Review: “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)”

Note: This review contains some minor spoilers.

There’s a scene late in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) where Danny Meyerowitz, played by Adam Sandler, overwhelmed by a sense of being a forgotten eldest son, picks up a plate of perfectly good cookies and smashes it onto the ground. The camera stays with Sandler, whose face is a muted version of his early career go-to look, that wild rage more familiar to fans of Happy Gilmore or Billy Madison than Noah Baumbach, a filmmaker well-known for creating movies built upon family dysfunction than angry hockey-players-turned-golfers. Yet Sandler never allows the rage to turn into caricature, instead it feels like the pay-off to what’s been building since the beginning of the film, which begins with Danny trying to park his car on a busy block in New York City, before giving into his daughter’s request that they “garage it.”

Baumbach, like PT Anderson (Punch Drunk Love) and Mike Binder (Reign Over Me)and to a lesser extent Judd Apatow–before him, understands that part of what made those early Sandler roles funny is because there really are people who rage the way Happy or Billy do, but that common courtesy and tact force most of those people to allow the emotions to boil under the surface, only to see them explode without warning and with little regard for how they come across. The plate tossing incident is handled by Sandler with the grace of an actor you wouldn’t expect if you hadn’t seen some of his aforementioned work (along with Spanglish, another in his mid-career “serious” roles); if you have, then you know that what you’re seeing is some of Sandler’s strongest roles to date.

The film overall also happens to be some of Baumbach’s most approachable. His earlier works, like 2005’s The Squid and the Whale, 2007’s Margot at the Wedding and 2010’s Greenberg, generally felt claustrophobic and uncomfortable, a little too honed in for their own good. They also relished in the fact that their main characters were flawed, and this often seemed to be the only thing the writer/director cared much about. The inclusion of Greta Gerwig into his community of actors and collaborators with 2012’s Frances Ha turned the corner on things, as he allow himself to still dabble in the flaws of his characters, but also introduced a little reality into the proceedings, a little humor, a little more believable humanity. He followed that up with 2014’s While We’re Young, which possessed a kinetic energy previously unseen in a Baumbach film, mostly because of the zany performances of Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried, all the while retaining the filmmaker’s signature characters and a dose of honesty.

Meyerowitz follows very much in Young‘s footsteps, although the comedy is more controlled, more rooted in anger and despair than the latter’s manic discontent with life, although that, a staple of Baumbach’s movies, still lingers on the surface of the interactions between the members of the Meyerowitz family, which includes Sandler’s Danny, Ben Stiller’s half-brother Matthew, Elizabeth Marvel’s Jean, Dustin Hoffman’s patriarch Harold and his fourth wife, Emma Thompson’s Maureen. In some ways, then, this film (a Netflix original, by the way, a first for Baumbach) serves as a bridge between the outright melancholy of the director’s earliest works and the lunacy of his last few. It does dip into sadness, especially during the latter part of the film where Hoffman’s Harold ends up in the hospital (via a really well-orchestrated build up by the script), which forces all the anger and disconnection felt by the adult children to come to a head in the form of the movie’s only too-silly moment (things come to literal fisticuffs, and it feels a little forced). The scenes that follow that misstep, however, more than make up for it, as both Stiller and Sandler are given opportunities to further develop the complicated arcs of their characters.

To be sure, this is an actor’s film, and Baumbach has casted it well. The development of the main core of characters is generally strong (although Thompson’s Maureen has both the least to do and the least depth of character), and the pressure felt by each of the children to be something that none of them felt capable of being is palpable; they are each a disappointment to their absent father, who seems unable to even remember which of his kids was present during one of the creation of a much-discussed sculpture, named for his second son, that maybe didn’t involve Matthew at all (this slight twist is both well handled by Hoffman and Stiller in a scene near the end and not over-played by Baumbach, whose direction is good throughout). This realization is one of the film’s many winning moves.

