Thomas Giles, for those who do not know, is the frontman of Between the Buried and Me. Whether you enjoy Giles’s mainstay or not, there is no denying that the band he’s in is one of the more formative metal bands recording music today. They’re schizophrenic, progressive and consistently fascinating. A song like “Prequel to the Sequel”, from the group’s Colors, is a song to be studied for its sharp turns from tunefulness to din to bravado to insanity, even if, in my opinion, it’s not that great of a song. I don’t particularly like Between the Buried and Me, but I cannot deny that they are a group that is never satisfied with not pushing the envelope with every new album they release.
Thomas Giles’s first official solo album (he released an album under the name Giles in 2005) pushes something, and that thing is my patience. As much as Pulse is a surprise coming from a guy who makes most of his money playing in one of America’s most popular metalcore bands, the album comes off exactly like Thomas Giles trying to make a statement about how much of a surprise it is. On Pulse, we hear Giles experiment with electronic, acoustic, metal, and (I kid you not) dubstep. However, the execution of all these songs comes off as exceedingly half-assed and pretentious, as if Giles only made the effort to sound different and then rushed through the rest of the songwriting process.
The worst of Pulse comes right at its beginning, with “Sleep Shake”. Here, among flowing guitar chords and a monotonous drum beat, Giles opens up his album with this line: “It started like a normal day/I jumped and explored the yard/My senses seem tense/Like a bond between two friends/They’ve never really been my friends/Just a common sense of self/But today I feel so strange/Like I’m someone else”. If you didn’t notice, Giles is trying to put himself in the mind of an emotionless robot, but the awkward wording and meaningless similes sound embarrassingly clunky. That, and most of the lyrics of Pulse, circumvent cleverness and go straight for the ostentatious. In “Scared”, when he sings “I’m here for you/I’m here for all of you”, it doesn’t sound like Giles is being benevolent, but, instead, expecting you to be really fucking impressed with how goddamn benevolent he is. But, really, these hollow signifiers are just cover-ups for the fact that Giles can’t write lyrics for shit. At the chorus of “Sleep Shake”, one would assume that he would have to pull out a trump lyrical card to consolidate what I’m sure he thought was genius in those previous verses, but the best he can come up with is “I’ve become different now”. Is it too obvious to say that he isn’t fooling anyone in this regard?
It doesn’t help that Pulse also sounds surprisingly cheap. I say that Giles takes cracks at many genres on the album, but its songs that feature more than just a piano or an acoustic guitar sound downright amateurish. The aforementioned “Sleep Shake” and many of the electronic songs on Pulse have some regard for texture, but their choruses routinely devolve into shooting-for-the-rafters chord-strummers with electronic blips floating around, sounding like a Muse caricature or Dream Theater at their most shamelessly poppy. “Catch & Release” tries to split the difference between the thrash of Between the Buried and Me and Giles’s electronic aspirations and ends up sounding like an irresponsible Shining, and not even Shining is particularly good at that kind of sound. “Hamilton Anxiety Scale” actually sounds promising with its hand percussion and off-kilter bass lines reminiscent of The Mars Volta, but it too cannot help but, like most of Pulse, resign its fate to a stale crash cymbal-laden chordgasm. Few albums exemplify the feeling of displaying free-floating ideas and little else from an artist than Pulse.
However, there is one legitimately good song on Pulse, and, it’s the one that, by far, resembles Between the Buried and Me. “Medic”, placed arbitrarily in the middle of the album between two ambient electronic tracks, is a sleeper cell that reveals itself wonderfully with a quick drum intro and takes off from there into a magnificent landscape of fractured riffing and growling vocals. It’s unexpectedly rousing in the best ways, and, at less than three minutes, ransacks every other song on the album. For all the ambition acrobatics Giles attempts on Pulse, “Medic” makes it abundantly clear where the man’s skills lie. And, ultimately and ironically, I don’t think I’ve heard a song as out of place on an album as “Medic” is on the otherwise inert Pulse.
A part of me does have some respect for Giles for diverging so much from the sound of his main group, especially one that’s ensconced in a genre as rigid as metal is in comparison to other musical genres, but, here, his imagination is stretched far too thin. Pulse is probably the most radically eclectic album I’ve ever heard, but it’s nearly impossible to reward it when it is so consistently awful. Those who haven’t a passing interest in Between the Buried and Me should avoid all of Pulse but “Medic”, and BtBaM fans should just wait for the band’s new album in April and breathe a sigh of relief that Pulse isn’t a sign of Giles permanently striking out on his own (yet…). The moral of Pulse is to get “Medic”, and we should be thankful that the album yielded an ending as happy as that.