If I could think of one band that truly mimics their namesake, The Ongoing Concept would definitely be that band. Album number three, Places, features the band doing what they do best -- changing it up. Sure, there is some familiar material present, but overall, it showcases the ongoing evolution of the band sonically and stylistically. When I first found out that the entire band, aside from Dawson, had left, I thought for sure they would be dead in the water. However, Mr. Scholz, and his new bandmates, have continued in TOC's tradition of releasing excellent music.
The album opens with the title track, which is used as more of an intro than anything else. The ambient keyboard fills the beginning before a smooth guitar lead enters the mix. The guitar sound is more like John Mayer than anything related to heavy music, but it leads nicely to "You Will Go." Some of the pop sounds found on Handmade surface in this relatively tame number -- at least tame in the first half -- but Dawson's shrill screams dominate the second half, repeating, "The places you have been make you who you are. The places you will go make you who you will become" at the end. From there, more pop influence shines through with "Shake It." Think along the lines of a more metallic and vocally aggressive version of Dirty Loops for these two tracks. Way back in 2013 Dawson exclaimed, "Stop being the print of someone else's painting" in "Cover Girl" -- a song about being original in a world of copycats. Present day, "Print" opens in a similar fashion with Dawson urging folks to "gather around again." The track kicks in full speed just like "Cover Girl" and goes on to be to a "print" of that song with Dawson exclaiming, "I am the print you know; the print of something original. I am the print you know 'cuz I gotta keep it super simple." The song is a fun walk down memory lane and is a personal favorite. "Off the Cuff" and "Domesticated" follow in the same vein as the first couple of songs, but "Bargain" makes a huge statement.
"Bargain" is a piano-led ballad with a nice clean guitar lead to complement. Scholz sings, "I don't know if I am keeping my end of the bargain" in a song that is full of retrospection. Dawson sings wonderfully in this track and the softest number of the album is truly captivating, taking you to his melancholy state. I'm unsure if the track is aimed at his former bandmates or is just a general song about life experiences. "Owe Me" picks up the pace tremendously as a full out assault opens the song. It's a fast and hard rocker that raises the intensity as the most metalcore type track present. Next up is the funk inspired sound of "Punisher." The verses have a super funky vibe and the chorus picks up with a heavier sound, but the song hits its highest point at the breakdown towards the end. "Spirit Lake" closes the album out with a more 90s alt-rock feel. Dawson's vocals are impressive again in this track and, again, the guitar lead is perfect, however, the musical interlude is where it shines brightest in its beauty. The song, and album, abruptly, and strangely, ends with the sound of water washing over the track as the music is building out of the much softer interlude.
The music composition on Places is nothing short of brilliant. While a cursory first listen may lead you to believe this is Handmade II, a deeper listen will quickly show you that this is simply not the case. It seems all of The Ongoing Concept albums are mini-concept albums in and of themselves. Their third is literally a look at the places the band -- especially Dawson -- has been. From the Easter egg filled video for "You Will Go," (containing elements of all of their previous videos and album artwork), the obvious throwback of "Print," to the complete retrospection of "Bargain," Places runs the gamut of The Ongoing Concept's history. The album is a bit of a grower, but it's stellar. The instrumentation is insanely good (and complementary of itself) and the vocals continue to improve from album to album. Whatever the reason, I'm sure the transition of being in a band with your two brothers and childhood best friend, to having all of them leave at once, is sobering. However, Dawson and the new band shine through it all to deliver an album worthy of The Ongoing Concept's name.- Review date: 10/3/17, written by Michael Weaver of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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