The film has another quirk, one which pays off, so to speak, at the end. The editing often cuts off dialogue mid-sentence, as if the director is too impatient to see the scene through. But I don’t think it’s that simple. To me, this feels like how this family interacts with each other; nobody sticks around long enough to see how their choices impact the rest of the family, either because they don’t care or because they don’t want to deal with what they expect the consequences to be. Stiller’s Matthew moved to LA long before the movie begins, and has been married to a woman his family has never met and has a child in the same situation. Danny is separated and nearing divorce from his wife at the same time his daughter is leaving for college (the film makes it clear this was on purpose), leaving him homeless and living with his father in a house that was never his. Jean, the enigma of enigmas, feels like the least important of the trio, but later admits a secret from her childhood and that her desire to be a good person keeps her coming back  for her deadbeat father in spite the fact that he wasn’t ever there for her. These are people who’ve lost patience for one another, and yet, the film presents characters looking for redemption through one another, especially once it’s clear there’s little hope for their relationships with their father.

The ending is likely to be divisive. It follows the trend set up by much of the rest of the movie, closing the scene without much explanation. In the scene, Eliza, Danny’s daughter, walks through a warehouse at her university, where her grandfather taught art and recently had his sculptures showcased, only to be led to a single crate marked with his name, and the screen immediately fades to black instead of lingering on the shot. My wife, for one, thought the ending felt incomplete (she said she liked the movie “up until the ending”), but I’ve got the opposite viewpoint: the ending felt just right for the movie. Rather than forcing the viewer to see the end in one particular way, Baumbach’s choice feels akin to the end of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, where the audience is left wondering if the top falls or not. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)‘s ending suggests what the title tells us from the outset: there is more to this story than what this film shows us. What Eliza finds there is up to our imagination, as is what comes of the rest of the relationships in the film. There’s a hopefulness to this that isn’t always present in Baumbach’s films, and it’s refreshing, especially since the actors created such real and likable people; you want them to get better, and the open-ended nature of the film’s final scene gives you hope that maybe they will.

10 Year Recall: Motion City Soundtrack’s Even If It Kills Me

Even If It Kills Me is Motion City Soundtrack’s best album.

That deserves to be said first and foremost here; and frankly, it’s a little controversial. Sure, it’s not high level controversy (read: not gun control or politics or what have you), but amongst fans of the band, there is little consensus about which album is the band’s best. As is often the case, there’s a contingency of people who still believe that the band’s debut, 2003’s I Am the Movie, it of non-stop wit and rapid fire pop culture references, is the highlight of their career. And while the album is certainly in the conversation, I think it’s backward thinking to say that the band released an album in 2003 and never got any better, in spite releasing five more LPs over the course of the following 12 years. The follow-up, 2005’s Commit This to Memory, is likely the album most cited by MCS fans, and it’s probably the band’s most successful and recognized album (ask anyone who was alive and aware of music during in 2005 if they now a Motion City Soundtrack song, and I can almost guarantee that song is “Everything Is Alright” off CTTM). This is probably the second-best answer (although sleeper options are both the band’s last two records, 2012’s Go and 2015’s swan song Panic Stations, or in other words, anything except the too-goofy-even-for-MCS My Dinosaur Life).

Still, in spite all arguments against it, I still hold EIIKM in the highest esteem, and I believe it’s mostly because it is the most complete record in the band’s catalog. It does feature some of its best individual songs (“This Is For Real,” “Last Night” and the title track among others), but the cohesiveness of the album is what makes it the band’s best. Other records struggle from the sort of ADD-like focus you’d expect from noted scatterbrain (and lead singer) Justin Pierre (mostly lyrically, although essentially all their albums have a sonic space they fit in best), but the band’s third album feels the most linear, the most thought through from start to finish. And while I’d hesitate to call it a concept album in the traditional sense, there is a narrative thread that flows through the entire record, a singular focus that weaves in and out of the first 12 tracks, culminating beautiful in the gorgeous and thoughtful title track.

