Poison the Well – Versions
Record Label: Ferret Music
Release Date: April 2 2007
It’s always a horrible feeling when you get introduced to a band, and find out they’re broken up or on hiatus later on. That’s how I felt with Florida post-hardcore band Poison the Well. They’re one of those bands that I’ve heard of for a very long time, but never got into. I don’t know why, but I never had the chance to listen to a record by them… until now. I purchased a used copy of 2007’s Versions from my local FYE. It was only about $4, so I thought why not. I wasn’t familiar with this band at all, but I was always really interested in them. Versions had an awesome album cover, which was painted by Brian Montuori, so that alone made me interested in listening to it. When a record has a great album cover, it can easily suck the listener in. This cover is really dark, moody, atmospheric, and ultimately, it reflects the tone of the overall record. I didn’t know what to expect when I pressed play on Versions, but I was in for a treat. The record isn’t all that long, only about 41 minutes, but it’s a musical journey, basically. While I wasn’t familiar with this band too much prior to listening to this, I did some research, and what I found was that this record pushed the band’s boundaries, by using a lot of outside influence for this record. A lot of unusual instruments, melodies, time signatures, you name it, are used on here, and it’s done wonderfully. The record has a very dark atmosphere, but it doesn’t adhere to one specific sound. At some points, it’s a post-hardcore record, an experimental record, prog-rock record, and at others, it’s an indie record. Versions is all over the map musically speaking, but that’s a good thing. It’s a got nice time frame to keep the listener interested, but it doesn’t overstep its boundaries. It keeps going long enough to keep the listener wanting more.
The record begins with “Letter Thing,” and right from the start, the record explodes into a flurry of post-hardcore madness as frantic guitarwork immediately pummels into the listener’s ears, along with vocalist Jeffery Moreira. One thing I should mention before I dive more into the review is that I really like Moreira’s vocal approach on this record. It’s not a straightforward post-hardcore album, nor is it a prog-rock record. Moreira seems to know this, so his vocal delivery is both. He screams a lot, but it’s never forced or overbearing, and when he does sing, he’s actually quite enjoyable. He brings a very haunting and quiet atmosphere with his clean vocals, which counteract his harsh vocals. “Letter Thing,” however, seems to serve as an intro, if anything. It’s the second shortest song on the record, but it doesn’t really do anything terribly interesting, except the guitarwork is awesome. It’s a pretty standard post-hardcore track, but the instrumentation is pretty solid. As the listener, it certainly kept me waiting more. Second track, “Breathing’s for the Birds” is not only a bit longer, but more eclectic. This starts off with some very atmospheric clean vocals (which I love) by Moreira, but it’s not long before he starts screaming again. I also really enjoy how he can seamlessly switch from one vocal style to the other. One second he’s screaming, then he easily starts singing again. And it doesn’t sound strange, but rather it actually works. Just from the first two tracks alone, if there is one thing that bothers me a bit, it’s that there is a lack of any structure. Yeah, I know, it’s an experimental record, so there’s no formula to it whatsoever. I like that about it, but I don’t at the same time. I like not knowing what to expect, but at the same time, the record does sound jumbled at times. That may be a nitpick, but if you really want to sit down and enjoy this record, it may come off as rather confusing sometimes, because there is a lot going on. This record isn’t one that you, the listener, can listen to once and immediately grasp it. A few songs do seem to sort of hint at a “formula,” like third track “Nagaina.” There’s a “chorus” running throughout it, which makes the track a bit more memorable, because there’s something repeated throughout. It’s a slowed down song, but it’s really cool, either way. This really contrasts with “Letter Thing,” which was a frenzy of a track, but there are a few heavy moments in the track. For the most part, though, it’s rather quiet and self-contained.
The fact that Versions is so unpredictable helps it, and hurts it. It helps it, because this is certainly one album that the listener needs to hear all the way through to really grasp it. It hurts it, however, because there is a lot going on, maybe even too much in some cases. Having too much going on in a single record, or song, can make do exactly the opposite of its intention, which is being memorable. If there’s way too much going on, it’ll be lost on the listener, and ultimately, they’ll forget about the record. Of course people do process music differently, so how people look at the record will be different, but for the most part, the record does hold up nicely. There are some songs that pass me by, merely because there’s just not enough to really keep me interested, or there’s too much going on that it’s a bit overwhelming. For the most part, though, the record does keep a nice balance. A few songs really do stand out, though. I mentioned third track “Nagaina,” but there are a few more that stand out, such as sixth track “Slow Good Morning,” ninth track, “You Will Not Be Welcomed,” and closing track, “The First Day of My Second Life.” These songs are all atmospheric, prog-rock/experimental tracks, but also do have heavy moments in the songs.
That leads me to the other problem this record presents. It’s that around half of the record are full of songs that are 3 minutes or under, and these songs are the ones that really don’t do much for me. They don’t develop into anything, really. Just when they are about to do something interesting, they stop. These songs feel quite short, and rushed. They’re frantic, aggressive, engaging, but overall, they’re not very memorable. They don’t leave much of a lasting impression. It’s the longer songs on the record that really leave that impression, because they have much more time to develop and have a lot of things going on in them. The shorter songs do, too, it’s just that it feels quite rushed. Thankfully, these longer songs do exist to help the record feel much more “full.” Ultimately, though, what hurts this record are these shorter songs. They’re really cool, but they feel much shorter than they should be. If you want to make an experimental record, think outside the box. These songs don’t need to be only 2 and a half minutes. They can be longer, and the record itself can be longer. In the end, it’s forgivable, because this is the band’s first attempt at a much deeper album than their prior records, so they’re just putting their collective foot through the door. At plenty of times, I’m reminded of records like Lost In the Sound of Separation by Underoath (which came out a year later, may I add), or Vheissu by Thrice (which came out a couple years beforehand). The post-hardcore and progressive influences are very enjoyable, but it does come across as a jumbled mess sometimes. Regardless, I do applaud for trying something different, and it does work, for the most part. It’s a shame the band is on hiatus, but that’s okay, because I can catch up on their discography.