This week I’ll be starting a new series of reviews of some lesser known albums which deserve more attention. The first of these is The War: Act I. The album was released in 2018 The Family Crest, an orchestral indie folk-rock ensemble from San Francisco. With seven core members, and a large group of supporting musicians backing them up in the orchestra, The Family Crest excels at creating epic ballads and catchy tunes. Frontman Liam McCormick’s vocals rise above the orchestra, bringing an intensity to the romanticism of their lyrics.
The War: Act I is The Family Crest’s third long play album, and it begins with the song “To Love You”. “To Love You” starts off with a powerful piano chord and the crash of a cymbal which breaks like the crashing of waves in a powerful storm. Accompanying the piano, strings and a choir add a mournful and exotic melody which slowly trails off, quieting in time for Liam’s to come in. “And so, I was born to love this woman,” Liam’s vocals are more subdued than usual, but begin to build up towards the resounding chorus. A long note with a run of strings calls in the piano once more. Still the song builds tension to the vocal climax, where Liam shows off his vocal abilities. His singing is the best part of the band for many, but some may be turned off by his vocal flourishes.
“To Love You” is followed by “It Keeps Us Dancing”, which is a more mellow ballad. Here the orchestra and guitar combine to create an utterly unique soundscape. In the background the drums gallop, holding the music to fast pace. Finally, the instrumentation cuts for a quiet acoustic bridge, contrasting the rest of the song beautifully, and adding a personal touch before leading into the finale with the entire orchestra once again.
Some other songs on the album take entirely different directions. “Take Tonight” sounds more like pop than the rest of the album but still mixes it up with its xylophone and prominent bass. “Never Gonna Stop” employs an electric guitar riff which is reminiscent of other indie rock bands such as OK Go, but with added dramatic touches which clearly distinguish it as A Family Crest song.
The album has its weak points, where the music turns too sentimental, but the slower, more romantic songs such as “Rest”, “I Was Born”, and “Like a Light” are still nice ways to break up the more intense songs.
The album ends with “The Rock’s Resting on Your Back” which makes excellent use of the orchestra, and also adds some Spanish sounding instrumentation and powerful female choir vocals. Brass instruments even find a place in the complex arrangement, but the main focus is still Liam’s vocals which are some of the most intense on the album. It closes the album out with a passionate wail but stops one note before resolution, fading out and leaving the listener wanting more, hopefully to come in The War: Act II.