Both I Am the Movie and Commit This to Memory are, by Pierre’s own admittance, albums dripping in self-destruction, mostly because that’s where Pierre was during the writing of both albums. Memory in particular is shrouded in duality, as the band has made it clear that half the record was written while Pierre was still a functioning alcoholic, while the other game during his treatment, giving the second half a more hopeful outlook on life. To be sure, that album possesses some of the band’s best songs (“Everything Is Alright,” “Hangman” and album closer, and maybe best MCS song ever, “Hold Me Down”), but the lack of cohesion holds it back from feeling like the most complete and best MCS record.

Motion City’s third record also feels the most mature sounding record (or at least it was to that point, as I’d argue that Panic Stations feels like the largest departure sonically), as they play with song structures a little more and the flow of the record sounds a little more thought through, possibly because of the narrative ties. Pierre is in a better head space, too, which gives the record a slightly more optimistic tone, although Pierre can’t help but give into his baser instincts from time to time (“Broken Heart,” for example, while sonically connected to the record, sounds more lyrically akin to previous records). Even those moments feel less negative, more “I can pull out of the muck” than “This is my lot,” and this new perspective grants the entirety of the album a greater weight.

There are two interesting things that happened during this period of MCS’ history, which I’m including as the 4 1/2 years between the release of Commit This To Memory and My Dinosaur Life. The first was that the hits of Memory led to increasing popularity for the band and they set new highs for Billboard 200 peaks with each successive record during this time (16 for EIIKM and 15 for MDL). This is interesting because in many ways, Dinosaur is a return to the sound and silliness of the band’s earlier albums, which would have led me to believe that Even If It Kills Me was some sort of financial failure, but this wasn’t the case in the least. The second was that the move from indie label Epitaph to major label Columbia after EIIKM barely moved the needle on the success of Dinosaur, which again is a strange backwards move by a band that had just hit an artistic high for album number three. The band would only get the one album on Columbia, and their last two albums peaked at #46 and #141 respectively.

I say all this because it just truly shows the rather bizarre career of Motion City Soundtrack. They are a polarizing band in a lot of ways, at least in terms of which album is considered their best work, but for my money, the now-10-year-old Even If It Kills Me will always be the band’s artistic masterpiece, as challenging and moving an album the band ever made.

Brand New’s “Science Fiction” and the Art of Waiting

Three days ago–Tuesday August 15, 2017 to be exact–Long Islander indie rockers Brand New posted to the band’s Twitter account:

To call this a shock would be an understatement. The band, notoriously fickle about releasing new music, hadn’t released a proper LP since 2009’s Daisy, a decidedly ambitious, but, upon further examination, overly chaotic album that came three years after their critically acclaimed tour-de-force The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. Now, nearly 8 years exactly since Daisy‘s release, the band suddenly dropped the new record, Science Fiction, in a manner only Brand New could get away with. The aforementioned tweet was followed by news that fans were receiving CD copies of the full album, strung out on one track, just two days after the minuscule pre-order went live (and sold out within minutes); the next day (or as I like to call it, today), the band announced a proper pre-order, including a less-limited-edition vinyl, CD or digital download option, the former two featuring an email with an immediate download of the entire record.

So for those keeping up at home: within three days, fans of the band went from not know when–or if–we’d ever see a new full length of Brand New songs, to essentially having the record ready for mass consumption. To top it off, it seems like the band is either not seeing the multiple uploads of the record to YouTube or sees this as a “no press is bad press” type of situation. Considering the fervor with which most Brand New fans swallow up any new material at all and continue to support the band in spite of its insistence on being as aloof as possible, this seems like a well-calculated move on the band’s part.

Even stranger still (as if that’s possible at this point with this band), what little music we’ve seen from them in the past few years now appear to be one-off singles, as the track list of Science Fiction includes neither “I Am A Nightmare,” a 2016 single, nor “Mene” or “Out of Range,” which were released together as a single in 2015. Even more importantly, the surprise, initially tape-only release of leaked demos from the Devil and God sessions aren’t here either. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this album, at least upon initial examination, is meant to be a fully new entity, a move that will no doubt make the throngs of fans even more ecstatic than they would be otherwise (which, for the record, is probably also quite a large amount).

