Off To a Good Start Filled With Potential: Escape Directors’ The Crowded Room
by Charissa Lock @charissalock 12/01/2011
New Jersey seems to be the reproductive center for many creative and fresh musicians; with a handful of great bands I keep hearing all claiming their birth in The Garden State. This quartet (Steve Carter as lead vocalist and on guitar, Nick Wilson with backing vocals, as well as on guitar, and keyboards, Colin Rieser on drums, and Brendon Bigley on bass) comes from Bergen County and have been quite successful in climbing the rungs to recognition with songs off their debut album Ladders (2010) appearing on national radio. Their second album release, The Crowded Room, is an EP of five tracks produced by Jim Wirt (Jack’s Mannequin, Incubus, to name a few). The Escape Directors decided to make sure their second release was just as promising as their first and traveled to Cleveland to work with Wart in order to do so. This was a good move since you can hear the professionalism in the songs with the rock feel of bands like Incubus along with alternative indie influences.
Escape Directors are placed in both the genre of alternative indie rock, and alternative pop (the latter being what they would like themselves viewed as, stated on their website). My first listen to The Crowded Room stereotyped them (a necessary first start) into the alternative rock category. Going by the heavy instrumentation and where the song traveled, I took this as a band that was a mellow version of Incubus. I then listened a few more times, doing the driving test, and the expensive headphones test, and I began to see that they in fact could belong in that alternative pop category. I was coming up with bands like Modest Mouse (which I know is more rock, but I had in mind the experimental pop factor) and using the word “emo” while my ears were picking up on different sounds and lyrics.
With The Crowded Room having five tracks, discussing each of them is the respectable thing to do. The album opens with “The War Outside,” which begins with a great guitar melody that continues while drums and cymbals escalate the mood before fading out again with Carter’s vocal entrance. Though Carter’s vocals never build and he maintains his composure, the instruments certainly build and this seems to create a chorus of sorts. The static, record transition noise from the first to second track informs the listener that this band takes music seriously, paying attention even to the song overlap. I always appreciate when the artist is able to connect their songs with a moment of sound instead of silence (though silence is sometimes necessary).
“Set Fire to a Crowded Room,” has an element of Modest Mouse, resulting in a great melody. Yet the comparison is not strong enough to make you think of Modest Mouse the entire way through with Carter’s vocal influence having no similarities to Isaac Brock. The pause before crashing drums is a bit predictable. However, the bridge took me off guard and remains my favorite portion of this song. Escape Directors recently released the music video for this track and though it was not exactly what I had hoped (I was picturing more fire for some reason…), I do like how they chose to represent the pause-to-music re-introduction with a shaky camera-to-band members taking part in a synchronized jump. This reinforced the idea of the music being just as important as the story line (which I’m a little confused on, but it seems the main character is not a very good boyfriend). Any time music is held in this high of a standard; I can respect and appreciate that.
The third track, “The Distant Past,” shows a more reflective, softer, and emotional side to Escape Directors. I really enjoy Carter’s vocals on this track, clear, yet possessing his own style without trying to sound like someone else. I get a tinge of “emo” in some sections, but that may just be my own take, and is certainly not negative. With the song ending in 30 Seconds to Mars type of background vocal “Ooo’s” you realize that this band has a lot of different personalities, and are not just settling for one theme. There is a music video out for this track as well and it is a bit more bright and sunny than the former (for obvious reasons). With the lyrics having a story attached, they make sure to present one in the video. I was a taken off guard when I was able to compare Carter so easily to Joe Jonas (as in The Jonas Brothers, not a cool punk rocker from the 70s or anything). The outfit and the hair just weren’t what I was picturing. However, their latest video had Carter fitting the alternative-rock genre a bit better, which I am thankful for.
Second to the last song, “Long Flights,” is a bit darker and harder, again showing what else they can do on one EP. The lyrics, vocals and instrumentation are all more on the emotional side. I would have liked to see them push a bit more on all levels. Instead of going louder and/or higher, they add to it with echo vocals (a nice touch) and distortion on the guitars. The bridge does have Carter holding out notes and a bit of a guitar solo, but I’m big into wanting to hear music being pushed to the next step. Of course, Escape Directors play it the way they see fit and are confident in what they have to offer, so this is not a negative reflection of them as a band, it is just me being selfish.
The transition from “Long Flights,” to “Money Changes Everyone,” is a longer silent one and respectably so. They are preparing you for a reflective song about the corrupt nature money can have on you. The softest song on the EP has the most string instrumentation and if you ever had money ruin your life I bet you could get a tad teary-eyed. Carter vocals are shown off best here, particularly with him and Wilson’s “Woah’s” finalizing “Money Changes Everyone” and The Crowded Room.
Though Escape Directors can fit into alternative indie rock, as well as alternative pop, I think they are able to go in more directions if wanted to. They have a lot of potential for taking bits and pieces of multiple genres to continue creating a signature sound, and it is evident in this EP that they are doing exactly that. If they further their experimentation and stick with their foundation in alternative rock as a platform, I think wonderful things will happen. I am excited to see what their next album will produce and will be keeping an eye on Escape Directors.