Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware that Baroness were very recently involved in what appears to be an absolutely horrific bus accident, while on tour in the UK, leaving three-fourths of the band seriously injured (as well as various members of their crew). This would be an absolutely tragic thing to befall any band, but it is even more so for Baroness when one considers the triumph that is their third album, the fantastic Yellow & Green.
I must admit that prior to this album, I never understood the massive amount of hype attached to the Savannah, Georgia-bred quartet. Their songwriting failed to resonate with me, and to these ears, their attempts at being heavy always sounded half-hearted at best, unconvincing at worst. That, combined with my natural aversion towards just about anything that’s heavily hyped (remember when Decibel Magazine proclaimed Blue Record the album of the year before it even hit the record stores?), lead to me writing off the band almost for good. But, when I received the promo link for Yellow & Green, something inexplicable told me to give Baroness another shot.
The first time I attempted to listen to Yellow & Green, I shut it off after three songs. My indifference toward their previous outings was still lingering, clouding my judgement. I decided to approach the album again with an open mind, and this time when I hit play it was a total shock to the system, but an incredibly pleasant one. With Yellow & Green, Baroness have completely abandoned their metallic aspirations and fully embraced their rock and pop sensibilities. The results are nothing short of glorious. Ditching the greasy Southern sludge in favor of a sound that encompasses elements of alternative rock, post-punk, psychedelia and even dance music, the album harkens back to the days when you could turn on the radio or even MTV and actually hear thoughtful, well-crafted songs. For my generation, that time period was the nineties, and while there is definitely something of a nineties vibe to Yellow & Green, Baroness are far from a nostalgia act. It just so happens that they value the same things bands like the Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana did; great melodies, great hooks, songs you can tell apart and fostering a unique voice and vision within the rock ‘n’ roll paradigm, to name just a few. These things should be a given when it comes to writing great rock ‘n’ roll, but the fucked up truth is that they just aren’t anymore; kids raised on corporate rock shit-widgets (I’m looking at you, Creed and Nickelback, you motherfuckers) are growing up and writing their own corporate rock shit-widgets. Yes, Baroness have seemingly left metal behind in order to combat this build-up of musical smegma, carrying the torch for a dying breed of rock artisans, and their music has become all the better for it.
Clocking in at around an hour and fifteen minutes, Yellow & Green could’ve easily fit on one disc, but Baroness wisely decided to spread it out over two, and each disc has its own unique vibe. For purely aesthetic reasons, I’m reminded of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, but Yellow & Green is nowhere near as sprawling and bloated as Billy Corgan’s egomaniacal opus. Yellow is a goddamn hook-a-rama, and that’s putting it mildly; if you want to learn how to write a catchy rock song circa 2012, let it be your bible. The level of craftsmanship to be found within the opening trifecta of proper songs (“Take My Bones Away” “March to the Sea” and “Little Things”) alone is positively stunning. In a perfect world, these tracks would be hit singles, Yellow & Green would go quintuple platinum on the back of them and Baroness would be playing your local enormo-dome. Hell, they probably would’ve been hit singles, circa 1992. From there, things get a little more expansive, starting with the ’60s psych-flavored “Cocainium” and “Back Where I Belong,” before taking a weird turn with the excellent “Sea Lungs,” which for some reason makes me think of KISS’ infamous (and awesome) stab at disco, “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.” Yellow ends with “Eula,” a song that starts off somber but gradually picks up steam, finally erupting in pure rock bliss.
Things get a bit more spacey and psychedelic on Green, but even these more experimental tracks are subject to Baroness’ pop sensibilities. There’s something of a country-tinged cosmic folk vibe to “Board up the House” “Mtns. (the Crown and Anchor)” “Foolsong” and “Collapse,” making for a suite of songs that are the polar opposite of the driving rock found found on Yellow, yet are still easily identifiable as the work of the same band. “Psalms Alive” has a neat post-punk vibe, like New Order trying to play Southern rock. “The Line Between” sounds like a long lost alt-rock nugget circa the early nineties; the textured guitar playing and masterful use of dynamics make Baroness sound like they would’ve fit in just fine on a bill with Sonic Youth and the Pixies. The disc closes out with the gently drifting instrumental “If I Forget Thee, Lowcountry,” ending the Yellow & Green experience on an extremely mellow note.
I can’t say what prompted me to give Baroness another chance with Yellow & Green, or why I decided to come back to it a second time after initially writing it off along with the rest of their discography, but I’m damn glad I did. I reckon fans of their back catalogue may be disappointed by the band’s change in direction, but I for one am revelling in it, in spite of being forced to eat a little humble pie. If Yellow & Green doesn’t propel Baroness into the mainstream, then the music industry machine, as well as the listening proclivities of the general public are both truely, irrevocably fucked up beyond all recognition.