Weekend of Music

Every so often–not nearly as often as I used to, and in some cases not as often as I’d like–I still get the chance to see live music. When I was younger and only responsible for myself, I’d go probably once a month, more during the busier periods of the summer, but for various reasons, I’ve not seen as much in recent years as I did. In some ways this is okay. It’s an expensive night out, and to be honest there are times when it just doesn’t seem worth it anymore. So there has to be some combination of the right bands, a good night, great location or something along those lines to really pique my interest. This past weekend, however, I found myself attending not one, but two shows, and it was one of the better weekends I’ve had in a while.

On Saturday night, my wife, my dad and I drove to Atlanta to see Switchfoot, Colony House and Tyson Motsenbocker at the Tabernacle. Since I moved to the Charlotte area, I’ve driven to Atlanta maybe a half a dozen or so times to see shows, the most recent being when my wife and I went to see The Classic Crime on a rare trip to the East Coast a few years back. This latest trip was a Christmas present, and along with concert tickets, my wife secured the three of us access to The Room, a VIP lounge located on one of the Tabernacle’s five levels, complete with catered hors d’oeuvre, our own bar and a private restroom, a cool perk to what was a great show at an excellent venue.

Mostenbocker opened the show with a few solo acoustic numbers. I’ve now seen him three times in the last six months, and while he’s never played for very long, he’s always earnest and entertaining. More importantly, his sets always seem to have a sense of purpose and theme to them, something I appreciate a great deal. I will say that I am bummed that he ignores his fantastic debut LP, Letters to Lost Loves, but I also understand that he might be ready to move on from those songs by now.

He was followed by Colony House, who are probably one of my favorite working bands at the moment. I’ve seen them several times over the last few years, and their debut record, 2014’s When I Was Younger, is one of my favorite albums of all time. They also kill it live, and they’ve continued to build their skills as cohesive rock band over the last several years. There’s a feeling that exudes from a band that has it that together on stage, and Colony House, led by frontman Caleb Chapman and his drummer/brother Will (along with guitarist Scott Mills and bassist Parke Cottrell) have it in spades. Their music has energy and dynamics that is unlike many other bands around these days.

Switchfoot closed things out with a fairly expansive set. Like the others, I’ve seen them several times over the years, and even in those moments where I haven’t been following the band that closely or really been enthusiastic about their most recent album, I have to say I’ve never been disappointed in the quality of their live show. Sure, there are always songs I wished they’d played or entire albums they might have ignored, but when you’re eleven albums in, that’s bound to happen; but the band always gives it their all, and I respect that. While there was some emphasis on their latest record, Native Tongue, for the most part they managed to cover most of their more recent albums going back to their breakthrough, The Beautiful Letdown, which features hits “Meant to Live” and “Dare You To Me.” But as was the case with the artists before them, the most exciting thing about the show was that you could feel that the band felt there was a bigger purpose to their being there; and that while playing a great show as important, creating a sense of unity amongst the people there, doing good for the world and spreading a message of the power of love matter most. So for all the bombast of the night, I walked away feeling that good was done in that place.

Tyson Motsenbocker
Almira
Something in the Way
Kickball (I’m guessing, I couldn’t find this song anywhere, so maybe it’s unreleased)
Dreamers
Colony House
You & I
Silhouettes
Was It Me?
Learning How to Love
2:20
Lonely
Caught Me By Surprise
Moving Forward
Waiting for My Time to Come
Wipe Out
You Know It
Switchfoot 
Let It Happen
Meant To Live
Voices
Hello Hurricane
Love Alone is Worth the Fight
Live It Well
Won’t Let You Go
Take My Fire
If the House Burns Down Tonight
Learning to Breathe
Shadow Proves the Sunshine
All I Need
Float
Native Tongue
Where I Belong
Encore:
Needle & Haystack Life
Prodigal Soul into
Dare You to Move

On Sunday night I went with a friend of mine to see Copeland headline at the Visulite Theater in Charlotte. The show was originally supposed to take place at the newly revamped Amos’ Southend, but it seems like Amos’ wasn’t quite ready, so they had to move the show a few weeks before the date. I like the Visulite, it’s a smaller, intimate venue with plenty of different places for people who want to stand (as we did, right up next to the stage) or sit at tables or the bar. I waited outside for a little bit before the doors opened, a misty rain falling down, and waited for my friend to arrive with another friend of his whom I had yet to meet. Upon their arrival, she promptly made friends with the guy standing behind me in line (who was alone and had driven up from Greenville), setting up the rest of the night.

