Planes Mistaken For Stars - Prey (Cover Artwork)

Planes Mistaken For Stars

Prey (2016)

Deathwish inc.

Back in July of 2014 I was all too excited to head to Beat Kitchen on Belmont Ave in Chicago to see Planes Mistaken for Stars after they had been broken up for five years. After the show, I chatted with Gared O’Donnell and he had mentioned they were working on new tunes. Here I am, two years and fifty-nine days later holding the record of the songs the PMFS front man had been talking about.

October 21, 2016 saw the release of PMFS’s fourth full-length record, Prey, on Deathwish Inc. (their second for the label if you count the re-release of Mercy). Prey is raw, emotionally distraught, beautifully recorded, exquisitely written, and so, so much more.

The album opens with “Dementia Americana”, which takes me back to the PMFS era of Spearheading the Sin Movement. It’s brutally raw; an assaulting percussion section mixed with scathing guitars and O’Donnell’s signature glottal vocals that are tinged with despair and anger while being touched with more than a little bit of distortion on the production side. This track is barely over a minute and a half and the perfect way to start off the newest PMFS album in ten years. It’s the audio equivalent to a kick in the throat. The energy in this track is nuts, I can’t wait to see it live at The Fest this year.

After being assaulted by the first track, the hype drops way down and makes room for the slow intro of “Til’ It Clicks”. The song opens on a droning guitar riff drowned in reverb. O’Donnell’s sullen singing guides us to the chorus where the guitar riff remains fairly unchanged, just layered with thick analog gain and several tracks of vocals setting the glum mood. Mike Rickett’s drumming on this song is intense and as thought out as ever. He’s definitely, in my opinion anyway, one of the most underrated drummers in music today. All Rickett’s parts are carefully crafted and though at times he’s busier behind the kit than a lot of people think drummers should be, it never detracts from anything in the song. If anything, his rhythms so perfectly compliment the guitars that it’s part of what makes PMFS such a great band. This song drones on for five minutes, but don’t mistake my words. Drone isn’t a negative thing. I’m using drone in the sense of put this track on and smoke two joints and just get lost in the music.

If you were paying attention to this album before it came out, then you’ll recognize the third and fourth tracks, “Riot Season”and “Fucking Tenderness”, as the first two singles to be released. Both of these are stellar, “Fucking Tenderness”being one of my favorites off of Prey. “Riot Season” is just straight rock with a stunning climbing melody for a chorus with a somewhat atmospheric vibe. The harmonized lead in ““¦Tenderness”is absurdly catchy. The verses in it make me think of a lonely autumn night, sitting in front of a fireplace drowning my woes in whiskey. The song ends on an unusual note for PMFS: some chords ringing out (not uncommon) but with a synth sweep accompanying that. In fact, there’s quite a bit of synth hidden throughout the album, but I’ll get to that later.

“She Who Steps”is yet again, in my opinion, a throwback to a different era of PMFS. The whole album is building on the vibe they left us with after Mercy, but with that middle ground in their songwriting when they transitioned from Deep Elm to No Idea. The bridge in this song is killer, distant sounding textured vocals that sound like they’re coming from a truly tortured artist. The outro builds up, eventually “woofing”out rhythmically with intentional over-compression and distortion and then dropping off and ending with depressing piano notes.

“Clean Up Mean”was the last single released before the album dropped. Neil Keener’s bass is gnarly and thick with gain and the pings on the ride cymbal are deep yet crystal clear. Guitar work on this track can be minimal at times, but I think the band is striving for a more ethereal vibe on the verses. The guitar lead on the bridge sounds like something from a deranged Chris Isaac record and I tend to believe Gared when he wails, “I don’t wanna love you”.

Another cool track off this album is “Black Rabbit”. As a huge fan of PMFS for many years, I was sad when they called it quits all those years ago, but found some solace in Gared O’Donnell’s new project Hawks & Doves. “Black Rabbit”reminds me exactly of that (who’s songs were initially meant for PMFS) mixed with “Penitence”from Mercy. It’s an acoustic effort with a bit of classic Wurlitzer electric piano coming in towards the end before finally ending with the slam of a door.

The tone of the boomy mid-range heavy guitars on “Pan In Flames”makes me smile. I don’t understand how something can be so crystal clear and at the same time so muddled and overdriven. Rickett’s drumming on this track is exactly what I expect from him, not in the sense that I knew what he was going to play before he played it, but just stylistically perfect and accenting the instruments in a beautiful way.

“Enemy Blinds”is another sorrowful track that packs emotion and intensity in a way that only Planes Mistaken for Stars can pull off. The song builds up to a wall of noise (once again doing that awesome over-compression trick) before finally dropping off and segueing into “Alabaster Cello” another favorite of mine off the album. Spacey guitars and crunchy bass start this one off alongside some minimalistic drumming that has some cool delay effects worked into the snare. The chorus effect on the guitars adds to the beauty of the track. The whole ending of Prey builds up in this atmospheric way. I don’t know if it was an intentional decision while writing this masterpiece (and it is most definitely a masterpiece) but I feel like the whole album is a movement designed to leave the listener emotionally drained yet somewhat relieved (like a burden being lifted off ones shoulders) by the ending. “Alabaster Cello”ends perfectly building up in a non-structured way and eventually falling off with analog delay.

I cannot stress enough how amazing this album is. The production alone spins my head. As a tracking/mixing engineer I have no clue how or why Rickett’s drums sound like they do. The snare has this unearthly crack to it, the kick drum is larger than life, and the room tone on the kit is beautiful and perfect in every way. Gared and Chuck’s guitar tones throughout the album are stunning ““ thick and gritty, but being so much more than just that and having sparkle and clarity to them at the same time. Keener’s bass is absurd at times; it doesn’t take over the record at any point, but it’s ever present and impossible to ignore (sometimes I think bass tends to get lost in the mix on rock records, especially rock records with such dark tones and nasty vibes). The vocals are wraithlike and complex and raise the hairs on my arms; with all the glottal singing O’Donnell does I don’t know how the man even has a voice to speak with these days (unless he lubes his throat with some extremely pungent whiskey on a regular basis). Everything on this record, every instrument and every tone, sits apart from one another in perfect clarity, nothing being masked or muddied. The band used to be known for having classically amazing but beat up gear and low quality recordings (I literally have no problem with that at all, in fact I love it), but this is what it sounds like with all that same gear being put through incredible production for a record with a heavenly/hellish (depending on your outlook) quality.