The Dear Hunter Kicks Off New Saga With Funky ‘Antimai’

The Dear Hunter is most assuredly a band with a storied career, one that plays off large concepts, sprawling orchestrations, and genre contortions. Casey Crescenzo has even established a clear fingerprint as an artist that it’s easy to identify projects he was involved with – even when he isn’t doing vocals. The band’s sound is more theatrical than it is cinematic, with specific characters and events intentionally plotted out for much of their discography. It’s like Coheed & Cambria for indie theatre kids where a variety of strings and keys are in liberal supply in place of scorching riffs.

Antimai follows The Indigo Child EP and is an expected further development of the musical concepts found therein. But while the EP was largely instrumental and highly psychedelic, the LP reigns things in with plenty of vocals, more concrete form, and ultimately larger proof that this concept does work.

The new record ushers in a new saga for The Dear Hunter. Instead of the dramatic narrative of the Acts series, the new subject matter is a sci-fi world of social hierarchy. Each track explores the caste system which consists of eight rings of the city, something modeled loosely on the album artwork.

Musically, the album deviates quite a bit from Crescenzo’s track record – arguably in a refreshing way. There are circus-like combinations of brass and keys aplenty, funk-flavored rhythms, vocals layers that immediately remind me of the defunct Kiven (note: check them out, they’re incredible), and a vibe that feels both retrospective and not the least bit cheesy. But The Dear Hunter clearly subvert the expectations of what sci-fi sounds like on paper. There’s no deep space drone or mechanical focus. Things are very much organic and alive. So, it’s a familiar energy but manifest in a new context.

The album kicks off with a host of mallet percussion sounds, a fair share of brass, and some dissonant, circus-flavored keys. This flows into a sultry arrangement that feels, both instrumentally and vocally, out of Bill Wurtz’s playbook. Tension is nothing new when it comes to The Dear Hunter’s songs, but it’s ultimately the wider dynamic range of the melodies that makes the payoff of harmonic resolution so powerful.

“Ring 7-Industry” gives us a clear picture of this sect of society – a place for pariahs and people tossed down from higher echelons by their families. There’s unity among these outcasts as they welcome in an unnamed outsider with warmth and empathy. Musically, it’s a catchy number with an excellent chorus, plenty of bass presence, and a dark-but-groovy vibe.

There’s plenty of less-than-subtle social commentary on “Ring 5-Middle Class”, told through the lens of a narrator who believes life is so good because the aliens are kept away, all while acknowledging life is best lived not questioning authority. It goes on to see more of a confessional approach that acknowledges the corruption of the city and how they are buying the chains that confine them.

“Ring 3 – Luxury” is easily one of the most deviant tracks of the mix, showing some strange mix of Mr. Bungle’s “The Air-Conditioned Mind” with something off the Hamilton soundtrack for the first segment. But at over nine minutes, things don’t sit in one place for too long. Steel drum transitions the song into a bit of a reggae-flavored passage. It does end up dragging a bit, but it’s mostly through repetition.

A lot of the lyrical imagery unfortunately comes across a bit heavy-handed. Crescenzo isn’t known for being lyrically-shy in the past, but it does feel a bit frustrating from an artistic standpoint when a story is crafted around an enemy that happens to be the ideal target for modern liberalism. Undoubtedly, many people will eat this up, especially when it’s construed with such musical artistry. But when the dystopian world seems to be an echo of Twitter outrage but with “names changed for privacy reasons”, it becomes the worship music of a new, social religion. Even so, there are things that are undoubtedly threats to humanity and democracy: authoritarianism, extreme greed, rejection of people’s inherent dignity. It just feels like there’s a failure to recognize the horseshoe theory of these types of things. Yes, it’s a fantasy world, but the lyrical commentary is such a critical part of an album like this that it’d be remiss to not touch on it.

All that said, this is the first The Dear Hunter album I’ve listened to since Migrant and I do appreciate the change in direction. It’s witty, soulful, dark, and whimsical all the same. It’s an interesting adaptation of sci-fi into a sort of sound that feels like it could fit in that realm, but it doesn’t play off clichés to meet its goal. And at over 50 minutes long, the band hasn’t skimped even though the album is eight tracks long. Antimai is mostly expository, but it introduces a new chapter of The Dear Hunter that opens the band up to a new sort of audience.

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