The entire situation brings up an intriguing topic for conversation: what is it that allows a band to get away with something like this in the first place? If most bands disappeared for almost a decade with little more than three songs to tide fans over, I feel confident that the majority of fans would give up on them. If nothing else, the fanbase would diminish quite noticeably. Yet, in the case of Brand New, the rules, as they often appear not to, don’t seem to apply here.

Take, as another example, another well-known band of the early emo scene, acoustic outfit turned radio rock band Dashboard Confessional. I just saw Chris Carrabba’s band the other night in Charlotte, for what was actually the second time since last summer. The thing is, Dashboard’s last album was Alter the Ending, released in, you guessed it, 2009, the same year as the last Brand New album up until now. In his defense, Carrabba has been busy doing other things, including recording and releasing a new record with his old band, Further Seems Forever, in 2012, and doing some light touring on that album, but still, he was able to draw a pretty sizable crowd to come watch he and his band play music (along with openers The All-American Rejects, themselves still basically touring on a 5-year old album, save for a recently released 2-song EP, but let’s be honest, this band is still making a living off songs from 2005, but that’s another story). But Dashboard probably played more shows for this tour–in support of essentially nothing, mind you–than Brand New has in the last five years (just a conjecture), making the entire conundrum even more bizarre.

And yet here we are, finally staring a new Brand New album in the face. It’s one of those musical moments I honestly believed was going to happen. I was beginning to believe they were content to release a song or two a year until they finally called it quits for good (something the band seems to be threatening, if you believe the “2000-2018” t-shirts they released last summer or anything that Jesse Lacey says from stage). The band’s timeline, however, leads me to wonder why they’d even bother. Clearly, unlike most bands outside of the likes of stalwarts like U2, Radiohead, and others of their ilk, Brand New possesses staying power that I’m sure most recording artists would thrilled to have. In other words, I’m not sure why calling it quits is even a thing they’d ever need to do, if all they need to do is occasionally release new music and tour in short spurts to satiate fans.

Maybe the band is getting tired of the waiting, too. As artists, I can’t imagine it was easy to keep watching each year pass by without being able to satisfy not only themselves but their fans. My guess is that part of the delay had to do with Lacey and company not feeling they had something worth putting out; and that as months turned into years and those years almost became a decade, the pressure mounted even further. What’s worse than keeping fans waiting? Releasing something after all the waiting that ultimately disappoints.

Ultimately, that is the good news in all this: the record is pretty good. It’s a building, nuanced album in ways that Daisy, an album characterized by its noise and chaos, struggled to be, and even harkens back to the band’s 2003 breakout LP, Deja Entendu, in ways that will make longterm fans quite happy. The emotions are still high, but Lacey isn’t forced to scream over the wall of sound like he has been of late, as the band allows for the softer moments to shine, something they seemed afraid to do on Daisy. The middle section of the album, especially the one-two punch of “Same Logic/Teeth” and “137,” and moving through to “Out of Mana” and “In the Water,” are some of the band’s strongest work to date. Time will tell how well the record holds up against Deja or The Devil and God, generally considered the band’s best work, and at an hour in length, re-playability might be an issue for Science Fiction; but this is clearly a band that knows what it wanted to do and simply did it. The album is strange and thoughtful, exactly what you’d expect a Brand New record to be.

And if this is indeed the band’s swan song, at least we can be certain they went out on their terms. And that’s always better than fading away into nothing.

Show Review: The Classic Crime, Matt & Toby and Civilian

First, let me apologize for my long absence. I was finishing up my semester and traveling a lot of late, so I’ve found little time to sit down and write. This is to my own detriment, so I’m glad to be back. A few other notes to get us started:

  • I was in Illinois just outside of Chicago recently, visiting E’s family, and we had a day in the city, including a trip to a really chilly Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play the San Francisco Giants. What an amazing place to watch baseball, and I hope to return regularly when we make the trips up north.

