If the Dear Hunter's music doesn't sound quite like anyone else's, blame it on bandleader Casey Crescenzo's parents.
"We were around music from birth," says the experimental rock band's burly frontman, whose father worked as a studio engineer and mother sang on Rick James and Michael McDonald albums. "It was like being bilingual in my family. My brother and I picked up on it from such an early age that it just felt comfortable, like it was another language for us."
So while other kids were sneaking out to parties and listening to Limp Bizkit, Crescenzo was hanging out in his parents' home studio and immersing himself in Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder and Weather Report.
Crescenzo's own musical voice didn't fully emerge until he formed the Dear Hunter. Prior to that, he played in the Receiving End of Sirens, a generally less interesting Boston band with a more collective songwriting approach.
"The last band I was in was a group of five people writing together," says Crescenzo. "So the more grandiose things that I tend to write — I think that just comes out so much more in this music."
Earlier this year, Dear Hunter released Act III: Life and Death, an ambitious album that's musically all over the map. In a single track, the band moves from Beach Boy harmonies to Radiohead keening, then strays off into mutant cabaret passages that sound like Kurt Weill composing for the later, more orchestrated Pink Floyd.
Crescenzo also has a particular affinity for suspended seventh chords: "I like things not necessarily resolving, kind of hanging just for a moment longer. It gives that little bit of discomfort that makes the resolution that much more comforting."
Conceptually, the album continues a story that began with the release of Act I: The Lake South, The River North in September 2006, four months after Crescenzo had left his previous band.
"The basic idea behind all of the records — there'll be six in total — is telling the story of this fictional character from birth to death and everything in between. A person could hypothetically go through an infinite number of situations in their life, so it allowed me to write about anything and everything that I felt like writing about, without having to take the approach of it just being about me."
While previous albums dealt with childhood upbringing and adolescent love, the new album sends Crescenzo's doppelganger off to war: "It kind of contorts who this character is, takes him from the place he was and makes him a little more twisted."
Having performed these songs for a wide range of occasionally unsuspecting listeners — from scene kids to metalheads — the band now spends less time tailoring its music to any given audience.
"There are definitely nights when you can tell people want us to get off stage, but then it's made up for by the nights when you really feel like you've won a crowd over," says Crescenzo. "We've gotten into the mindset that it's more beneficial to be completely yourself and pull away from the show maybe 20 or 30 people who are going to love your band, than it is to tailor yourself and pull away 60 people who like the band you were that night."