I’ve had a fair bit of difficulty with this review. Sinch have been one of my favourite bands for a long while despite having a fairly sparse release history. I’ve been waiting seven years for a successor to 2005’s Clearing the Channel to come along but in this time I’ve never tired of listening to the back catalogue. After last years disappointment seeing Mötley Crüe live for the first time I was wary of falling into the trap of overzealous anticipation, and so I listened to Hive Mind with a mixture of excitement and open mindedness. And I didn’t like it. Thankfully though, that’s not the end of the tale.
Rewind to 2005 and the release of Clearing the Channel. I hadn’t waited quite so long for the follow up to the self titled album, but I was very excited for what I was about to hear, and I couldn’t believe how much I absolutely hated it on first listen. I was so impressed with the previous album that I wasn’t expecting something so different. It was that impression though that made me persevere and in time it became one of my favourite records of all time and one I still listen to with regularity.
But back in the present I listened to Hive Mind and I initially felt somewhat ambivalent toward it. If you’re not a fan of the band I suspect you could dismiss it far too easily as I must admit I very nearly did too. It was only the past experience that made me keep playing it and I’m glad that I did. Hive Mind is at the same time both very similar and totally different from the previous releases. For the most part the electronic accompaniment and effects from Clearing the Channel are gone resulting in a more streamlined straight rock sound akin to Sinch but without the anger of that album. There are lots of noticeable hooks and nuances that are distinct to their sound, yet I find there’s little that really stands out and makes you take notice; or at least at first.
For non-fans, I reckon the tracks that distinguish themselves would be 4th and 5th on the track list. “Mapless” is easily the catchiest number on the album with a great chorus and one small part of the vocal that’s very Kings of Leon whereas “State of Affairs” is probably the most radio friendly. The next instantly accessible highlight would likely be track 9, “Speaking in Code”. Unfortunately I think these plus points seem too few and far between for those not already drafted into the Sinch army. It’s not until repeated listens that you begin to appreciate the song craft and the deeper meaning and effect of the album. What troubles me is that a non-fan likely wouldn’t bother with repeated listens, especially in this day and age of instantly gratifying consumables.
As I’ve said though, I am a huge fan of the band and I’ve listened to Hive Mind over and over and over by now. It’s taken some time, but I’m really beginning to feel the record rather than simply hear it and I think that’s Sinch’s greatest achievement in all of their music. As you begin to learn the songs they imbue you with a little a piece of the bands collective soul and it’s this that I love so much about them. It remains to be seen if Hive Mind will take a place in my personal record hall of fame though as I find it has its problems.
I think it’s actually a little too long and maybe could’ve done with dropping a song or two, in particular the abysmal “Jack’s Heart”. Singer Jamie Stem’s vocal has never been the sharpest, yet it’s endearing in a Chino Moreno bum note kind of way, but this lacklustre ballad has some of the worst vocal cringe moments I’ve ever heard. I can feel the big moment at the start of the chorus and that’s appealing, but then it quickly drops off to some horrid warbles. The whole album also sounds a little bit flat overall, like the production wanted to keep all flat levels and ensure no one instrument shone through. It’s very noticeable if you’re listening on lower end headphones or in the car for example, but sometimes it’s just moments that should have some punch and just don’t such as the opening of “Speaking in Code”. “Gods and Profits” also sounds like an off cut from the previous album too, but as it’s a pretty decent track I’m happy to let that one slide.
I actually wrote a complete fairly negative review within a week of the album’s release and scrapped it as I could sense this album was going to be a slow burner. Even though I wasn’t massively enjoying it at first, when I took my headphones off and went to do something else, the songs would continue to play in the back of my mind. And not just the aforementioned stand-out tracks, I mean the album would play in my head. Not a bad effect to have when active listening left me feeling under whelmed.
I think Sinch fans will enjoy this, although maybe not right away if you’re anything like me. I would also urge newcomers to give it a go and really allow it a chance to stamp its impression upon you as through it you will discover one of my favourite bands of the last ten years. I actually feel bad about writing the negatives as I love this band so much I’d happily pay for a world tour if I ever won the lottery (and you can hold me to that boys), but I pride myself on telling it like I see it and not pandering to review expectations. Right now I like Hive Mind. I didn’t initially, now I do. Will I love it? Ask me in another seven years.