Review: Baroness – Yellow & Green

Dog hawdy the boys of Baroness have set themselves up. I’ve listened to Yellow & Green, the crossover epic that has Baroness abandoning their more metal sounds in order to kick open their rock door, no less then eight times trying to figure out exactly how I feel about it. There are moments of true brilliance, moments of tortuous self-indulgence and these peaks and valleys that create a true musical journey. Baroness expect a lot from their fans with this double album. The lion’s share of the heavy lifting is on the listener. Baroness don’t attempt to subtly slide into their new more upbeat rock home, they just arrive and start playing.

So what’s a boy to do? My first go round with Yellow & Green found me disliking the record, the second and third listens had me picking out certain songs. As I approached listen eight the album clicked for me. I got it. I dug it. There are problems with it sure, but I was on board with it. Like I said, eight listens, the heavy lifting was on me. I implore you not toss this album aside if one listen leaves you bereft of enjoyment. Use the mental crowbar and crack your mind open just a bit more. Trust me, its worth it. Yellow And Green is not a masterpiece, but it is an artistic triumph.

Baroness open the first album, Yellow, with “Take My Bones Away”. It’s clear the band wanted to grab a listener’s attention right away because the rump-shaking riff involved here is grand. Then comes vocalist/guitarist John Baizley’s burly chorus backed by dueling solos and a Pink Floyd inspired keyboard line. Even if you hate the rest of the album, “Tale My Bones Away” will kick your nuts right in.

With the Yellow comes the mellow (dig that pun eighties kids). “March To The Sea” is an epic sea shanty told over rolling drum fills and vocals that push this tune into arena rock territory. Then comes “Little Things” a song that starts with a disco beat and never lets up. I know coming from Baroness the idea of a disco inspired rock song seems impossible, but that’s exactly what “Little Things” is. The sort of ambling break down kills the energy but the disco beat brings it right back to life.

By this point you’ve left behind the older EPs and even theBlue record. It’s not so much that Baroness have become a different band. Some of their songwriting staples remain—twin leads, frenetic guitar work, acoustic asides—that’s all still there. Baroness take what they can do and decide to attack this new style of song writing and attitude full throttle. This is a mature record and a thoughtful one. Sure its heavy but not doom or metal heavy. There is no sludge or crunch, just weight of the structures of the songs and their emotional content. Baroness are calling upon influences that range from post-rock to pop to prog. It’s a whole new game now.

For my money Yellow is the better half of the record, but Green has some superb moments on it. “Board Up The House” invites the down deep grit of Clutch to jam with Styx. The heaviness is there but the vocals and bright riff speaks of “Blue Collar Hero” era Styx. “Foolsong”, for me, is total Frampton. You can almost see Baizley getting down on one knee and singing this to a hysterical girl in the crowd. “Foolsong” doesn’t just emote, it practically weeps. “Stretchmarker”, the acoustic instrumental jam, is one of my favorites. Neil Young playing with Iron & Wine and just a dash of Johnny Marr. If Yellow is the upbeat swing and dance album, Green is the introspective and quieter record.

The reactions I’ve heard both feel wrong for Yellow & Green. Those trumpeting it as a masterpiece are a little off the mark. The album is tremendous, but there are some flaws. First, it’s too much. Too many songs and some of the songs are a minute or more too long. If not Yellow & Green, Baroness could have called this Everything And The Kitchen Sink. There’s no fault to be laid here, all bands trying to move into a new direction overshoot the mark. Baroness did it with the least amount of damage to the album. John Baizley’s vocals tend to get a little one-trick-pony for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love his voice, but he needs to do more with it. His cadence tends to be lean towards the repetitious, especially when it’s featured on so many songs.

Even more off the mark are those who throw hate at the band and the album. The only thing that can be is ignorance and a bitterness towards a band moving forward. Granted, Baroness have moved forward quicker than most bands but to say they’ve abandoned who they are because of it is ludicrous. So is not giving Yellow & Green a chance simply because it dabbles in some crossover song structures and pop sensibilities.  Punks did the same thing to Black Flag when they started introducing jazz timing and weird dissonance. I guess for any band looking to make changes, this kind of prattling is to be expected.

Yellow & Greenis significant artistic triumph for Baroness. Any points I knock off for meandering songs and repetitive vocals, I have to give back simply because they made this album. Baroness whipped out their cocks and said “Fuck it, we do what we want”. That takes sack, and that is where true art comes from. As good as Yellow & Green is, the really exciting thing is that it’s just the beginning. I’m just as excited for what the band gives me two records from now as I am to rock this record for a ninth time.

Well done gentlemen. Well done indeed.