Strata

Strata Presents the End of the World

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After trading in their Metal Muff distortion pedals for digital delay pedals and pawning off their Hoobastank reference discs for Interpol CDs, Strata has made hefty strides into an alternate musical universe. In fact, if you listen to their self-titled disc and Strata Presents the End of the World back-to-back, the amount of growth between the two is remarkable. What originally sounded like a nu-metal grunge soundtrack that might be played during a pole dance at a seedy strip club has evolved into an atmospheric and epic sound representative of My Chemical Romance, and even Mars Volta to a lesser extent. The more dreamy orchestral form will likely lose fans of the first album, but it is a vast improvement from the old style. Their musicianship has gotten better, as has the production value and the band's willingness to experiment with studio trickery. More importantly, this new moody style of music better accompanies the content, which has become profound and topical. Since publishing a personal book of memoirs, Coma Therapy, it seems that singer Eric Victorino has learned to tap into his inner poet and started writing more cohesive verses about topics like, well, as the title suggests, the end of the world. Each song involves him sifting through the meaning of life in 20th century America like the protagonist of a coming-of-age story. He battles losing childhood innocence, criticizes falling prey to the machine, and is suspect of phony people who offer him false promise. With similar values as Holden Caulfield, a lot of the prose tends to be pessimistic -- sometimes to the extreme -- as the singer has brushes with suicidal thoughts and contemplates his fear of death. Even a song like "Cocaine" that seems like a straightforward story about partying with a girl in the fast-lane and who overdoses on white powder alludes to the record's greater concept with the line "might as well go out and raise your drinks tonight because we're all going to hell." Dark moments like these are evident, as is an underlying distaste for American society. The lyrics point accusing fingers at war mongers, the country's lack of cultural awareness, and "dead people" working their nine to five jobs. Moments of hope shine through where Victorino determines that love is a worthwhile reason for living, and a gentle Death Cab influenced ending "Daylight in the City" echoes the promising words "Everything is gonna be all right -- everything is gonna be just fine." The most rewarding parts of this album require a little patience and digging past the over-polished sheen of the surface, and it's interesting to think that songs with thoughtful lyrics might sneak their way on to the mainstream radio waves. The main downfall here is that when a band like Strata set their sights on becoming big, they take fewer musical risks, so the song structures are generally predictable, but with the amount of improvement they've made since the first album, we can have high expectations for the next record. It's doubtfully going to be up to the revolutionary caliber of, say, OK Computer, but if they continue in this direction, they might be on their way to a much bigger statement, especially if the slightly anarchist lyrical themes are any indication of things to come.

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