Handsome Karnivore – The Chaotic State Between Shadow and Substance

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There is something startlingly poetic about Handsome Karnivote’s music and songwriting implied by the title of their second album and the thirteen new songs included with this release are a powerful example of how young bands, given the talent, can re-invent rock music for the present and future by perfecting the pouring of old wine into new bottles. The musical talents driving this band are immense and the songwriting and performances alike touch on an array of fundamentals while also stretching out into more idiosyncratic territory than many of their rock and hard rock contemporaries might ever dare. Now based in Los Angeles and boasting a number of important appearances under their collective belts, Handsome Karnivore has come a long way from their 2012 beginnings in the New Jersey area and they have further yet to go. Lots further.

Rough hewn guitar is the centerpiece instrument of the first two cuts, a short introductory track entitled “The Earthquake & the Swoon” and its “partner” “Fire Burning June”. The first song is a much more artsy, evocative number dependant on the strength of its color and lyrics to get by. The vocal treatment definitely suggests that the band wants us to listen to the album with a serious frame of mind and the well-constructed, memorable musical theatrics fueling “Fire Burning July” underline that idea. Few bands, no matter how long they’ve been together, mix vocal strengths with musical power quite the way Handsome Karnivore does and it ends up sounding like a mini hard rock symphony of sorts with guitar as the lead instrument. The lyrical content is an uniform strength of the album, engaging both the mind and our more entertainment-minded impulses, but remains accessible throughout. “Recurrent Dream” is one of the album’s singles and it isn’t difficult to hear why. The band, per their wont, ably tackle a number of musical changes without ever showing a hint of indecision and capture a remarkably live quality to their performance despite the obvious presence of overdubs. Spoken word passages are a recurring feature on the album and they highlight the varied arrangement of “Everything Will Be Alright” while the following cut, “Silhouette of Rouge”, makes for one of the album’s more sedate and considered moments.

“The Void” and “Can’t Be Satisfied” are particularly engaging rock tunes, the later with a pronounced blues sound transmuted through their own musical and personal experiences. Their talent with the style, however, is unquestionable. “The Void” has some outstanding drum playing from Ray Velez that rates among his finest performances on the album. They sometimes pursue their own unique flavor of pop and that comes across with the electronic leanings of “She Dings in Silver Linings” while its follow up, “Someone You Can Trust”, comes across as a steadily striding, unassuming ballad. Some rock posturing comes through in the song’s second half and there’s some more spoken word creeping into the mix, but it all comes off quite credibly. The last song on the album, “Unexpected”, is an ear-popping and totally satisfying musical journey running over nine minutes long that more than lives up to its title. There’s something on this release for everyone and it’s no cliché – Handsome Karnivore have perfected their songwriting formula in a way few can match.

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Shannon Cowden