Ideamen – Schemata

Release Date: 2/14/14

Ideamen are an Art Rock band from Chicago, IL. Their debut EP Progress (2007), was an excellent, melodic, sometimes heavy, diverse release, featuring killer keyboard parts and impressive vocal harmonies. Many of the same elements that made Progress great are on full display here as well. This time however, the dramatic shifts in genre and general “out there”-ness is toned down considerably. Surprisingly though, the album’s all the better for it.

It’d be inaccurate to say there aren’t many twists and turns on this album, however. It’s just that the twists are more mood-based, rather than major shifts in genre, and when there are changes in genre, it’s less haphazard. The album starts with “Schemata Prologue”, a piano-driven piece that leads directly into one of Ideamen’s all-time greatest songs “Red in the Sky”, which features bouncy, upbeat verses before an emotive, chaotic dash of darkness is injected wholesale into the chorus of the song. The bridge is simply excellent too, shifting back to the more upbeat moments of the track. After the final chorus, there is an stunningly epic ending, with grand percussive piano parts and harmonized falsetto vocals stabbing through the triumphant cocaphony before ending it out with a moody solo piano passage.

“Momenta” adds to the variety of moods early on. Due to the rapid-fire hi-hat hits, it seems like it’s referencing the previous tracks bridge in a way. Combined with the first track bleeding into the second, you can tell a real effort was made to make this album flow appropriately. “Running Home” begins with one of the albums more jarring passages – an abrupt, upbeat solo jazz guitar passage. This is the only moment of jazz in the song or album, however. I can imagine the guys sitting in a room saying “how do we start this song?” Sometimes these seeming non-sequitur’s can really work out in the world of music. I’d guess the song was built off the piano chords in the verses and they augmented them into jazz chords for the intro. It’s a really neat and tasteful touch.

In case you’ve forgotten this band may have anything to do with metal by this point, “Bad Apple” jolts you to life with two boxing bell rings before going into one of the more energetic and metal-influenced songs on the album. Production-wise, there are some vocal passages that hint at the ministerial lilting of “Off is a Crime” a couple tracks later; a track which also features one of the album’s heaviest moments and is one of the more progressive tracks in the band’s discography, musically and lyrically. If you’ve heard Progress, you can see the way they mix genre’s is quite different on this album. It feels more organic and in better service of the songs, rather than trying to squeeze in disparate elements simply because it can be done. This is not to say the results weren’t excellent there as well. I often find myself missing the wonkiness of that release, even though the songwriting is stronger this go ’round.

“Two Complaints” starts with an exciting solo piano lead and a sweet sounding vocal melody. It’s one of the catchier songs on the album. The piano parts are just super cool throughout. “Brainchild” is another of Ideamen’s more progressive tracks and features some seriously epic moments, and has quite an emotional impact to boot.

“Downtown Crier” is one of my all-time favorite Ideamen tracks. The chorus is awesome, and the grunge-like guitar effect on the guitar lines during the verses works incredibly well. Kind of funny because I really don’t like grunge yet that was my first association with hearing that verse. But that’s the thing – they chose that sound here because it works, and ultimately, that’s what matters. Then there’s the chorus for “This Dog Just Rolled Over and Died”, which somehow manages to get stuck in my head not infrequently. Those vocal harmonies just get me. I’m such a massive sucker for them. It is such an underutilized element in modern music it’s criminal.

The album closes out with “Through the Sunrise” and “Dead Utopias”, which both arguably touch upon many of the sounds and vibes contained throughout the album, essentially acting as the final punctuation marks on the musical story Schemata is telling.

Ideamen have created an impressive and cohesive musical statement with Schemata. Being one of the most accessible experimental/art rock groups puts them in a strange and unfortunate place: they’re too left-of-center for normal Alternative Rock fans, but perhaps too tame for those who are fans of something like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. I wish I could find an obvious starting place for what should constitute this bands  audience. I know it’s out there. I know something that would at least help a little bit in the mean time… put Schemata on streaming services please!

Highlights: “Red in the Sky”, “Two Complaints”, “Brainchild”, “Downtown Crier”
Rating: 4.5/5
Purchase: Ideastore
Also reference our review of Ideamen’s Progress EP

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