Friday, February 14, 2020


(c) 2020 Thermal Entertainment

  1. Say You Ever
  2. Bubbles
  3. Misery
  4. Joke's On Us
  5. Forgiveness Is An Art
  6. Puzzle Pieces
  7. Maeve
  8. Carousel
  9. The Way Down
  10. Throwing Knives
  11. Counterfeit
  12. Baggage Claim
Kenneth Nixon--Vocals
Ryan Belcher--Guitars
Nic Brooks--Guitars
Jonathan Stoye--Bass
Shad Teems--Drums

It has been six years...six LONG years for fans of the band...since Framing Hanley released a new album.  Six years of silence from a band that had spent a considerable amount of time on the charts, with 5 singles making their way onto the US Mainstream Rock, Alternative, or Active Rock charts, and even more songs making waves on both satellite and terrestrial rock stations.  While songs such as "Lollipop", "Criminal", "You Stupid Girl", and personal favorite, "Hear Me Now" crashed their way onto numerous stations' playlists...and fans' iPods and phones...the band suddenly went silent following 2014's The Sum Of Who We AreBut that has all changed now, as Envy will hit stores and music outlets later this month.

Returning to the fray are band founder, Kenneth Nixon, and longtime guitarist, Ryan Belcher, who have been together since 2007, as they create a musical tapestry that is familiar without sounding like a rehash of where the band has been in the past.  Joining the pair are Stoye, who has been in the band since 2013, as well as newcomers, Brooks and Teems, who have been in the band since 2018, with Envy marking the tandem's first appearance on a record.

And what a record to get your feet wet with...

The album kicks off with an intro, of sorts, which I LOVE!  Yes, yes, I know..."Arttie hates intros!"  But not this one.  This one is different.  To be fair, "Say You Ever" is almost a song...almost...although it really serves as an intro to the track, "Bubbles".  But for nearly two minutes, I am sucked into the exquisitely dark melody and nearly as dark lyrics of "Say You Ever", and by the end, I am begging my computer screen to PLEASE PLAY MORE OF THIS!!!  My wife came in as I was yelling at the screen in agony, glaring at me with her "what the heck is wrong with you" look, until I hit play on "Say You Ever" one more time (I was at least a dozen spins through it by now) and then she was as taken aback by the track nearly as much as I.  Why?  Why is this such a short quasi-song?!  From the moment the cello starts the song off, to the moment the handclaps join in, to the moment the piano drops, to the very second before Nixon's haunting vocals hit, "Say You Ever" already has me captivated.  And then the lyrics only grab me more.  "Say you ever gave a damn/Don't say you ever game a damn, or I'll expose you," Nixon begins as he seemingly addresses a betrayer.  "But you were fake from the start/You can't change who you are."  But the condemnation comes next, as he sings, "One day you'll reap what you sow/One day you'll reach your end alone."  But it's not just the words, its the delivery that makes the words so chilling, so darkly delicious.  But like so many great things in this world, "Say You Ever" is just a delightful tease, the lady who longingly stares at you with the come hither eyes, who turns a cheek when you get the nerve up to make your move, who turns around to give you that coy smile as she walks away.  The only payoff here is that I can hit repeat...and I frequently do.


"Bubbles" feeds directly off of "Say You Ever", and if you listen closely, you can hear the tempo and even the same basic rhythm in the song, but with a lot of guitar and bass added to the mix.  And while I love the tempo and structure of this rocker, it's the hook of the chorus that snags your attention and draws you to the song and keeps you there.  Nixon's vocals weave in and out of the chorus in an impressive display of control of his instrument, while the guitars carve out meaty chunks that give the listener even more to sink their teeth into.  "Bubbles" screams Octane to me with the aggressive nature of the music combined with the melodic vocals.  This is good stuff here, folks. Two tracks in and already Envy has my attention in a big way. 

"Misery" is a particularly musical track, which I really enjoy.  By that I mean that there is a lot of note density, with a lot of things going on, while still remaining melodic and not coming off as just a bunch of noises mixed together with words layered over the top.  You know the kind of "song" I'm talking about here.  That's not what you get with "Misery".  As with the vast majority of this album, you get the feeling that this is a very personal track for Nixon, and because of this there is a lot of emotion poured into the vocals here.  A string section (synthesized, I'm assuming) accompanies the edgy guitars and a nice, big drum sound from Teems, and multiple layers of vocals add quality depth to the track.  To me, lyrically, "Misery" just has so much to offer.  I love the second verse, in particular, when Nixon sings, "I've been throwing stones at the looking glass/Denying what I am, denying what I have/The delusion I'm choosin', the truth is it chose me/Coursin' through my veins, like acid in an IV..."  Good, good stuff, as is the chorus, where he seemingly begs, "Take me for all I have to offer/I'm a broken mess...".  I'd be surprised if this doesn't become a single at some point, and I have to believe it will be a huge success in the live setting, as Nixon really gets the chance to show the full range of his vocal abilities here.

Things get a bit alterna-pop on the next track, "Joke's On Us", especially in the verse sections.  The chorus is straight-up modern rock with some great guitar lines, while the verses utilize a lot of lighter programmed elements and electronic drums, which give way to the real thing on those heavier chorus sections.  I wasn't sure what to think of the song the first time through, but the more I hear it, the more I come around to what the guys are doing here.  If there is one song on this album that I feel could potentially cross over to more mainstream playlists, it is likely this one.

