Friday, February 22, 2013

Franco - Soul Adventurer (2013) Album Review

Album cover
Soul Adventurer is Franco Reyes' second major label release, unfortunately without most of the original Franco line-up that made the eponymous album in 2010 (I honestly don't care really). When the isolated corners of the internet were abuzz that production for Soul Adventurer was underway, I would hear Reyes played all the instruments in the record himself, with the exception of drums - which was done by Janjan Mendoza (ex-Franco / Urbandub drummer).

As production continued, he eventually recruited his long-time bandmate from Cebu, Paul Cañada (The Frank), to fill in the vacant ranks and to play guitar on some tracks. What tracks, I've no clue. This video suggests Cañada's guitar is present in "Renewal", but we won't know for sure until we see the liner notes of the album (still to be released on February 25, 2013 at the time of this writing).

This album contains 12 tracks - well, there are exactly 17 tracks, but 5 of which are outros and little snippets. Right off the bat, the first track "To Survive" has "Janjan Mendoza" written all over it. If any of you have heard any recent Urbandub album, you'll learn Mendoza is quite the drum&bass connoisseur. Unfortunately, while he's one of the better hard-hitting Pinoy rock drummers today, his love for drum&bass is mostly at the expense of his strengths. Which leads us to the lowest point of this song (and this album, in fact) - the first stanza. Subpar, almost sloppy, drum&bass drumming strewn across 16 bars is a shame. Luckily this will be the first and last time anyone's going to hear this kind of drumming in this album. It almost ruined an otherwise really good album opener, to be honest, but the rest of the track more than makes up for it. Overall, the song is straightforward "Franco Rock", as most of you have come to know, with a crunchy and blazing middle eight. Reyes laments in the chorus, "We'll pick up all the pieces to survive; We'll learn from our mistakes to make it magical", as if to acknowledge the falling out of the original Franco line-up.

The early part of "Moonset" has a very strong Queens of the Stone Age vibe to it, but eventually settles into familiar Franco territory. The most notable part being when Reyes sings "I'll be fine... alone(?)" over an almost dream-like rhythm section. It drives me nuts when he sings the last word of that line down to F#3 but never goes further down to F3 - which is probably how most singers would bookend that section of the song. Reyes is different. He just lets F#3 ring out and I was half expecting him to go down to F3 the entire time. The first time I heard it, I was floored and thought it was genius.

"Better Days" is one of the first tracks I've heard from the album (thanks to some Youtube videos). It makes no reservations and jumps into a reggae beat right after a hard intro, proclaiming "Come hear jah sound; Spreading good vibrations all over this town". Positivity abound. It's Herbal Midikishan - as Reyes would put it. He is no stranger to reggae and his love for the genre oozes in this song. The transitions between the reggae beat to hard rock is slightly off-putting at first, but I got used to it. This song also has one of the coolest outros you'll ever hear.

One of the stand-out tracks for me is "Across The Milky Way", a slow-paced hard rock number reminscent of 90's grunge. It's a bit faster than Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun", but it delivers more or less the same punch. It's gritty, introspective, and quite high as a kite. I would not be surprised if this track became an anthem for future drinking (and other similar) sessions. There's nothing like being in the mountains with friends, beer in hand, with this track blaring on the stereo. Ahhh..... For all you corporate zombies out there, this track is a good reminder to take a break every now and then.

This guy.
Rock aside, Reyes dabbles with electronica in "Lover's Fire", a delectable amalgamation of soul and trip-hop music layered with hushed vocals. I welcomed the departure from rock with open arms. This guy. What can't he do? Unfortunately, this track highlights the production woes of this album, particularly how muffled and poor-sounding the drums are in the other tracks - particularly the snare drum. It's such a shame the digitally programmed drum track in this song sounds more organic than the actual drums used by Mendoza on this album.

"Blame" is apparently one of Reyes' older songs with his then-band The Frank in their Drink, Drama, Dream LP. Likewise, "Muse" is a re-hash of an old song by a now-defunct Cebuano band called Capsule. I'm not really sure how Reyes fits into the picture - maybe he helped write this song, or maybe he loved this song so much he had to cover it. Which brings me to a realization - some tracks on this album were probably written way before production began. And it's probably not just those two. Who knows? I'm not complaining by the way. If I had a huge back catalog before I hit it big, I'd slowly release it one song after another. That will keep the record label busy and leave me free to write new songs without ever being pressured by deadlines. That's the way to go.

Anyway, getting into the technical side of things for a bit, what this album clearly does better than the debut is the guitar sound. The latter had one of the most constipated-sounding, beefy, stacked-pork-chops-meaty guitar mixes I've heard from any band in recent memory, and thankfully it's gone in Soul Adventurer, replaced by a much leaner and cleaner sound. With the kind of material Reyes is writing, I've always thought three guitarists was redundant, and pretty much overkill, in my opinion. So I'm really glad it's back down to two.


Overall a bit more down-tempo and cleaner than the debut album, and apart from the somewhat muffled sound of the snare drum and that little DnB annoyance in "To Survive", this album is quite easily another solid outing by Franco Reyes. If any of you people are looking to hear some solid rock tunes, and I mean rock songs that actually rock, then it's impossible to go wrong with this guy. Go grab this album. Now.

9 out of 10

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