The New Law: The Fifty Year Storm
On this full-length follow-up to their first two The New Law efforts (2009's High Noon, 2006's self-titled debut), Seattle-based producers Adam Straney and Justin Neff stay true to their Ennio Morricone-meets-hip-hop style. The Fifty Year Storm certainly lives up to its billing, as the duo rarely dials down the intensity level on the thirteen-track outing. They also get a bit of help from Peter Jordan (who adds trumpet and guitar to the opener “I've Seen Some Mean Faces”) and Steven Straney (who's credited with drum hits on “Into the Clouds”), but otherwise the album's all Straney and Neff, who prove themselves more than up to the challenge.
Theirs is an epic, wide-screen, and unapologetically dense blend of hip-hop-&-trip-hop that's laced with seething breakbeats and a web of samples and acoustic (piano, guitar, sax) and synthetic (beat programming, synthesizers) sounds. The roots of The New Law's sound can be traced to its members' pasts: Straney's includes stints playing guitar, bass, and drums in punk bands and an affection for drum'n'bass, while Neff learned piano and saxophone before playing in jazz, funk, and rock outfits. Such diverse backgrounds means that a broad range of sounds makes its way into The Fifty Year Storm but not so much that The New Law's identity loses definition in the process.
In keeping with the band name, a few track titles make reference to the Old West (“Dead Men Tell No Tales,” “Get Your Gun,” “Bandits & Smugglers”), but, aside from an occasional whistle and dusty acoustic guitar part, that's pretty much as far as the connection goes. Standouts include “Get Your Gun,” a bass-driven blazer that Glen Porter would be proud to call his own, and “Blood Red Sky,” a thunderous plunge into downtempo funk-&-trip-hop frenzy. “Voyage” presents a head-turning mix of snappy clip-hop in its beats and prog in its dreamy atmospheric meanderings, a move that “Constellations” follows in pairing a head-nodding pulse with waves of vocal effects that wouldn't sound out of place on a Cocteau Twins recording. Though The Fifty Year Storm is largely vocal-less, it also would be easy to imagine someone like Eminem roaring overtop the hard-hitting “Bandits & Smugglers.”
If there's a weakness to the album, it simply has to do with length: a fifty-minute set of such relentlessly in-your-face material would be more easily digestible than the sixty-seven issued. Though the soprano sax-led “Three Sheets to the Wind” provides some memorable late-inning moments, the album might just as easily have ended with the slamming ninth track “Nest of Hornets,” as by then the album's made its case strongly enough without needing to say anything more.