Proper Expectations : Colony House

To say that I latched onto the band Colony House rather quickly might be a bit of an understatement. They first came into my life because half of the band are the sons of Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman, and I’m the kind of person that notices familial connections, like knowing that Joe Montana’s sons were both highly unsuccessful college quarterbacks or Elizabeth Olsen actually turned out to be the only Olsen sibling with even a semblance of acting talent. Colony House was originally known as Caleb—the first name of the eldest Chapman son and lead singer of the band—but became Colony House in 2013, likely to draw attention away from Caleb himself and not to confuse the band as a solo project. In the same way, although their music introduces decidedly Christian themes, the band seems to have intentionally kept themselves at arm’s length from the Christian music scene, expecting—and quite likely correctly—that being SCC’s sons would color their success, for better or for worse.

Their debut LP was a long time in the making. As Caleb, they self released three EPs: Caleb EP in 2005, Trouble in 2010 and 2011’s To The Ends of the World—before changing monikers a few years later, all the while attempting to make a name for themselves. The name change didn’t immediately bring more music, however, and it wasn’t until the summer of 2014 that When I Was Younger was released via Descendant Records, a small independent label based on New York. The album didn’t make much of a dent in the music community as a whole, peaking in its one week on the Billboard Top 200 at 154 (although it got to #3 on the Heatseekers chart and #34 for independent albums). For me, though, numbers aren’t really all that important: I knew from the first moment of the first song, “Silhouettes,” that I had found one of my new favorite bands.

I listened to When I Was Younger a lot through the rest of 2014. The album’s title suggests some sense of nostalgia, which is odd for a band made up of guys in their early-to-mid twenties, but really locks into themes of loss and redemption that suggests wisdom more developed than Caleb Chapman’s years might otherwise lead you to believe. He’s thoughtful and careful with his lyrics, and his vocal delivery resembles his father’s in some ways, but also shows a talented young man who knows the value of creating his own art. So there’s a gnarlier, gutsier quality to his voice, something his father never had the flexibility within his genre to dig into. For the more spacious, chunkier indie rock that Colony House specializes in, Caleb’s delivery works effectively; however, I’d argue that it is his brother, drummer Will, that is the core of what makes Colony House tick. Yes, this seems obvious in a lot of ways, but Will’s drumming is technical, but never alienating, allowing the band to dip their toes into various rock-infused sub-genres, and all the while producing songs that are catchy, as well as deceptively complicated (not to mention that he is an almost-show-stealing riot to watch on stage, but more on that later).

The sprawl of the album speaks of a band that understands album creation. The record ebbs and flows gorgeously, creating space and atmosphere throughout. No two songs sound the same, but the themes are evident from start to finish, especially in the closing few tracks, starting with the jubilant and thought-provoking “Moving Forward,” moving through the pulsing beat of “Glorious,” and into the triumphant realizations of “Lose Control,” the album’s gorgeous closing song, which also happens to feature a line that became my third and most recent tattoo. So yes, this band and this album are literally inked into me.

So calling my anticipation for the band’s follow up album high would be putting it lightly. The new album, Only the Lonely, was announced via Facebook in mid-June 2016 with a September 16 release date, followed quickly by lead single, “You Know It,” a dancey, pop-infused rock-n-roll song that sounded more at home with Buddy Holly than When I Was Younger. The second single came soon after, in late-July, in the form of “You and I,” a bouncy indie rock number from the album, that proved to be a closer cousin to the band’s previous record. The band set up a listening party in August of that year—a month before the release date—and continued to tour throughout the end of the year, in anticipation, I’d guess, for the album’s drop date. Then on August 31, the band posted on Facebook that the album would be delayed until early 2017, mostly, they claimed, to spend more time on marketing and gaining steam for the release. The album did finally come out on January 13, 2017, and the band let loose two more songs to tide people over, “Lonely” and “This Beautiful Life.”

New album listens are always complicated for me, and the emotions of that are highly dependent on my level of connection to the band. For example, the week before Colony House’s album came out, British rockers You Me At Six released its fifth album Night People. I’d enjoyed the band’s previous effort, 2014’s Cavalier Youth, as their brand of high energy indie rock appeals to my musical aesthetics, but I hadn’t spent enough time with the record to feel invested in it. I came into Night People, then, with limited expectations; and, by and large, the album feels very much in line with what I expected. That was an easy record to listen to, add to the list of albums for 2017 and move on from. I wasn’t grabbed by it, and part of that is because I wasn’t expecting to, and the other part was because You Me At Six, as solid a band as they are, isn’t in my upper echelon of musical artists. Colony House is up there, which immediately shoved the first listen of Only the Lonely into an unenviable position: expectations were so high, it almost couldn’t help but fall short. And yet I hit play on the album while driving to work the morning of January 13, and hoped I would be wrong.

