Funny a band labeled by both fans and detractors as prog-punk/prog-scream/prog-whatever would progress. But have the Fall of Troy really progressed with their newest beast, Manipulator? Some would certainly argue they have, as the band delve into a number of styles new to them, strip some of the blatancy of their previously biggest influences, and produce their most diverse effort to date. But all this considered, is Manipulator actually the Fall of Troy's best effort to date?
When you lose some of the qualities that ultimately made you so compelling in the first place, maybe not so much. The Fall of Troy have always been exceptionally weird and exceptionally dynamic, and while Maniuplator is no doubt the band at their weirdest, it also compromises the incredible dynamic once executed so flawlessly.
This all being said, Manipulator is still an impressive display of musicianship, creativity, and brave strides down hardly touched paths. Vocalist/guitarist/whiz kid Thomas Erak experiments with more melodic, upbeat tones to his singing as opposed to the rambling, rushed methods that worked well within the band's older, hyperactive songs. Instead of jagged, Blood Brothers style guitar hacking, there's brawny, brief fits of technical hardcore rage ("The Dark Trail," "Shhh!!! If You're Quiet, I'll Show You a Dinosaur"). Instead of the back-and-forth sing/scream, Erak tends to sing for prolonged periods of time (as in the strangely soulful "Quarter Past") or produce caterwaul, high-pitched shrieks ("Problem!?," "Shhh!!!..."). One might cringe at first hearing Erak singing in a monotone manner over weak chords in opener "Cut Down All the Trees and Name the Streets After Them," and while it's warranted, the song becomes a more likeable tune with familiarity, even if it's not nearly as strong an opener as the band are capable of. "Oh! The Casino?" even receives a lot of Weezer comparisons, and while it's a little bit of a reach, its slight power-pop tone does make it that odd of a centerpiece to the album. Erak's wild voice does "Seattlantis" well, a superb piece mixing tempos and moods. "Caught Up" is a sunny, minimal pop tune where Erak's singing voice is the best it's been on record.
Granted, there's still spots of the Mars Volta's noodly, Latin-inspired guitars peppered throughout the album, but they're entirely less prevalent than on The Fall of Troy or Doppelgänger, and that's a noticeable improvement. There's a good amount of high-flying fretboard work to be found, but on "Sledgehammer" it sounds quite well-put within the song's six-minute course, and at most moments throughout Manipulator doesn't so blatantly ape the Volta.
The chaos, friction, and intimidation that was usually present in the band's lyrics is surely lost, though. In "The Dark Trail," Erak bluntly states "I don't have anything better to do than you"; if it's not parodic, it assuredly feels it. However, the band still know how to sound desperate and bitter, as in "Semi-Fiction" ("Tear you down and leave you here / Cast your fears aside... She was nothing more than a game to me anyway").
In addition, Matt Bayles' production gives Manipulator a generally awkward flow. It feels similar in tones to Bayles' Minus the Bear albums and just doesn't feel paired well with the Fall of Troy. The versatile Barrett Jones really seemed to find the aural aesthetic that fit perfectly with the band on Doppelgänger.
All in all, Manipulator is not the album most Fall of Troy fans expected, for better or worse. While potentially overshadowed by past work, and strange missteps and awkward moments aside, Manipulator is still a well-rounded, driven accomplishment by another of Washington State's more brash talents.
Cut Down All the Trees and Name the Streets After Them