These days, quality and true artistry are often indirectly proportional to popularity. In other words, the vast majority of today’s most unique and important music is being shaped by artists who’ve yet to reach the level of success and notoriety they deserve. Such is the case of the Dear Hunter, a band whose experimental mixture of indie rock, progressive rock, classical, and folk provides the perfect vehicle for highly idiosyncratic songwriting and storytelling. On its fifth release, Migrant, the group scales back its conceptuality and bombastic production in favor of more concise selections. It’s not quite as impressive as its predecessors but it is still very charming, moving, meticulous, and organic. As fans would expect, Migrant is a great record.
The Dear Hunter was founded approximately a decade ago by multiinstrumentalist Casey Crescenzo, who left his previous band (the Receiving End of Sirens) to mastermind his own vision. Similar to Coheed & Cambria, the group’s name is a reference to the central character of a story that Crescenzo initially wanted to tell in six chapters (or Acts). So far, the first three have been released, and all have showcased a brilliant mixture of heartbreaking melodies, intricate arrangements, stunning orchestration, and abundant variety; it’s difficult to even ascribe genre classification to the Dear Hunter’s sound. Following Act III — Life and Death, it went in a totally different direction by releasing the even more ambitious and diverse The Color Spectrum, a collection of 36 songs separated into nine colored EPs (each one contains four songs that express the sentiments of the hue). With Migrant, the Dear Hunter tones down the gimmicks to deliver a standard collection of tunes, and although it’s not as sundry or complex as its precursors, it’s still fantastic.
Distained, theatrical strings introduce a reflective piano progressive on “Bring You Down”, the initial song on Migrant. Naturally, Crescenzo’s pained falsetto and melody follow suit, as do gratifyingly arranged timbres, including subtle horns and harmonies. Eventually, Crescenzo belts out his words with fury, making this a fully realized, satisfying start. From there, “Whisper” begins with tense orchestration and leads into a soft verse and frenzied chorus. Here we get a taste of The Dear Hunter’s great duality and dynamics.
Afterward, “Shame” is more mysterious and unconventional, as its music is almost in conflict with its vocals (although it’s also wonderfully complementary). It’s by far one of the most nuanced tracks here. “An Escape” is a fairly straightforward rocker by comparison, but it’s still engaging, while “The Kiss of Life” and “Sweet Naïveté” feel more carefree and colorful; in fact, their ’60s pop vibe would fit perfectly on the more vintage sounding EPs of The Color Spectrum. “Let Go”, by contrast, is heavier and more urgent, and like everything on Migrant, it exudes impeccably layered instrumentation.
As delightful as the entire album is, two tracks stand out easily. “Cycles” and “This Vicious Place” are without a doubt two of the best songs Crescenzo has ever written. The former features the same sort of askew rhythms and abrupt changes that made earlier pieces like “1878,” “Evicted” and “What It Means to be Alone” so beloved, while the latter is sublimely tasteful and affective. Its sense of regret is stunning, as is the way it lets emotion breathe and evolve. Also, these two tracks feature some of the best melodies the Dear Hunter has crafted to date.
Expectedly, Migrant is like the simpler sibling to the Dear Hunter’s other outputs, which isn’t necessarily a negative assessment. Although thematic unity and incredibly elaborate composition is rarely bad, the most important element in popular music is superior songwriting, and Migrant is bursting with it. Its context is comparable to that of The Beatles in relation to Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, and Magical Mystery Tour — it’s more basic and conventional, but that doesn’t mean it’s inferior. In the end, Migrant is another fine example of why The Dear Hunter is so exceptional and special, and it’s a great place to start if you’ve yet to discover them.