“Cannot Do This Alone,” the album’s opening track, actually kicked things off rather well. It’s atmospheric and high energy, with thoughtful lyrics and a driving drum beat; in other words, it’s all the best stuff from Younger in a slightly more lo-fi (a charming feature of the album, I’d later come to realize) package. And then, at least on the first go-round, the trouble started. “1234” felt a little cheesy for my tastes, especially since it’s at least the third song in the last decade or so that I can remember using that title (Feist had a song by that name on her 2007 album The Reminder, while the Plain White T’s’ song of the same name—but with commas!—came out a year later). And while “Lonely” dragged me back in, the odd rhythms of “You and I” and the lyrics of “Where Your Father’s Been” pushed me out again. “You Know It” was fine, “3:20” felt gimmicky, “Was It Me” and “I Want It All” too similar to the lead single, until finally the final three tracks grabbed me and took me to the finish line, as each “Follow Me Down,” “Remembered For,” and “This Beautiful Life” each felt unique and engaging.

This was what I had feared.

My deep connection to When I Was Younger and my atmospheric expectations have made it impossible for me to fully appreciate the follow-up. Maybe I wouldn’t say it out loud, but I wanted a sequel to Younger, not a new album, and when I didn’t get that, I felt disappointed and unsure as to whether I could continue to count the band amongst my favorites.

But I refused to give up on the record, and two things happened to fuel my increasing affection for the album. First, I pushed on past the initial listen and tried to open up my mind to the band’s new sound. It wasn’t as jarring as I first thought, as if my rising disappointment covered my ears up and wouldn’t allow me to notice important nuances, and before long, I found myself singing or humming along to the melodies—which by and large are intensely catchy—a surefire sign that an album is starting to take hold in my brain. The second important thing was the band’s posting of live videos of themselves playing songs like “You Know It” and “You and I,” which allowed me to look past some of the sonic choices that didn’t work for me (initially, the intentional lo-fi quality of the production fit in here) and see a band that really believes in these songs. These, combined with my buying tickets to see them play at the Underground in Charlotte in early March, pushed me forward with the album, and now I feel like I can make a more honest assessment of the record as a work of art, one that isn’t entirely swayed by my emotions.

Only the Lonely is, in fact, a pretty good rock album. It harkens back to the original days of rock and roll, sounding more like the 1950’s than 2017 for much of its run time, while still retaining some of the elements from Younger that work so well. This makes the album as a whole, at least for me, a little uneven, even if most of the songs end up working well on their own. It’s pretty easy to divide the record into older sound Colony House (“Cannot Do This Alone,” “Lonely,” “3:20,” segue tune “This Road” and the final three tracks) and newer sound (the rest of the record), and the sounds bounce back and forth a little too often for the entire record to succeed to the level that the debut did. It is worth noting that the lyrics begin to hold up more with each listen, even though the old “you have your whole life to write your first album, and 2 years to write the second” adage holds true in a lot of ways, as themes like road loneliness, pressure to succeed and camaraderie are pretty prevalent throughout the album. There is still emotion there, but the compactness of the time frame for said emotions makes them not as deeply rooted as Younger’s. Yes, some of this is still pigeon-holing the band a little bit, but it also seems to me to be a fair assessment of where they are, now two albums into what will hopefully be a long career.

The live show was the final notice for me to pay attention more to Lonely more as the year continues, though. For the record, this is an outstanding live band, and their first headlining tour allowed them to up the production value a little more, even though their skills and tightness as a band continues to be the focal point. The tour, dubbed the Only the Lonely Tour, featured the new record pretty heavily, a strange yet understandable move (see the set list below), which allowed me to appreciate the songs at their best. Most importantly, however, the show cemented them as one of my favorite bands, one that I will always spend time with and dig deeply into their albums, no matter how thrown off I may be by the initial listen. This is a talented band, and if you haven’t already, give both of their albums a few spins. It’s well worth the time.

Colony House, Only the Lonely Tour, Set List

Cannot Do This Alone
1234
Was it Me?
Caught Me By Surprise
You & I
Follow Me Down
Remembered For
I Want It All
This Beautiful Life
Lonely
3:20 (timed exactly)
Moving Forward (acoustic)
Waiting For My Time to Come
Silhouettes
2:20
You Know It

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