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  • Like I said, school is over, which means I’ve got a lot more time on my hands, but there’s SO MUCH wedding stuff to do that it hardly feels like time is free at all.
  • Little L turned 3 yesterday, and so we are bracing ourselves for what I’m told can be a rough year for children. Add onto it all the changes and transitions she’s got approaching, and I’m nervous, but anticipating an exciting journey.
  • I’m another year older since my last post, 33 years old now. My, how time flies.

Okay, now to the main event. E took me to see one of my all-time favorite bands, The Classic Crime, play a show in Atlanta. The band is from Seattle, so they don’t venture East much, let alone to the East Coastal states, so this was a must-see show. I was joined by my buddies Ryan and JP, whose birthday is exactly one day after mine, and it was a full, but fulfilling two days or so.

Having never seen the band live, I was moderately uneasy about making a 4 hour drive just to see them. I’d been burned before by bands that couldn’t cut it live, and I’d walked away wildly disappointed. Fortunately, this was not the case. On top of everything else, E bought us VIP tickets, so we got to meet the band before the show and engage in a Q&A with them as well (although I’m disappointed that I wasted my question on something not so great) and snap a photo with them.

On top of everything else, the show as great almost across the board. The local openers were interesting–a band that couldn’t decided what it wanted to be, pop, rock, screamo, including an UnderOath cover and the jam bandiest of all jam bands, that literally played two songs in twenty minutes–but frankly forgettable.

The show really kicked off with Civilian, the first touring band on the bill, who played a good mixture of songs off their earlier albums and their latest, last year’s You Wouldn’t Believe What Privilege Costs, a moody, thoughtful and overall stellar record that you should check out if you haven’t. I have to admit, though, that something seemed off about their set. I’m not sure if they were having trouble hearing or what the issue was, but the band didn’t feel as tight as the album suggested, although this did improve as the set went along, suggesting that there was an issue with the monitors or something. It also could be that this was the last show of their second tour in a row, and fatigue was setting in pretty heavily. In any respect, the set was good, but ultimately not as strong as I was hoping.

Civilian was followed by Matt & Toby of Emery playing songs from their acoustic driven side-project. The duo’s first album came out in 2012, and the follow-up, the suggestively titled I Quit Church, is set to be released later this year, and the band–with tour manager and friend Aaron Lunsford on drums–worked its way through songs from both records, along with a Katy Perry cover that E hailed as “the only song she knew” for the entire evening. I will say that watching a heavily bearded, 40-year-old man sing about dancing on a table on a Friday night was comical, and Matt & Toby’s familiarity with one another and sense of humor was evident throughout the set. My only real complaint was how their genre sort of brought the energy down a little, since Civilian’s songs fit the flow better, but I fully understand that Matt & Toby are the “bigger” act, hence their getting the “direct” opening slot.

The main event failed to disappoint as well. The band was tight overall, and played songs that spanned almost their entire career (or all if you only look at studio albums), with singer Matt McDonald showing no real signs of vocal fatigue with this being the last stop of the tour. The energy was high throughout, both from the band and the audience, with the small Vinyl club brimming with people, especially near the front (all of our little group, save for mosh pit stalwart JP, stuck to the back, seated around a table…age is just a number, my foot) where the crowd was enraptured from the opening chords. The set list, I’ll admit, was the one downfall of the show. While this was the How To Be Human tour, and I fully expected a healthy dose of new tunes, there frankly wasn’t a lot of other songs to bulk up the set overall, which seemed pretty short for a band that’s 5 albums into a double-digit year career and headlining their own tour. You can likely chalk this up to the show taking place during a weekday (I’m guessing that Atlanta, like Charlotte, has noise ordinances or curfews to keep clubs from being open too late during the week) and the fact that the band just doesn’t tour much these days, meaning they probably had to focus on perfecting a smaller group of songs as opposed to playing more songs not as well (they actually admitted during the Q&A that they forgot how to play some of their songs).

