Take Yellow & Green, the latest LP from Baroness in your hands. Feel the weight of this double album and consider John Dyer Baizley’s (Baroness’s guitarist/singer/leader) elaborate artwork. Allow the gatefold album to genuflect and reveal the intricacies ingrained in the design — notice the themes on display and the subtle darkness that harbours beneath the immediate and colourful imagery. Slide the sturdy vinyl from its holdings, place on your record player, drop the needle and mediate upon the sounds that reverberate around you for the entirety of this double album’s run-time.
Now that it’s over, how do you feel? If this is your first Baroness experience, feelings of being overwhelmed would be an expected and understandable causal effect. If you are already familiar with Baroness’s past discography — which covers two Neolithic EPs (First & Second), a caustic split with Unpersons ( A Grey Sky in a Flower Husk), and two critically acclaimed and thematically linked LPs (Red Album & Blue Record), a number of emotions may have manifested after that first spin. These emotions may range from disappointment, anger and frustration, to indifference and possibly fascination, excitement and joy. Or perhaps a cyclic flow of each of these feelings may occur while listening; dependent upon how much attention you paid to Yellow & Green‘s predecessor Blue Record. The reason being that on the Blue Record Baroness showed various signs of shedding the primal aspect of their musicianship however; nothing could prepare you for the leap they have now taken.
On first listen, the reality that the Baroness you once knew and loved has now been dissolved, hits hard and leaves a bitter taste. You will notice that the bowel shaking, mountainous sludge riffs exist only as a ghost of themselves and that Baizley has buried his lion’s call in favour of a semi-melodic, gruff delivery that resides just above a shout and well below his roar of old. The more curmudgeonly fans may resign this release to the bin and stick on some Pig Destroyer to cleanse their ears. However, the more open-minded amongst us will hold final judgment and put the album on for another spin, then intrigue may dictate another, and that’s when Yellow & Green connects with your soul.
This release is the epitome of soul music, not in the musical sense of the word, but more in a literal sense, as with repeat listens Baroness’s soul is exposed and displayed through a kaleidoscopic spectrum of disparate musical influences including progressive rock, indie, fragile folk and stadium worthy rock. The Beatles, Radiohead and Pink Floyd replace Mastodon, Neurosis and the Melvin’s as reference points — but reference points is all they are, as Baroness have managed to amalgamate these sounds to construct fresh ground for themselves. This results in a double album that acts as a unique journey through Baizley’s psyche, and like all journeys there are moments that are more enjoyable than others but once the last note wisps away, the overall feeling triumphs over any individual aspect.
The Yellow side of this release is clearly the more energetic of the two, the first single “Take My Bones Away”, creates the bridge between old and new, as thumping rhythms and fuzzy riffage allow Baizley and Peter Adams (second guitarist/co-vocalist) to lay down some ripping vocal melodies and guitar solos. Adams may take the brunt of the frustrations from disappointed listeners who believe he has been in Baizley’s ear since the Blue Record, telling him to move into more palatable territories. These are claims which could have been backed by the fact that original bassist Summer Welch has left the fold prior to recording. This could not be further from the truth as Welch’s departure has been noted as being without controversy (he was replaced by Unpersons’ Matt Maggioni), and Adams has been publicised as being the band’s premier metalhead.
All that Adams can be accused of is giving Baizley the songwriting confidence to explore his musical needs and their interplay is astonishing on the tracks that form the Yellow side, from the anthemic pairing of “March to the Sea” and “Little Things” to the hymnal folk of “Twinkler” and onwards to the psychedelic funk of “Cocainium”, which sounds oddly like Pink Floyd dancing with Yeasayer. This side of the record ends on a high with “Sea Lungs” and the tumultuous “Eula”, the former recalling a hairier version of Muse and the latter clearly being the album apex — the track on which this double album balances. “Eula” is a stunning display of emotion, where the guitars hold all the weight and where Allen Bickle’s consummate drum work contains some real bite; and the same could be said for the empassioned vocal harmonies that sit right in the pocket all within comfortable range. It’s post-rock at its most concise and the Morello-esque intergalactic lead guitar does nothing to take away from the heavy sentiment here.
Even the colour-blind can see Baizley’s thematic/lyrical point of naming the LPs by colour, and if the Red Album signalled unbridled aggression, the Green side clearly refers to (re)growth. It’s here where Baroness explore textures and the more reserved side of their sound; especially on the songs that follow the Torche-like sunshine of “Board of the House” — Baroness’s first pure pop-rock song. This textural exploration produces some inconsistent results. When Baroness get it right it can be totally absorbing (“Mts (The Crown and Anchor)”, “Foolsong” and “Stretchmarker”) but their experimentation misses the mark on “Collapse” and the lighter moments of “Psalm Alive”. The vocal melodies on these two tracks could take most of the blame for their failure, sounding uncharacteristically flat and forgetful. “The Line Between” mends these failings somewhat with its gritty vocal harmonies and increased tempos, coming across like ’90s sounding alternative rock in the vein of (old) Foo Fighters, Jawbox, Quicksand, albeit; more technically accomplished and adventurous.
Yellow & Green ends with instrumental “If I Forget Thee, Lowcountry”, welcoming sleep and confirming the blatantly obvious — that Baroness has outgrown their previous post-metal categorisation. This double album may not connect with those unwilling to grow with Baroness, but for those willing to support a progressive band in their selfish exploration of their musical capabilities — give Yellow & Green enough time to bear its soul to you. Sure it comes with its imperfections, but it’s this humanity that makes music so life affirming. Like all great rock bands that have gone before them — allow Baroness the opportunity to change your life. They just might succeed in doing so.