When discussing music with someone, if you say the word “rock”, the usual band names are thrown out there. Led Zeppelin. Pink Floyd.  The Rolling Stones. Of course, anyone can name them, and rightly so. However, when it comes to new rock music, most people would probably draw a blank if you asked them to name a few artists. One band I consider oft forgotten when talking about newer rock music is Imagine Dragons. Ever since they stormed onto the scene in 2012 with their debut studio album Night Visions, I have considered them to be one of the best-sounding new artists of the past 10 years.

Night Visions was released on September 4, 2012 under Interscope Records, after what was said to be a three year recording process. Many of the songs had been previously released on EP’s released by the band.  According to band front man Dan Reynolds, the album’s influences are that of folk music, with hip-hop beats and pop dimensions as well. Although released in 2012, the album made the Billboard 200 list in 2012, 2013, and 2014, and was the fourth best selling album in the United States in 2013.

One thing that baffles me while researching the backstory on the album is the mixed reviews it has received. Some critics praise the production, noting that it is impressive that the band itself was able to produce most of the music themselves.  However,  with the help of producers Alex da Kid and Brandon Darner, they are able to take their sound to the next level with a polished finish.  Other critics say that the album is hollow and doesn’t have any real substance. Personally, when I listen to music, I listen for only a few things, and one of them is the quality of sound.  This of course meaning, “what sounds have the artists created and do they sound good?” And with this entire album, I can say with absolute certainty that this album sounds fantastic. There are subtle production moments throughout the album’s entirety that add so much to the final product that it is hard to not simply enjoy the music.

Vinyl was the medium used as the basis for this review, and the album was pressed in heavyweight vinyl in Europe. The pressing and mastering are top notch, and the sound quality is excellent. The detail brought out by the vinyl is impressive in songs such as “Nothing Left to Say” and “Underdog”.  The music is presented with little distortion, great separation, and an open sound stage. The crashing of the cymbals, the strings of the guitar, and the bow of the viola sound as they are in the same room you sit in while listening to the record. If there is one knock on the mastering of the album, it is that it is a little lacking in dynamic range. Unlike some modern vinyl pressings, this album sounds analog all the way through.  It does not sound like a digitally recorded album and then later transferred to vinyl. This album is a great example of modern music on the vinyl medium, and if you are interested in the medium, it is worth picking up for that reason alone.

The album starts with the song that everyone knows Imagine Dragons for in “Radioactive”.  After a mellow acoustic guitar and vocal introduction, we are thrust into a warped synth-guitar sound with heavy, beating drums that creates a more intense sound than most pop/rock music we have heard in a long time.  This is then met with an intense first verse by Reynolds leading directly into a “new age” chorus of music that is loud and even more intense.  The song feels like a stomp-clap anthem more than anything, with its only break coming during the bridge. This is quite the opener for the band making their full-length studio album debut.

Quickly, however, the intensity subsides with “Tiptoe”, which is a much lighter note. We do get some electronic synth sounds that infuse pop roots directly into the forefront of the music. The chorus is what makes this song shine, as Reynold’s vocals are easy to follow along to as the band drives along in the background. The drumming is constantly driving forward with heavy crash cymbal use, which gives this song a “moving forward” feel and adds a certain vibrancy that was absent in the beginning of the album.

“It’s Time” may quite possibly be the best song on the album.  It simply has a “big” feeling to it as it builds towards the chorus.  Reynold’s vocals, which are almost like he is yelling or pleading with us, add a l0t of character and meaning to this song. The mandolin ostinato in the background during the verses adds the folk influence that we heard but haven’t experienced a lot of up to this point.  Overall, you just feel empowered when you listen to this song. It’s a bit hard to explain unless you just sit down and listen to it.

“Demons” is another one of the “hits”, as it was released as a single promoting the album. The contrast between verse and chorus gives this song an even different feel from all the other songs we have heard up until this point. The stripped down verses are in stark contrast to the large choruses, but both work very nicely when put together.  Reynold’s voice connects the sections together, creating a expertly produced pop-rock track that is here to stick around.

The central part of the album continues themes previously introduced in the first stanza. “On Top of the World”, “Amsterdam”, “Hear Me”, “Every Night”, “Bleeding Out”, and “Underdog” all fuse rock sounds and electronic sounds and pop sounds with folk influences.  The influences of other music genres are easily identified and work really well throughout all of these tracks. And then we get to the closer.

The last track on the album, “Nothing Left to Say” (not counting the track “Rocks” at the very end) is in a close race with “It’s Time” for best produced song on the album.  An ambient intro gives way to a verse with the usual intensity found on much of the album.  The chorus is so fitting of a last song on an album, with Reynolds simply saying “There’s nothing left to say now.” And there really isn’t much left for the band to say musically that they haven’t already said with many of the tracks. The song, like so many before it, once again has an anthem feel to it, makin it feel much bigger than one lone track on an album.  We even get to hear viola fused into the vocals, guitars, drums, and synth sounds.  Finally, the choruses, which seem almost never-ending give way to a calm outro, which feels like a final exhale of the band after playing so much intense music.

After listening to this album through a few times, I think the biggest thing that makes this band sound great is the constant intensity with which Dan Reynolds sings the songs. Whether it is on a lighter track like “On Top of the World” or the heavy “Radioactive”, Reynold constantly exhibits the same energy level and uses his voice to add a layer of music that stands alone against the fantastic sound that the band has already consistently put forth.

Overall, this album provides a fresh feel in a time where a lot of pop music has been simplified and choreographed to the point of monotony.   Imagine Dragon’s sound is different, fresh, and above all, it just sounds good.

 

 

Track List

  1. Radioactive (3:06)*
  2. Tiptoe (3:14)
  3. It’s Time (4:00)*
  4. Demons (2:57)*
  5. On Top of the World (3:12)*
  6. Amsterdam (4:01)
  7. Hear Me (3:55)*
  8. Every Night (3:37)
  9. Bleeding Out (3:43)
  10. Underdog (3:29)
  11. Nothing Left to Say/Rocks (8:59)

* Released as single tracks

VinylDan’s Quick Pick 5

  1. It’s Time
  2. Demons
  3. Amsterdam
  4. Bleeding Out
  5. Nothing Left to Say

 

Personnel

Dan Reynolds- lead vocals

Daniel Sermon- electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, backing vocals

Ben McKee- bass guitar, keyboards, backing vocals

Daniel Platzman- drums, viola, backing vocals

 

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Frontman Dan Reynolds displaying his usual intensity during a live performance.

 

 

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“Night Visions.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Mar. 2017. Web. 23 Mar. 2017.

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