All in all, it was a fantastic trip and a worthy addition to my long list of shows. The club was small, but intimate and well-maintained, so it was a great place to visit. I continue to lament the lack of great show stops that come to Charlotte, but am glad that Atlanta is at least decently close to catch some of these must-see shows. Make sure to check out music from all the artists (listed below).

The Classic Crime Set List

Holy Water*

You and Me Both

Glass Houses

Not Done With You Yet*

The Coldest Heart

Ghost*

Beautiful Darkside

The Precipice

Driftwood*

Cheap Shots

Salt in the Snow

Abracadavers

The Fight

(*indicates a new song from How To Be Human)

10 Year Recall: Emery’s I’m Only A Man

The second installment in my “10 Year Recall” series goes to another one of my all-time favorite bands, Emery. The band hails, at least originally, from South Carolina, although they tend to claim Seattle as their hometown, mostly, I’m guessing because they really got their start there. They were heavy players in the so-called screamo movement in the early-to-mid 2000’s, and were also thrust into the pseudo-Christian music scene, first and foremost because of their albums coming out via Tooth & Nail Records. Most of that is a story for another time, however.

My beginnings with the indie/emo/screamo music movements was recounted in part in the lead up to my previous “10 Year Recall” about Anberlin’s Cities, so I won’t go through the entire ordeal again. In Emery’s case, however, I can tell you the first time I ever heard their music as at the same time I discovered the aforementioned Anberlin. I popped Emery’s debut record, The Weak’s End, into a CD player at a Family Christian Stores location in Virginia Beach, VA while I was home for a summer, and immediately had to rush to turn down the guttural screams and crunching guitars of the record’s first track, the (in my opinion, overrated) Emery classic “Walls.” That record never did much for me, though, but it was the follow-up, 2005’s The Question, that made me pay attention to what Emery was up to (and I still list that record as one of my all-time favorites).

(For the record, I now find a lot to like about The Weak’s End, but generally consider it one of the band’s most generic and weakest–pun intended–records.)

The band’s third studio album came out in October of 2007 in the form of I’m Only A Man, and to call the reception to the record mixed might be kind. The album purposely moved further away from the straight heavy rock of The Weak’s End, choosing to use more keyboards, synths, pads and other instruments new to the band’s sonic palette, to diversify the sound. On the whole, fan reception was just as poor as the critics, and the band’s reaction to all that shines through pretty obviously based on what happened in the subsequent releases, 2008 EP When Broken Hearts Prevail and the connected 2009 LP …In Shallow Seas We Sail, which saw the band returning mostly to something closer to their earlier sound (although if you pay close enough attention, you’ll notice they continued to experiment on those albums, too, and have continued to do so).

I, myself, joined the noise of less-than-enthusiastic reviews (although as you can see from the date, I was several months late to the party):

Emery — I’m Only A Man

Emery’s music has often been polarizing, but their latest effort, I’m Only A Man, will prove to be even more separating than ever. It’s an album of truly great moments (“World Away”), but also one that will leave you unsure of what the band is trying to do (“Rock-N-Rule”). Overall, I can’t seem to totally dismiss the album because of the talent I know this band has. If nothing else, I’m Only A Man is an album that you should experience rather than letting someone else tell you what they think. (Feb 21, 2008)

Okay, so this wasn’t my most insightful journalistic moment, but I do think that dearth of language here is rather telling, even if I couldn’t have explained this to you at the time. The fact of the matter is that I really didn’t know what to do with the record at the time. There were weird buzzing noises in one track (“From Crib to Coffin”), strange vocal parts (the intro to “Don’t Bore Us, Get to the Chorus,” an all-time awful song title, by the way), a song that sounded like they ripped themselves off (try to tell me that opening riff “The Party Song” from Man doesn’t sound almost exactly like the riff from The Question‘s opening song “So Cold I Could See My Breath,” go ahead), and other signs of a band that was clearly trying to do something different. At the time, I wasn’t ready, and it doesn’t seem like hardly anyone else was either.