Many Rooms began the show with a female-fronted, serene, atmospheric alternative rock sound that leaned heavily into the melancholy and quiet. The singer told us she was used to playing shows alone, and while I liked their sound, it was pretty clear the band wasn’t something she was used to, as there were several pockets in the set where the drummer had nothing to do and, to be honest, seemed a little bored. She didn’t play a lot of songs, but she was honest and thoughtful, and I appreciated the songs. I would have probably bought a record if they’d had one, but sadly they were all out.

From Indian Lakes came on next, a band who I’ve listened to sporadically for a while now, and actually own several albums from, but I wouldn’t exactly call myself a big fan of theirs. They played a great set of energetic indie rock–the lead singer joked about how fun it was being the heaviest band on a tour for once–and I recognized several of the songs from listening to the records over the years. I tried to snap a shot of their set list from my vantage point, but just as I was about to, someone reached out and grabbed it, so I don’t have a full set list for them, but I’ve included what of theirs I can ascertain from what I can see.

Copeland finished the show, playing a nice mix of songs throughout their discography, touching each of their six albums at least once. The focus was split between their most recent albums, 2014’s Ixora and Blushing, which came out just a few days before the show. As they were playing newer songs, I was watching the bass player, who was situation right in front of us, who seemed to be reacting to many people knowing the words, and I wondered about how cool it would be to be on a tour just as a new album was coming out and watching in real-time how the fans were reacting to it. Based on his face, he seemed pleased.

All in all, the weekend of music was excellent, and while they were two very different types of shows, I appreciated the intense work that went into the making of each one, be it in creating the music in the first place or figuring out how to piece the whole thing together in a live setting. I usually walk away from good live shows with two thoughts in my head: 1) I miss playing for people and 2) I should go see more live music. But then I remember it has to be the right collection of great things, and I’m thankful for times like this weekend where it all comes together.

Many Rooms (in no particular order and missing a few)
Hollow Body
99 Proof
Danielle
From Indian Lakes
Happy Machines (?)
?
Dissonance (?)
Blank Tapes
Sleeping Limbs
Am I Alive?
Awful Things
Sunlight
Bed (?, missing a word)
?
Copeland
As Above, So Alone
I Can Make You Feel Young Again
Chin Up
Have I Always Loved You
Disjointed
Lay Here
Choose the One Who Loves You More
Safer On An Airplane
Not Allowed
Should You Return
Erase
Pope
Skywriter
Coffee
You Have My Attention

Double Show Recap

This week started out with a bit of a bang for me. I got to attend not one, but two, shows featuring three bands that I have a great deal of respect for, two of which I’d count amongst my favorite bands ever. This is a rare 1-2 punch of live music, and while it made for two very long days (other than sleeping, I was probably home for 5 minutes…God bless my wonderful wife), it was a cool experience that I haven’t had in a long while.

Monday night featured my good friends in Emery (only slightly exaggerating on the friends part), along with a pretty expansive list of opening bands that included Tooth & Nail label mates Civilian (whose 2016 LP You Wouldn’t Believe What Privilege Costs is one of my favorites from last year) and LOYALS, a new T&N band that I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for moving forward. Emery has moved away from the standard touring model in recent years, trading in long weeks away from home for shorter stints in strategic groupings of 8-10 shows at a time, making their appearances feel a little more like major events. This show, at Charlotte’s Neighborhood Theater, kicked off this leg of their 2017 Fan Appreciation shows, where they charged a paltry $10 per ticket in an effort to play larger venues and bring in more fans (by comparison, the last few times I’ve seen them have been either in support of a larger band or headlining shows at smaller venues, like Columbia, SC’s tiny New Brookland Tavern). While I would have paid more to go see them, it certainly was nice to not spend a ton of money to catch one of my favorite bands.

The night began rather uneventfully. I wasn’t really drawn in by Washington, DC’s In Your Memory, who sound exactly like you might think they would based on their hometown. While they worked hard to get the small-but-growing crowd into it, there was an obvious disconnect; the audience didn’t know them and didn’t care much that they were trying hard. The band that followed, Atlanta’s The Funeral Portrait, didn’t seem to have their sound nailed down (was it punk? screaming? weird goth stuff?) and the singer  was either affecting a Southern accent or was so nervous it came out of his mouth weird, but his speaking voice felt off. Thankfully, LOYALS came on next and turned the show around. Their synth-infused pop/rock breathed new life into the proceedings, especially because this was the first vocalist of the night who could actually sing, an irony that will never cease to amaze me (call me crazy, but I think the guy/girl who is singing in the band should actually be able to). I’m looking forward to hearing their T&N debut, whenever that comes out. Civilian followed as direct support, and while their set was pretty much the same as it was when I saw them open for The Classic Crime this summer, it was still a quality set, made up mostly of songs from You Wouldn’t Believe, including album standouts like “Reasons,” “I Told You” and “Caroline.” While they brought the pace of the show down again (their music is mostly moody, mid-tempo jams), they certainly continued the uptick in quality of songwriting presented throughout the show.

