that Smith can play the drums, he also proves he can do a decent job on the bass, guitar, and vocal end of the musical spectrum by playing all these instruments on this album. While you might expect a metal album from the drummer of a popular metal band, Jesse Smith serves up something different and original instead.

Mixing elements of indie rock and hardcore, Through the Eyes of Katelyn is the angry, outcast child of both worlds. Songs like "Aug 15" and "It's Tuesday Night and Mr. Judgment is Out of Cigarettes," for example, depend mostly on acoustic guitar and clean vocals. Other songs like "This Day, This Month, This Year" and "My Last 12 Words to You" layer thick walls of distortion with dual tracks of Jesse singing and screaming, often at the same time. Although the result is disconcerting at times to say the least, it makes an interesting mix.  The best song here, "Play That Beat" is a nearly anthemia rock song full of blistering riffs, awesome drumming, and a biting commentary of metal kids:

     Hey Kids, you wanna rock?
     You better grab your Nikes
     This sport is made for jocks.
     First you wear 'em big
     Then you wear 'em low.
     First you swing 'em fast
     Then you swing 'em slow.

     Cause you've got to play that beat...

     We don't like the music
     We just like to dance
     This heavy metal puts them in a sleepy trance
     They will run around and kick you,
     They will kick you in the face.
     It doesn't matter to them
     Get hard or be disgraced.

     Cause you've got to play that beat.

The production, though rough and muddy at times, suffices. The cardboard CD case, however, is annoying with its fragility, but further proves that Smith wants this project to be different. With solid songwriting, decent musical abilities, and interesting insights, Jesse Smith in fact pulls off something decidedly different and wonderfully fresh. While the style may proof inaccessible for many, those who slip inside may yet see the world Through the Eyes of Katelyn.

Joe Rockstroh  10/16/99

With the much-anticipated side project of Zao's drummer Jesse Smith, we're treated to something I've never heard before: the quietest of emo indie rock laid next to a hybrid groove/metalcore sound. It's exhilarating. Sometimes the two sounds take turns caressing and pummeling your ears, and sometimes they're tracked simultaneously in the mix so that you hear melodic strumming and whisper vocals at the same time as distorted screams and fluid grunge riffing. The music is disorienting; you never know when an eruption will occur, spewing burning distortion all over a formerly peaceful soundscape. You're kept on edge even during the soft songs.

One is reminded of Zao's recent experimentation and some of their quiet/loud song structures, but the heaviest stuff here isn't as heavy as Zao and the mellow parts are much longer and more complete. "It's Tuesday Night, & Mr. Judgment Is Out of Cigarettes" and "My Last 12 Words to You" are examples of the latter - acoustic tracks made haunting by ghostlike whispers alongside melodic singing. "Beginning, Middle, End" is perhaps one of the heaviest moments, with a clanging locomotive beat and guitars that chug repetitively and monstrously, eventually slowing to a huffing breath of a crawl.

It sounds as though there are echo effects on the vocals and instruments and as though Jesse (who does everything on the album) double-tracked each vocal and instrument. He probably recorded in an empty concrete room as well. As a result, the production will come across as sloppy to some listeners. I found it as enjoyable to listen to as the music.

Paradoxical song titles like "Youth Minister With Boxing Gloves" add to the mayhem, as do subjective lyrics that rarely lend themselves to easy interpretation. Take the title track, "Your Role Model's Dead":

         follow these words from the start
         you're told to be who you are.
         the curse of man brought on by the flaming tongue.
         and to be sucked in to be swallowed,
         by some undying stature.
         you who you are.
         you're who you are.
         i'm not your god.

Seems I heard somewhere that the whole thing is told from a girl named Katelyn's experience (thus, the title), but that doesn't make it any easier to tell what the heck Jesse's talking about. "Play That Beat" ends the album with the catchiest and easiest-to-understand lyrics, a commentary on kids at shows who don't care about the music or creativity:

         we don't like the music
         we just like to dance.
         all this heavy metal puts them in a super trance.
         they will run around and kick you,
         they will kick you in the face.
         it doesn't matter to them.
         get hard or be disgraced,
         cause you've got to play that beat

Due to its uniqueness, offbeat production, loose sense of experimentation, and slapdash mix of extremes, the album won't find a wide audience. It's definitely a grower, but something really cool once you get the hang of listening to it. Fans of Zao's more experimental elements will probably dig it, but those who just into the beat should stay away.  Through the Eyes of Katelyn will go right over your head.

Josh Spencer 


 

Josh Spencer, contributing senior associate editor for The Phantom Tollbooth for over two years, is also publisher and editor-in-chief of spiritual pop culture webzine Stranger Things.  Reviews and articles by him are usually simultaneously published in some form at
http://www.strangerthingsmag.com.

 

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