Hindsight being what it is, I have to say that I’m Only A Man has managed to age rather well. First of all, it proved to be rather prescient, as the synth heavy sounds that Emery hints at throughout this album became–for better or worse–the driving force of hardcore/screamo bands that would follow like Attack Attack! and Sleeping With Sirens, among myriad others that would use the sonic space of I’m Only A Man sets up.

Secondly, the songwriting on this album continues to be, for the most part, rather top-notch, an element of the record that I was quick to overlook ten years ago. Hearing the songs in various formats (especially in more laid back, acoustic versions) helps to highlight the quality of the craftsmanship that Matt Carter, Toby Morrell and Devin Shelton brought to the table in terms of writing musical parts and lyrics. The album seems to borrow thematically from another album, namely Pedro the Lion’s 2002 concept record Control, as the ideas of digging oneself into a hole via sexual misconduct is a prevalent theme on both records. The Emery record, however, looks at the issue from a different perspective, as Morrell and Shelton’s lyrics don’t seem to allow the protagonists of their stories to simply shrug off the consequences of their choices. This is interesting since the album’s title feels like an excuse, but upon further listens, it’s easier to see that the title is simply a statement of fact. The lyrics give credence to that idea, and while there are some repetitive moments (the lyricists get enamored with the album’s title as a lyric, even if there is no “title track,” per se), the storytelling is quite good throughout.

In some cases, however, the criticism is probably warranted. You wonder if the band tried too hard to create something “different” that they lost some focus along the way. Many of the elements of the Emery sound are still there (the screaming and guitar tones, especially), but there is a chance that the change in sound was at least partially due to the departure of the band’s bassist after the release of The Question, leaving Carter to hold down most of the on-stage instrumentation, which would explain the move toward pads and tracks to bolster the live show. That said, many of the experiments do end of working, namely the driving intrigue of the album’s closing track, the aforementioned “From Crib to Coffin.” It is strange, no doubt, but it is also clever and climactic; and although different from Anberlin’s “(*Fin),” it proves a similarly satisfying way to close a record.

In the final evaluation, I’m Only A Man is an important part of Emery’s discography. It showed they were capable of trying new things and pushing themselves not to just recreate what had worked on the album before. It was a daring move, but it produced a solid third record and continues to propel the band forward to this day, as they look to produce their 7th album 10 years later.

10 Year Recall: Anberlin’s Cities

2007 was a pretty outstanding year for music. It was a year where I was starting to launch out on my own musically, having received my own form of musical education throughout college (informal, via a friend who knew more about these things than I did), and also launched (maybe that’s too strong a word) my writing career via a website called Silent Uproar. The site was pretty legitimate, and the guy who ran it had enough connections to get me advanced copies of albums for review, onto guest lists for shows and even an interview with Nick Thomas, lead singer of The Spill Canvas.

It’s 2017 now, and I’ve decided that 2007 was important enough in a musical sense to start a year-long series of posts that I’m affectionately entitling “10 Year Recall.” It also happens that 2007 was the year I packed my bags and headed south, with July marking my 10th year as a resident of the Carolinas, so all in all, it’s safe to say that ten years ago was a turning point in my life.

The goal is to revisit albums that meant something to me back then and review them from my current mindset ten years later. I’ll try, too, to tap into some of what made the album important for me in 2007, bringing the entire exercise as full circle as possible.

One of the cool things about having written for an online publication ten years ago is that it’s easy to find my original thoughts on a lot of these records. So when available, I’ll post my original review, which should give us a good starting point. We’ll begin this series with one of the most important records of 2007 (and one I need a copy of on vinyl, and not just as part of an anthology box set, Tooth & Nail): Anberlin’s Cities.

Anberlin’s third record was released on February 20, 2007 via Tooth & Nail Records, and it was a pretty important release for me. I was still relatively new to the indie music community, and I certainly hadn’t been intrenched in the scene long enough to really anticipate an album release, so Cities was one of the first times I remember knowing an album was coming out and waiting on it to do so with eagerness (save, maybe, for Mae’s The Everglow, which came out in the Spring of 2005, during my final semester of college). I had discovered Anberlin during my initial foray into indie music, back when I was still buying CD’s in stores, a time that was also interesting for me in that I was seeking ways to connect the CCM I’d grown up listening to and my newfound chosen genres. Fortunately for me, anything on labels like Tooth & Nail was still unquestionably stocked at local Christian bookstores, leading me to bands like Anberlin, Emery and The Classic Crime early in my searching.

