Personnel: Casey Crescenzo (vocals, guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, organ, synthesizer, percussion, programming); Judy Crescenzo, Tivoli Breckenridge (vocals); Max Tousseau (guitar, acoustic guitar); Rob Parr (guitar, organ); Liza Wallace (harp); Laura Shifley, Ann Eastman, Shaina Evoniuk, Christopher Liao, Moses Lei, Lucy Giraldo, Ishtar Hernandez, Steve Tjoa (violin); Alice Eastman, Christina Lesicko, Christina Owens (viola); Freya Seeburger, Cindy Hickox, Sam Leachman, Karen Suga (cello); Arturo Rodriguez (flute, piccolo); Jenny Hanson, Deborah Yates (flute); Carolyn Walter, James Pytko (clarinet); Ashley Ertz, Sue Crum (oboe); Kris King (bassoon, contrabassoon); Scott Alexander (bassoon); Justin Smith (trumpet, piccolo trumpet); Michael Cox, Harlow Carpenter (trumpet); Allison Gomer, Bruce Colman (trombone); Jeremy Carrillo (bass trombone); Robinson Love (tuba); Nick Carnes, Heidi Trefethen, Jon Betts, Phil Hobson (horns); Nick Sollecito (synthesizer, upright bass); Alex Van Gils , Amanda Wu, Travis Kindred (double bass); Nick Crescenzo (drums, percussion); Lily Sevier (timpani, percussion).
Audio Mixer: Mike Watts .
Recording information: Port Angeles, WA.
Editor: Brian Adam McCune.
Numerous superlatives apply to the craft that the Dear Hunter's Casey Crescenzo has perfected on his ambitious six-part Acts series. On penultimate installment Act V: Hymns with the Devil in Confessional, Crescenzo continues the epic story of the titular character (aka "The Boy") that ominously ended in Act IV with the protagonist at the mercy of the main antagonist, the Priest/Pimp. The narrative remains dense and there's a lot to unpack (multiple callbacks to early motifs and melodies abound), but ultimately, it's a rich experience for those willing to take the plunge. For outsiders, this may seem daunting, but fortunately, the music is as rewarding as the complex events layered within, with tastes of Sufjan Stevens, Radiohead, Arcade Fire, and Silverchair providing just a few reference points. Recorded in tandem with 2015's Act IV, Hymns is the darker sibling that surpasses its predecessor. While each Act has grown progressively richer and more grandiose -- the prog-core of the first two Acts has long been left behind -- Hymns is the Dear Hunter's strongest overall work, a triumphant marvel of genre-blurring indie rock that reveals more with each successive listen. From the symphonic overture to the full-on embrace of a Broadway-esque interlude (a duet with Gruvis Malt's Gavin Castleton on "The Haves Have Naught"), listeners can almost "see" the production unfold. Picking up with the Boy now an elected city official whose goal is to clean the city of vice and sin, Hymns' first third is a sweeping and dramatic ride, from the breathtaking "The Moon/Awake" and the gunslinging "The Most Cursed of Hands/Who Am I?" to the swinging "The Revival" and album highlight "Cascade," a parallel to the best song on Act IV, "Waves." The middle third provides the dramatic arc, introducing shadowy new figure, Mr. Usher, with Crescenzo's best Michael Bubl? -- via The Nightmare Before Christmas' jazzy "Oogie Boogie's Song" -- impression. The Boy's plan for civic cleansing culminates in the final third, when the running theme of fire and flame return on "The Flame (Is Gone)" and "The Fire (Remains)." Indicative of Crescenzo's sheer talent, closing track "A Beginning" is a major goosebump moment. With the Boy's fate uncertain at the hands of an angry mob, the orchestra fades out. Then, a slight heartbeat can be heard. Slowly sparking back to life, Hymns closes on a hopeful note, hinting at a symbolic resurrection on the eventual final Act VI. There is no shortage of drama and emotion on Act V, especially for those who have enjoyed this decade-long ride with Crescenzo. For those new to the project, this is a fine point to enter the world of the Dear Hunter. Like any well-written saga -- whether onscreen or on paper -- the richness unveils itself with patience and an open mind. The Acts are completely worth the time and effort, with Act V the strongest and best yet. ~ Neil Z. Yeung