The Ongoing Concept denounced unoriginality on their debut album Saloon, advising us to “stop being the print of someone else’s painting because in the end you’ll amount to be a kid without a brush.” It’s a big statement to make on a debut album and puts pressure on a band to practice what they preach on future records. To prove their statement wasn’t just talk, The Ongoing Concept have replied with Handmade: a title that couldn’t be more perfect for an album recorded and produced in their own home, with self-made album artwork, performed using instruments built entirely from scratch themselves.
The band are no strangers to the concept of ‘do-it-yourself’, having built their own guitar cabs in the past and installed their own living quarters into a hollowed-out van to tour in. Handmade though takes this concept to the extreme, utilising a lot of research, the felling of trees, electrical engineering and a whole lot of patience. It’s so well done that the instruments and production both sound so impressive that unless you were aware of the story behind the album, you’d be forgiven for thinking everything had been recorded in a professional studio.
All of this effort would be for nothing if the music wasn’t up to scratch, but it only takes a few bars into opening track “Amends” to dispel any ideas that the ‘do-it-yourself’ concept is just a gimmick. Handmade feels more cohesive than Saloon; every song has its place and the album flows perfectly. The drums hit hard and the guitars cycle from crunching, southern-rock riffs to blues-style solos, changing the mood of the album as it moves through the songs. The flashes of synth woven into the mix add yet another dimension and combined, these elements make a coherent package that’s memorable and highly enjoyable.
Vocally this record is a breath of fresh air. In this genre, bands with dual vocalists are often predictable: aggressive, screamed vocals through the verses; highly polished, cleanly-sung vocal hooks in the choruses. While Handmade generally conforms to the scream/sing pattern, Dawson Sholz’s clean vocals are far removed from the over-produced, homogenised choruses that litter the genre. Despite having the vocal ability to produce such a display, he chooses to express himself through interesting melodies and non-standard arrangements that on first listen shouldn’t work, but on reflection perfectly match The Ongoing Concept’s unique concatenation of styles. Mid-album ballad “Melody” demonstrates this well. Where other vocalists would use its muted drums and jangling guitars as a platform for sugary sweet hooks and vocal acrobatics, Dawson Sholtz takes a different path, staggering his arrangements against the flow of the music, drawing out its originality and making the song more memorable.
This distinctive, interesting take on song-writing makes Handmade an uplifting, enjoyable record. It’s difficult to listen to without a wide smile on your face thanks to its frantic, chaotic, instrumentation and non-conformist attitude to styles and genre boundaries. The Ongoing Concept will do whatever they want to do and have fun doing it. The construction of their own instruments demonstrates the extent to which they value the liberation of doing it themselves. This unapologetic attitude comes across directly in their music, making Handmade a very personal and relatable record. The biggest compliment that could be paid to these songs is that the quality is so high, the handmade element of the record is the least interesting part of it. The next challenge for The Ongoing Concept though is figuring out how they could possibly raise the bar from here.