By the time I discovered them in earnest, Anberlin, a quartet or quintet depending on the year, from Florida, had already released two albums–2003’s Blueprints for the Blackmarket and 2005’s Never Take Friendship Personal–both of which I gobbled up because of their edgier sound and knack for melodic intricacy. Stephen Christian, the band’s lead singer, had a voice unlike any I’d heard before, and the band’s sound, while engaging, stuck to various pop music tropes that didn’t challenge my norm too much.

Then came Cities, an album that I clearly had no issues with lauding from the beginning. This is my Silent Uproar review that was published the week after the album was released:

Anberlin — Cities

They say the third album of a band’s career is often a defining moment. In the case of Tooth & Nail vets Anberlin, this is more than the case. With Cities, the band has released their best and most satisfying work to date. Amazingly, and most impressively, the album manages to be so many things at once. It contains some of the darkest songs the band has ever produced (“Dismantle.Repair.” and lead single “Godspeed”), but at the same time, churns out some of the most beautiful as well (“The Unwinding Cable Car,” “Inevitable,” and awe-inspiring closer “(*Fin)”). That the band has somehow found the line between unrelenting rock and haunting, yet often gorgeous melodies is a true testament to how far they’ve come. They excel at dynamics, too, which gives the record an almost epic feel, most evident in the spectacular “(*Fin).” To put it bluntly, this is a fantastic record, that should find its way to the top of many year’s end lists when the time comes. It is truly the first important album of its kind to come out in 2007. (Feb 26 2007)

The album did end up finding its way onto my end of year list for 2007, although I don’t remember how high (my guess is it was at least #2, but maybe as high as #1), and often enters into the conversation for the top one or two Anberlin records in the band’s discography (for the record, my list would look something like this: Vital, Cities, Dark is the Way, Light Is a Place, Never Take Friendship Personal, Lowborn, Blueprints for the Blackmarket and New Surrender). That list should be pretty telling as to how connected to this album I still am.

The album still holds up rather well, with its dark, haunting sonic choices and lo-fi production, all qualities which would allow the record to still be made today and not sound out-of-place. The record also sets up the band’s propensity for experimentation with song structure and, to a point, genre, moving away slightly from the more pop feel of most of its songs on previous records, although ironically, Cities proved to be their first record to debut in the Billboard top 20, and the catalyst for the band’s signing with a major label for the follow-up, 2008’s largely lackluster New Surrender.

For me, the success of the album is predicated on two things. First is the haunting quality to the songs, built heavily on the sonic space the album lives in, but also on the semi-cryptic nature of Christian’s lyrics throughout the record. The album’s title and some of the lyrics suggest thematic ideas like losing control of one’s situation and the constant movement of life in your late 20’s/early 30’s (Christian had just turned 30 during the time the album was likely recorded). There is an unsettling feeling throughout, and yet the maturity of the songwriting allows for the band to create songs that feel necessary and urgent for those moments.

The second success is how well-connected this is as an album. 2007 was a few years into the age of digital music, and more and more artists were choosing to release singles they could sell for $0.99 rather than focus on albums as pieces of art. The album wasn’t dead, but it was certainly dying, and so it was, and remains, refreshing to find bands or artists who still pay attention to the molding of a record as a whole. Cities does that unassailably well, as the flow from song to song, as well as the intentional connection between the album’s opening instrumental track “(Début)” and the terrifyingly good closer “(*Fin),” are all top-notch efforts from the band.

Overall, this is an album that has stood the test of time. It was excellent upon its release and continues to hold up after ten years. Now all we need is that 10-year vinyl release and I’ll be a happy man.

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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