Noise Ratio springs from the soul of a sole individual stalking the mountains of West Virginia who goes by the name of Jeff Valput.
While he has been recording and developing for years, “Songs on Fire” is his first full release featuring fully fleshed out song ideas with complete arrangements and vocals. Past efforts have included a lot of instrumental work which shows in the often complex keyboards which lend to atmospheric layers. Considering Valput proudly acknowledges his lack of musical training and inability to read music, it is notable that his primary tool for creating these moody songs of self inspection are the piano/synth, backed by competent drumming.
Most of the numbers on this release revolve around the interplay of keys, drums, and Valput’s consistently monotone vocals. His lyrics are vulnerable and exposed, but often suffer from a forced sense of punctuating on the rhythm’s count and an unnecessary adherence to rhyme schemes. The opening track, “Freed Love” displays this approach that carries through most of this release.
The second track, “Trial and Error” is also stuck in this accent on the downbeat vocals. The somber quality mixed with some synth for flavor has a certain endearing quality due to his capable writing and choice of lyrics. For an self-taught musician, the drums are constructed with some risk taking and do make the track stronger for the effort. The video is visually similar to the opening track (utilizing a paper-cut out type flash looking aesthetic… also created by Valput?)
“Keeping Silent” is the third track and shows Valput pushing for a stronger, more sweeping sense of vocal arrangement and is a much needed departure from the singular, more spoken/sung approach to vocals he typically employs. Dark, and brooding… it is a highlight of this album and the melodies he strains to reach only increase the level of interest the song achieves.
“Left Alone With My Beliefs” showcases how well Jeff Valput can play the piano. It is surely the strength and foundation upon which Noise Ratio constructs these confessions wrapped into songs. I’m not sure if the drums are programmed, or captured live (they have a punctuating uniformity that suggests they are electronically produced) but they are put together in a non-traditional approach that does much to counter-play the main keyboard lines, creating movements and tension in these numbers.
People like to have comparisons to other bands to help categorize and place music into boxes that are easy to understand. That task is troublesome when trying to find valid lines from Noise Ratio to other artists. The more synth based numbers pull on a Depeche Mode or early Ministry influences, while the songs that feature a more natural piano strike with a Ben Folds Five nod, minus the whimsy. Witness “Cage of Emotion” that opens with a cinematic stomp backed by a more melodically ranged vocal line. In these moments when Valput pushes his singing out of his comfort zone. the effect is endearing. When his voice rises to the level of his musical creations, the end result becomes the strongest tracks on this album.
“Falling Behind Time” slips back into Valput’s tendency to place words on the downbeat. It’s what I would suspect a drummer might find themselves getting stuck in… delivering the words almost as if they were part of the percussion. It’s a fairly unique approach, but might be the line that is drawn where people will either embrace this or give it a pass.
“Free Falling” starts with an eerie swing, with dour, dragging vocals. Again, these are Noise Ratio’s more robust moments, when Valput swoons on his words, draping them over some kind of melody backed with chance taking beats and interesting synth sounds.
The 10 songs that comprise “Songs on Fire” do show a solid consistency throughout the release that captures the hard to compare musical work of Jeff Valput. Being original in this world is a noteworthy accomplishment no matter where it falls on one’s personal like-ability scale. Noise Ratio is original. If one struggles to find a direct musical comparison, then proper credit and respect should be shown, as the feat is rarely accomplished in today’s landscape where things tend to reflect and replicate the more successful trends until they all become indistinguishable from one another. Noise Ratio is its own melancholy monster, wading through punctuated vocals that soar through ascending keyboards and percussive sections that define each track with a sense of self exposing confession coming from deep within Jeff Valput. Notably original. Bravo.
To listen to more Noise Ratio and show some support, check his band camp site: Noise Ratio Bandcamp.