Ah, free albums. They are a pure thing of beauty. To listen to the material in its entirety you are not even forced to dish out cash, make a trip to one of the few remaining quality record stores, or engage in a gruesomely awkward conversation with the middle-aged dude behind the counter. Click, extract, listen; it is a great convenience that capitalizes on our technological age, even if it makes us more immobile and economically stupefied in the process. Better yet, some of these free releases are actually worthwhile. I say this because, simply put, many free albums are often given an unfair reputation. Why would an artist put out their work for free if it is truly quality? Wouldn’t they be able to capitalize on a profit if it was really worth the listen? Well, believe it or not, not all musicians are money-hungry corporate numskulls. I cover independent music for a reason. In this field, there are talented acts like The Cyanide Valentine who release entire full-length albums for free online. Why? It’s simple: Instead of having their moods influenced by how padded their pockets are, the five-piece from Boston gets more satisfaction out of gaining fans and seeing (or hearing about) their faces lighting up with joy after listening to their music. In a perfect world, this would be an artist’s first and foremost goal.
Such a respectable philosophy likely led to The Cyanide Valentine’s decision to release their second album, The Three Sides of the Cyanide Valentine, for free online. You can download it as one big .ZIP file (60MB) by clicking here. Led by the keen songwriting of vocalist and guitarist Jake Zavracky, The Cyanide Valentine are a blend of futuristic indie-pop and polished alternative-rock. Influences in the vein of The Flaming Lips, Radiohead, Air, and even My Bloody Valentine are most prevalent, with the additional instrumental prowess of keyboardist Kate Papineau, bassist Brendan Reilly, violinist Hannah Theim, and drummer Christopher Nathan Keene influencing their sound’s atmosphere in the utmost regard. The clashing fusion of guitars and synths are often the most proficiently utilized, with the vocals of both Zavracky and Papineau whimsically controlling the group’s dominantly dark sound. Zavracky has airy, somewhat thin vocals that are somewhat reflective of Wayne Coyne or Thom Yorke, with the frequent occurrence of downcast synths and brooding backing vocals providing for an engagingly haunting experience. His songwriting allows for diversely intuitive stylistic transitioning, whether it be in his tendency to write introspectively sullen ballads or the occasional . Throughout the entire duration of The Three Sides of the Cyanide Valentine, all are performed in top form.
A remarkable tendency for fantastically catchy pop gems is showcased in “Neanderthals”, easily the album’s most accessible and upbeat track. As the verse sees Zavracky’s vocals glide over the slight murmur of a bass synth and the gleeful stride of an acoustic guitar, he soon picks up momentum in a chorus where a burst of effervescent synths and parallel backing vocals immediately become the most prominent features. “They won’t make us crawl, they’re all Neanderthals,” Zavracky sings repetitively during the chorus, one of the album’s brightest moments. I was hooked from the first listen onwards and I believe that this song has a chance of hitting it big, free or not. The concept is simple but startlingly precise, relaying a largely forgotten belief that wealth and ego do not define a person’s success in life; it is a perfectly suitable subject considering that The Cyanide Valentine’s gem of an album has been released free for the picking. With a Flaming Lips influence being most prevalent in “Neanderthals” in particular, it sounds like a resounding success to me. In enjoyable contrast, there are songs on the album like “Milk in the Guitter” and “Sugar Coma” that capitalize on psychedelically influenced atmospheres, providing a lush and richly serene soundscape through the use of delicately implemented synths and acoustical instruments.
The leading guitar progression and echoing synths in “Sugar Coma” are steadily paced and, in turn, the collaborative vocals of Zavracky and Papineau are excellently woven together into a dream-like aroma. With the relaxing mood attributing a major role in the song’s eventual success, “Sugar Coma” truly sounds outstanding in its mold as a relaxing lullaby for the remaining hippies out there. It is a pure flashback to the graciousness of delicate ’70s psychedelic pop in the finest form. However, despite the success of “Neanderthals” and “Sugar Coma”, my favorite track on The Cyanide Valentine’s free release is undoubtedly the exotic “Nosferatu”. Taking its name from the cult German silent film depicting a vampire in chaos, it is The Cyanide Valentine’s best use of psychedelic atmospherics and vocal-driven hooks. The song twinkles its way through a repeating guitar line, synth bass, and revolving percussion as Zavracky sings a devastatingly powerful chorus over the twinkles of Papineau’s newly added keys. “Inside your heart, inside your heart you’re dead,” he sings temperately. Apart from the exotically enriching instrumentation, Papineau’s soaring backing vocals are what truly establishes the song’s defining memorability. Her vocals go so extraordinary well hand-in-hand with Zavracky’s vocals; it is a match made in heaven. “Nosferatu” is one of those songs where you can just sit back and let it take you over with its atmosphere alone, a pure spectacle of psychedelic and pop-woven beauty. If you are looking for more than the 12 tracks on The Three Sides of the Cyanide Valentine, you can also download their debut album, Let it Rot, on their web page as well. Though it is not as ambitious as their latest marvel, it is well worth the time.
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