Cartel – Collider
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: March 26, 2013
This is the first time in their career that Cartel haven’t released an album just two years after the previous record. Sure, there was In Stereo in 2011, but that was just a teaser, really – a tasty one, but just a sample nonetheless. In the four year time period since Cycles, a lot has changed for the band, including label switches and now going the completely DIY route, which seems to be a successful road to travel on nowadays.
What comes from this new road is without question the most polished and crisp Cartel record to date with Collider. In fact, doing everything on their own may have been the best decision the band has made. Will Pugh always sounds exceptional, but this time around, the production really highlights his vocals, and the instrumentation accompanies it justly. Upon first hearing the record and still now, the track that really personifies this is “Uninspired.” Pugh takes the lead before the muted guitars kick in, and these first fifteen seconds just have the classic Cartel feel to them. As the guitars build in the background and the drums start to beat their way in, the song really takes off. It doesn’t even need a truly definite chorus to get stuck in your head, which is one of the best demonstrations of Cartel’s songwriting abilities.
While this record probably won’t surpass the nostalgia I have tied to Chroma, it just screams signature Cartel. The band has always had a way with perfectly executed openers, and it’s no different here, as “Second Chances” is everything we love about Cartel bottled into three minutes. Joseph Pepper’s memorable guitar line resonates throughout the track, demonstrating the band’s ability to make tracks with more than just a noteworthy chorus. It’s not that often that a set of seemingly simple guitar riffs really makes a song pop like this.
“First Things First” has one of the best vocal harmonies on the record, and is easily among the best of first half of the record. The track switches on and off from being in your face to mellowing out, using the four minutes to execute one of the best numbers on the record. Pugh leaves it all on the table throughout the chorus before he cuts out and soon fires off back into the chorus again. Both “Thin Air” and the penultimate “Collider” work similarly, with the latter being an aggressive track that is the complete antithesis to the peacefully uplifting closer “A Thousand Suns.”
While the first half of the record is strong, the second half blows it out of the water. “Sympathy” is the angry song we needed, where Pugh makes being pissed off sound so good over some of the best guitar work on the record. The guitars dance with the vocals in an angry ballet throughout the track, making sure you’re guaranteed to crank this one up. Following this track comes one of the best tracks in Cartel’s discography with “Mosaic.” The musicianship and songwriting here go unmatched. When the guitars pulsate as the song starts, you’re expecting Pugh to come in and steal the show, except the tone suddenly changes as the track heads down a darker path. Palm mutes replace the intricate guitar intro. Then, almost out of nowhere, comes one of the strongest and most memorable pieces of the record starts: “But I’m still standing holding on / Stripped of all these chains you’ve put on / Cause I’m still young / I’m still free / You haven’t got the best of me.”
Ultimately, Collider is every ounce of Cartel’s potential set in a sunny spring backdrop and cranked up to notch ten for these eleven tracks. This record takes the best of each of the band’s previous albums and pushes those strengths to the limit. It’s an album of hope and fresh starts, as echoed throughout opening “Second Chances” and final “A Thousand Suns.” Collider is the record that could define Cartel five years down the road just as Chroma has for the last eight.
I feel like these guys suffer from the fact that their albums are not very differentiable from one another. I'm sure this album is signature Cartel (I have yet to listen) which isn't a bad thing, but in the end it probably won't hold up in the long run and especially in a year where there are so many anticipated albums. I imagine the shelf life of this record to be very small.