This record is different, perhaps jarringly so, but I'm disappointed with how most fans have been handling that. Yes, it's poppy. And, in being so, it lacks the hooks that Catch Without Arms had. But there's still an abundance of experimentation, untraditional instrumentation and interesting melodies going on here.
The most recognizably "dredg" music here is, of course, "The Ornament", which fans should recognize immediately as the outro to Catch Without Arms and die-hards will known well from its various live incarnations and inclusion on the Waterborne soundtrack. The work seems to be in its "finalized" state here, and, in a way, is evidence that the sound of this record isn't out of nowhere for dredg; those influences have always been there, only here they're highlighted and made the centerpiece (which "The Ornament" literally is).
Is it all good? No, but what experimental record is? dredg are diving head-first into new territory here, and there's bound to be a couple of misses. But plenty of times the experimentations pays off completely. Don't believe me? Just listen to "Upon Returning" or "Down Without a Fight." Listen to "Somebody Is Laughing" and tell me you don't want to hear some of these new influences make their way into future dredg records.
If there's a weakness to be found, it's in the last couple of tracks. "Where I'll End Up" is a frictionless pop-song with no bite and "Before it Began" doesn't entirely work as a closer.
At any rate, dredg have done something ballsy here, and the other early reviews of the record I've seen show it. They've isolated their entire fanbase to create something new-- and, regardless of what anyone says, you can NOT find another record out there that sounds like this. As artists, they could have done nothing more honorable. It might be worthwhile to compare this record to Radiohead's "The King of Limbs," another great album from this year which unfortunately was quickly dismissed by many fans because of its density and differentness from previous records. Both, however, are great albums in which many secrets are waiting to be found.
This isn't my favorite dredg record by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a damn good one and an impressive artistic gamble. Personally, I can't wait until dredg do another rock album, and I'm especially hoping that some of these new electronic influences will find their way in. And, honestly? I was just as surprised when I heard how different Catch Without Arms was from El Cielo, and even more surprised when I heard how different El Cielo was from Leitmotif.