RIYLThe Dillinger Escape Plan
3. You make wonderful pictures
4. Through the thicket...across endless mountains
6. Apis Bull
7. The great explainer
8. Kaspar Hauser could see the stars in the daytime
9. Gypsy among the pines
10. Whores of Babel
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The terms “progressive” and “experimental” get thrown around way too damn much in today’s music scene. It is commonplace to call a band “progressive” just for sounding exactly like a progressive band before them. That doesn’t make them progressive; that makes them a copycat, or at least just another technical band. That’s all fine and dandy, but the terms are overused to the point that it’s rare that bands are actually progressing or experimenting within a given genre.
So how does this all pertain to Tree of Tongues? Well, Exotic Animal Petting Zoo’s sound is actually somewhat progressive. They could be lumped in the “mathcore” genre for a significant portion of the album, and the lazy comparison to The Dillinger Escape Plan is pretty easy to make. The difference is while DEP is bat-shit crazy, Exotic Animal Petting Zoo is the result of two weeks of antipsychotics. The “crazy” is somewhat subdued, but the result is a sound with more focus than futility. There’s no question that Exotic Animal Petting Zoo is comprised of talented musicians, as each instrument seems equally adept at executing the sonically intricate pieces as it is with the calmer, more atmospheric movements. The difference is that Exotic Animal Petting Zoo also injects a considerable amount of melody into the proceedings.
Too often mathcore bands spend so much damn time worrying about how crazy an album is going to sound that they forget to write actual songs (and by sometimes I mean almost all of the time). Exotic Animal Petting Zoo instead writes tracks that ebb and flow and have melodies. Oh, the melodies. Each track features vocal lines that act as hooks, regardless of the existence of actual choruses. For example, “The Great Explainer” is excessively catchy despite the fact that the song doesn’t utilize a typical song structure. Also, the lyrics are quite the eloquent way to tell that bastard who stole your girl that he better watch his back.
In fact, the lyrics are an easy highlight of the album. The intelligent lyrics help elevate the melodies and punctuate the punch in the music. Touching on topics like religious hypocrisy and angst, the poetic nature of the words allows the listener to be pleased whether focusing on the words or the music. Songs like the fuming “Apis Bull” are enhanced by the lyrical immediacy. The words are alternately screamed and dreamily sung, as if the devil and god were indeed raging inside vocalist Brandon Carr.
Once you think you’ve figured out Tree of Tongues, here come two whole tracks that would sound at home on either a Sigur Ros album or in the latter-day catalogue of Pink Floyd. “M.U.M.B.” and “Gypsy Among the Pines” are ethereal, beautiful pieces that, instead of seeming out of place, serve as the perfect repose to the maelstrom that surrounds them. Further, this aesthetic is thrown sparsely into various tracks to allow the calming effect to permeate the entirety of the album instead of just two random songs.
The Pink Floyd influence rears its not-so-ugly head in other random spots of the album. Most notably is the psychedelic guitar solo that is placed at the end of “Through the Thicket… Across Endless Mountains.” It sounds like the ultimate stoned-out ending at a 70s live show. What makes the ending so satisfying is that it just fits so well within the song’s framework. The airy Deftones-meets-Between the Buried and Me style melodies carry the slightly subdued tune until the band seem to be ready to speed up, only to end with the guitar solo. It’s that fact that brings this album above the standard fare: that the listener literally doesn’t know what to expect the first listen through. It’s a feat that many other bands want to claim, but instead of creating disjointed genre shifts mid-song just to come across as “progressive,” Tree of Tongues finds each new sonic shift serving the purpose of creating eleven solid songs, which is actually a fairly progressive idea.
Furthermore, even though the album draws from many different musical influences, the band has found its own sound. Combining progressive metal intelligence, post-rock beauty, post-hardcore energy, and a heaping bit of melody, Exotic Animal Petting Zoo has crafted one of the first great albums of 2012. For those who are looking for something that actually sounds new and unique in the “post” and “prog” realm, welcome to the petting zoo.