The Color Spectrum runs the music spectrum gamut from hardcore rock to post-rock and everything in between. It’s a true tour de force -- and one of the best albums of 2011.
The first thing that hits you about the Dear Hunter’s newest release, The Color Spectrum, is the length. Clearly, the Dear Hunter themselves understood that a 36-track, nine-EP collection of songs would be intimidating to the casual listener -- to fix this issue, a shortened 11-song “greatest hits” compilation of the collection was created and released this June on CD. The Complete Collection itself was released at the same time on vinyl, but the band only recently put out a more accessible four-disc CD and DVD box set. But for those of us who have waiting for a CD release of The Complete Collection, it has been worth the wait. While the 11-song compilation of The Color Spectrum is excellent in it’s own right, it is the full collection that truly shines and shows The Dear Hunter as one of the most unique, creative, and ambitious acts in music today.
The Color Spectrum’s nine EPs each consist of four songs based on a color: Black, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, and White. Each has a distinctive feel, from the industrial and post-hardcore sounds from the Black EP to the sunny pop of the Yellow EP. The collection gradually mellows from the intense to the quiet and to a final climax that combines all the genres previously used. The variety of styles is clear, but the bigger question has to be, “Is it done well?” The answer is an unequivocal "yes." Remarkably, there is an EP for everyone in this vast collection.
Fans of Casey Crescenzo’s old band, the Receiving End of Sirens, will find both the Black and Red EPs as a good starting point since they, no doubt, have the bleakest sounds. Crescenzo himself has described Black as coming from a dark place. The tracks echo this feeling -- “Never Forgive, Never Forget” starts with industrial drums that harkens to Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails; it's an epic and ominous track, introducing the Dear Hunter's vast ambitions. Red is not as industrial as Black, as it mellows towards typical alt-rock. The sound gradually becomes more organic as the emotions take a calmer leaning from Black austerity.
These first two EPs are all that remains of the Dear Hunter’s post-hardcore beginnings. Orange is forgettable, but an adequate transition to the lighter sounds of Yellow and Green, which are the strongest EPs of the anthology. The Dear Hunter and Casey Crescenzo have rarely delved into indie-pop before, but Yellow shows that it’s a genre that they should attempt more. Both “She’s Always Singing” and “Misplaced Devotion” are perfect indie-pop singles with soaring choruses and ringing guitars. The juxtaposition of the Yellow EP with Red, Black, and Orange is stunning, as the transformation to bright, sunny pop is complete. “She’s Always Singing” in particular is one of the happiest and most uplifting songs of the year, and Yellow is easily the standout EP.
Green also finds the Dear Hunter branching out from it’s usual sound. This EP of mainly organic and acoustic tracks strips down songs into the most basic forms; the songs usually only consist of basic instrumentation -- guitar, bass, drums -- and harmonized vocals. It’s an unexpected and wholly appreciated break after the heft and pop of the previous tracks. Blue, Indigo, and Violet likewise each have their own sound. Blue adventures into post-rock, Indigo into electronica and ambient music, while Violet is perhaps the most similar to the Dear Hunter’s usual theatrical sound. All have their own charms.
The final climax comes with the White EP: an amalgamation of the first eight sets. The easiest way to describe White is that it soars with a life-affirming attitude. On “Home”, Crescenzo sings “Help is on the way / So come back home," urging the listener to “not give up”. This, in essence, is the message of the final EP. By the end of the final track, “Lost But Not All Gone”, there is a feeling that nirvana and a final end to the journey has been reached, bringing together all that was fantastic about the first eight EPs and tying together all of the loose ends.
The Color Spectrum isn’t perfect, but with such an ambitious project, that’s to be expected. In particular, the Orange and Violet EPs tend to be on the weak side, but the sheer number of fantastic tracks -- musically complex and accessible, lyrically intense and moving -- outweighs these issues. It is rare that such a sweeping gesture is created; one with almost universal appeal is even rarer still. The Color Spectrum runs the gamut of the music spectrum from hardcore rock to post-rock and everything in between. Despite its flaws and over-ambition, it’s a true tour de force and one of the best albums of the year.