The band proves they haven't lost their darker, heavier edge with some excellently angry rockers.  "Forgiveness Is An Art" might be my favorite of these, with its stellar drum work, some churning guitars, and a snarling edge added to Nixon's vocals. It's not a full on, balls-out speed-fest or anything, but the edge is definitely there, especially when Nixon intones, "...hope you choke on the smoke when your world goes down in flames!"  Featuring a quasi-breakdown...followed by something akin to a guitar solo..."Forgiveness Is An Art" has just about anything and everything that modern hard rock fans should love, with big backing vocals, some programmed elements, and interesting-yet-aggressive drum patterns that keep the song charging forward.  Definitely one of my faves from an album that is jam-packed with great tracks.

"Puzzle Pieces", which has been released as a single, is an interesting track to me for a rather personal reason.  It sounds to me like someone who is staring down the barrel of depression, especially with the first couple of lines: "Medicated to the point of apathy/Each day another little pill to swallow..."  And I'm not saying it's personal because I deal with depression, myself.  I say this because I work with kids who struggle with depression (among other various mental health diagnoses), and this kind of thinking is typical of what I encounter.  And I'm not disagreeing with it or judging, by any stretch.  But the writers of the song sound like they know of what they speak.  Musically, the song starts off rather quiet, with some programmed elements running beneath the current of the first lyrical line, but it steadily builds to a mid-tempo rocker filled with melody and hooks, with the phrasing of Nixon's vocals absolutely spot-on.  The songwriting here is a perfect example of the growth and maturation of the band.  While musically, this song is something of a nod to the modern alt-rock that Framing Hanley has become known for, lyrically I don't think that Framing Hanley was ready to write this kind of material a couple of albums ago. 

"Maeve" has a slower-tempo feel to the guitar lines, but there's a bounce in the drum and bass line which keeps it from drifting into ballad territory.  In fact, I would venture to say there is more of a laid-back island feel to the song's structure than anything else.  It's an interesting transition between "Puzzle Pieces" and "Carousel", which share similar tempos, at least initially.  While "Puzzle Pieces" remains a bit heavier emotionally, "Carousel" comes across a bit lighter in approach.

"The Way Down" is a cool rocker with a different guitar tone on the verses than the majority of the record uses, which gives it a different feel overall.  I like the tempo shifts within the track and the chorus section is set up to build expertly.  There's an interesting vocal bridge after the second chorus run, and the final trip through the chorus shakes the phrasing up before coming to an abrupt conclusion.

"Throwing Knives" is a completely different type of song!  Had this come out in the 80s, it would likely have been labelled a "power ballad", but I don't think it really slows itself enough to be a true ballad.  Regardless, I love this track!  I think part of the reason for this is that "Throwing Knives" sounds a lot like the kind of music that one of my all-time favorite bands, Royal Bliss, would do, and it just grabs me.  The intensity of the song steadily builds, both musically and vocally, until both hit their peak in the chorus sections.  The bass of Stoye figures prominently in the quieter moments, especially in the run up to the previously mentioned choruses.  One other thing that is impossible to overstate is that this is also a song that really finds Nixon showcasing his singing ability.  No, he doesn't stretch his range or perform any kind of vocal acrobatics, but as far as emotion-packed, effects-free singing, "Throwing Knives" is Nixon at his peak.  And the guitar solo from Belcher is one of his best on the record.  The layered string section, the tight rhythm section, the backing vocals...everything is spot-on here on a track that I think could really serve the band well at radio if its given a chance.

"Counterfeit" is a catchy, pop-filtered number that works well but isn't the best moment of the record by any stretch.  However, it serves as a strong intro to the one true ballad on the record, the album's closer, "Baggage Claim".  A strong melody and spot-on backing vocals create a truly great track to wrap up an excellent return for this band.  At times hinting at being a bit Nashville, at others a bit more Tom Petty-inspired Americana/heartland rock, "Baggage Claim" showcases a band that is comfortable with who they are now, a band that won't be pigeonholed by who they were in the past.  In fact, all of Envy feels like that to me.  Taking sections of their catalog and expanding upon it, Framing Hanley have matured as songwriters, and the new musical incarnation of the band is extremely tight, very focused, and serve up a product that should fit into the modern rock scene but without becoming lost in the cookie-cutter world of so many other bands all striving to sound like the current big thing.  Framing Hanley sounds like Framing Hanley, no more, no less.  And isn't that what all bands should strive for?  Being themselves?

The production is rock solid, with a great, clean mix, with no muddiness at all.  The guitars have strong voices and separation, and the bass is given the opportunity to express itself in several places on the album.  I also can't say enough about the work Teems does behind the kit, keeping the tempos crisp and clean, but never boring or repetitive, with each song getting its own particular pattern and style.  And what else needs to be said about the powerful performance of Nixon here?  Teasingly falsetto in places, rich and powerful in others, even dropping in fun, playful doses of AutoTune where it makes musical sense and doesn't detract from the overall effect of the song.

This is a heavy album; there aren't a lot of light-hearted moments here (though there are a couple).  That doesn't mean the album is depressing, however.  It means Envy is introspective, it means thought-provoking, it even means challenging at times.  The lyrics here are real, touching on emotions that everybody deals with from time to time and relationship to relationship.  And when darkness creeps into the tracks, its always with the belief that there is light to be found somewhere else, even if we have to burn down the things that keep us boxed in to find it.  As I stated before, I don't think Framing Hanley was ready to write this album earlier in their career.  But they are ready now, and they deliver in an impressive way.  In the end, to say that Framing Hanley is back in a big way would be an understatement.  I don't really care where they went, I just don't want them to go there again and leave us without more great music.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go play "Say You Ever" a few more times...

Rating:  Crank-a-ble, to be sure.  Envy is the first 9 of 2020!

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