Hitfix goes into the studio with Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda for ‘Living Things’

While making its new album, “Living Things,” Linkin Park”s Mike Shinoda says, “it almost felt like a drug trip.”

Shinoda played six new songs from the set, out June 26,  for Hitfix and a handful of other bloggers in a North Hollywood studio a few days ago. He further prefaced the listening session by adding, “We realized we”d run away from the things we started with.” But instead of returning to the sound of its first album, 2000″s “Hybrid Theory,”  Linkin Park, along with producer Rick Rubin (who co-produced with Shinoda), sought to bring out the best of the band”s rock and rap  mix  and pour in new sounds to create something else.

[More after the jump…]

 “We were looking to redefine everything.” Shinoda said, as he deliberated over which and how many songs to play. After a little deliberation, Shinoda decided that he wanted us to hear the album”s first four songs in order since they set the tone of the album: “You”re going to go on a little journey… There”s a very specific vibe,” he said. Then he picked two other tracks that seemed to best  represent some of the experimentation the band tried in the studio.

Album opener, “Lost In the Echo” starts big and stays big, instead of LP”s tried-and-true pattern of beginning quietly then exploding into cacophony.  Shinoda raps from the start , then vocalist Chester Bennington comes in, his vocals surrounded by echo on the propulsive track. The song signals, as Shinado pointed out at the end, that as much as the band was looking forward, it also took some of its cues from the ’80s. Lyrically, the theme the pervades the song– and the album–is a sense of disillusion and disappointment. “These promised are broken, defeated. Each word gets lost in the echo,” Bennington sings.

On second tune “In My Remains,” Bennington sings of fear and pain over an electronic, aggressive, full sonic landscape; discordant and clangy. It shifts to a precise, military rat-a-tat as Bennington sings “Like an Army falling, one by one.” He repeats the phrase as the tension builds and Rob Bourdon”s drumming propels everything into lockstep.
“In My Remains”

We won”t spend too much time on “Burn It Down,” since that”s the first single that you”re already hearing for yourself. But let”s just say that we can”t wait to hear some dance remixes on that song.

The next track, “Lies, Greed & Misery,” was the most innovative and captivating we heard of the six. Opening with Shinoda rapping over percolating synths and stutter steps, the song sounds like Linkin Park crossed with Skrillex crossed with M.I.A. A jagged, fuzzy keyboard bridge gives way to Bennington chanting “You Did It To Yourself,” before he starts screaming the line over and over in a hypnotic frenzy.

“Until It Breaks” starts with Shinoda rapping over a swaggering beat, surrounded by beats coming at him from all angles. The song shifts into a Kanye West-like rap thump into real instruments-strings, keys-under Bennington”s vocal as he prays for the “strength of the rising sun.” The ambient sonics grew louder and stronger as the voices succumbed to the machines. 

Along with “Lies,” “Castle Of Glass” felt like the biggest game-changer. Over an almost alternative country melody, Bennington sings “Take me down to the river bank… wash the poison off my skin…show me how to be whole again.”  It”s one of the most straight forward tunes that the band has done with a traditional song structure. Bennington and Shinoda sing together as their voices, and desperation, rise, “I”m only a crack in this castle of glass.”

Afterwards, Shinoda referenced both Swedish hardcore band Refused and industrial group Ministry as reference points and elements of both are easily spotted in the tunes. In the songs we heard, it was clear the band wanted to take certain sonic sounds and turn them on their head, distort them and tear them apart.

“We”re experimenting with new tools,” Shinoda said.  “We wouldn”t have been able to do this five years ago.”

Linkin Park will co-headline the Honda Civic Tour with Incubus, and support act Mutemath, starting Aug. 11 at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Va.

Follow Melinda Newman on Twitter @HitfixMelinda