Quote Unquote - Clouded Crystal Ball
Record Label: Unsigned
Release Date: November 5, 2013
As someone who normally listens to brooding metalcore, indie, or post rock, I wasnít quite sure if I was going to enjoy the latest music video uploaded by YouTube personality BryanStars - the bandís name was quirky, and the videoís thumbnail looked exceedingly bright and happy. Not exactly my style. But, by deciding to click on the video, I managed to find an extremely likeable band named Quote Unquote.
Based in Bloomington, Indiana, Quote Unquote is largely the product of guitarist Zachary Chaney and singer/songwriter Tori Roper, who play with a drummer, bassist, and keyboardist for concerts. The bandís influences include notably happy sounding artists like Four Year Strong, Hellogoodbye, and Blink 182, while also including slightly more mature artists like Brand New, and Coheed & Cambria. Interestingly enough, on their Facebook page (link at the bottom of this review), they list their band interests as ďYou!Ē How nice.
Upon enjoying their poppy, carefree sounding music, I promptly bought their latest record entitled Clouded Crystal Ball, available on iTunes and their Bandcamp page. The EP features six tracks, the last of which is an acoustic version of a song from their first self titled EP. While only an EP, Clouded Crystal Ball does a good job of giving the listener a taste for what the band is Ė bright, airy, confident, yet under the surface.. well-versed and well-written.
The record opens with a Kate Nash-esque piano ballad titled "Wherever You Go," featuring vocalist Tori Roper airily crooning ďIíll always miss that person that I used to know,Ē alongside a thin string section accompaniment. The track somehow feels slightly out of place as an album opener, yet is still well written in its own way. The ballad ends shortly and clear standout track "Foolís Gold" takes the stage.
"Foolís Gold" is the first song I heard by Quote Unquote, and it is definitely what I would recommend listening to get a feel for the bandís style. Itís a very likable song, specifically showcasing the clear, confident vocals of Tori Roper alongside the lively, inventive guitar work of Zachary Chaney. The song opens with a nostalgic piano chord progression and palm muted guitar, as Mrs. Roper narrates to the listener, ďEvery free fall ends the same.. Everything we had was just an illusion.Ē This song is particularly positive sounding, however, when listening, Ms. Roper seems to be in a less than positive state of mind: ďNo matter how far I go, I donít find what Iím looking for. I was chasing thin air,Ē and the lyrics continue on in the same vein of disillusionment. Iím not quite sure if she purposely made her sad lyrics sound happy, or its more her natural style, but itís definitely unique.
The third track, "Beating Compass," is my personal favorite for a few reasons. Primarily, itís got a darker, creepier vibe than the rest of the record, both musically and lyrically. The song opens with gentle guitar chords, and Roperís clear voice guides the listener, ďIíll set sail to the coast to let go of this anchor Iíve been holding onto. If I donít, Iíll drown.. and youíre pulling me under.Ē Once again, the clarity and apparent ease of vocal range in Roperís voice might make the listener think she is somewhat happy, but those lyrics are quite dark. The best part of the track, however, is the chorus, in which a vocoded Roper chants ďWe're all born with a built-in beating compass, no thought needed; you should just feel it,Ē alongside the sharp strumming of Chaney.
The fourth track is called "Twitterpated." Now, beloved reader, before you get upset about the big word, itís okay; I didnít know what it meant either. But, the magic that is Google searching says that it means in love! This track is actually my least favorite; as itís almost too happy and cute, but Iím sure many a fan will enjoy Roperís change of pace to, shall we say, less tormented lyrics. She happily croons alongside piano chords and a steady beat, ďOh, I canít believe my eyes, you make the world a paradise.Ē
The fourth track is also interesting in that Roper brings up compasses again, and it suddenly clicked for me that in this song she begins to find her own direction on the record; the first few songs seemed to be written out of the aftermath of bad relationships or events in her own life, followed by "Beating Compass," which seems like a specific move into the direction she desires, away from bad things, perhaps. "Twitterpated" marks a sense of progression away from darker lyrical content.
The fifth track, "Thanks To You," opens with atmospheric guitars and a slow buildup of piano and drums. This song has a ballad like vibe, but is laid back enough to not feel overpowering to the listener. A slow, driving beat accompanies Roperís now more gentle voice ďI am who I am thanks to you.Ē
The final track is an acoustic version of the bandís older era song, "My Third Strike," a song about the loss and regret caused by past decisions. Roper restrains her voice a bit as the instrumentation is more gentle, with delayed guitar melodies as a backdrop to simple piano and guitar chord progressions. The album ends on the bright, airy voice of Roper ďIf I knew now, what I know now.. Iíd make you stay, some way, somehow,Ē and suddenly it seems like Roper has made progress throughout the record, at least in the sense that she has begun to identify her regrets or problems, and is moving in the direction to fix them or avoid making them again.
Overall, the production and instrumentation of this record is interesting Ė many poppy bands have sub par production, with simple programmed beats and unimaginative guitar alongside vague, clichťd, catchy vocals. Quote Unquote is not like that, though. Their production manages to be both smooth and chunky, providing nice low end and a good punch to their drumkit in the songs. The guitars are produced stereospecifically, which is something I enjoyed a lot. The vocals are the standout point on this record, however; Tori Roperís voice is endearingly clear and strong alongside the music.
The bandís only real fault is that they can come off as too cute or cheesey at times, making the listener cringe for a second or two to make it past the lovestruck notes of "Twitterpated." However, this is rarely the case and many probably wonít even see that as a flaw anyway.
In summation, with enough exposure and the right marketing, Quote Unquote could be the next (slightly cuter) Paramore.