Emery, to their great credit, doesn’t feel like a band of guys in their late-30’s/early-40’s still trying to maintain relevance in their genre. To be sure, they’ve mellowed out a bit (2015’s You Were Never Alone is by and large their most “laid back” album, which is in quotes because its relative to other parts of the band’s catalog), but they also don’t ignore the heavier parts of their discography. In fact, the set is littered with massive doses of their debut, now-13-year-old The Weak’s Ends, which, depending on your point of view, can either be the best way for the band to handle their shows or a stab at nostalgia (I lean more towards the latter personally, but I never really felt emotionally attached to that record the way I do others in their catalog). But the energy remains top notch, probably at least partially fueled by the massive cutdown on shows from year to year. Instead of having to “bring it” for 200+ shows a year, the band can focus their energy on significantly fewer shows, and in my opinion, allows them to give more to these shows, even as they age. Guitarist Matt Carter and keyboardist/screamer Josh Head are especially energetic, with both men ascending the drum riser and (somewhat carefully) leaping off, along with otherwise dancing and moving around the stage. It was also good to see Devin Shelton back in the fold full time, as his voice feels like an important part of Emery’s sound, providing not only harmonies and countermelodies with Toby Morrell’s voice, but also taking over lead on a few songs (this back and forth has long been a part of Emery’s MO). My biggest disappointment was the lack of songs from You Were Never Alone and The Question, my two favorite records from the band. Otherwise, the band continues to be a musical force even after all these years.

Emery, 11/13/17

Fractions

Less You Say

As Your Voice Fades

The Smile, The Face

I Never Got To See the West Coast

The Secret

So Cold I Could See My Breath

Can’t Stop The Killer

In A Lose, Lose Situation

By All Accounts (Today Was A Disaster)

Rock, Pebble, Stone

The Note From Which A Chord is Built

Churches & Serial Killers

Dear Death, Parts 1 & 2

In Shallow Seas We Sail

Walls

From Crib to Coffin

 

Tuesday night was another show night, this time a co-headling tour featuring Thrice and Circa Survive at The Fillmore in Charlotte. I’ve seen both bands several times over the last few years, but I’d have to say that Thrice is the band that was the bigger draw of the show for me, and I’m quite glad they decided to bring their hiatus to an end and come back. At this point, they straddle the line between the incessant full-time touring that a band like Circa engages in and the more deliberate, muted version that Emery follows. Since their return in 2015, Thrice has played more consistently on tour, but so far as I can recall, this extended stint with Circa, which followed a summer run opening for Incubus (yeah, kind of weird), is the longest they’ve been out essentially consecutively. I’ve been fortunate to see them twice already since they’ve returned, first in the summer of 2016 with La Dispute and Gates, and now with Circa, Chon and Balance & Composure, both at Fillmore.

Balance & Composure opened the show, but due to traffic, we missed a few of their songs, although we ended up hearing most of their set, which featured songs from both their 2013 release The Things We Think We’re Missing and last year’s Light We Made. Having just seen them on their headlining tour a few months ago, I got what I needed out of BalCo (as Anthony Green called them) for this particular show. They were followed by Chon, an instrumental band out of San Diego, who presented their wordless, fusion virtuosity rather effectively. I’m usually torn on instrumental bands live, as the lack of a singer/frontman can make it difficult to connect with the band, turning them into nothing more than background noise; but it’s difficult to ignore the skill of each member of the 4-piece, and so I found myself intrigued in just watching fingers and arms flail about, all the while creating some really complicated and interesting musical sounds (I felt the same way watching Animals As Leaders open for Thrice on their farewell tour, as well as Caspian, who played with Underoath on their Rebirth Tour).

Thrice followed, since a co-headling tour just means that the two bands play for the same amount of time, not that each band gets to go last (how would that even work?). I’ve heard different things about co-headling tours from different places, but my general understanding is that sometimes the bands switch who plays last each night, but that the set length is the most defining element here. That said, each Thrice and Circa got an hour on stage, giving each ample time to cover as much of they could of each band’s catalog (Thrice’s is now 9 albums long, if you count each piece of The Alchemy Index as one album, while Circa’s now spans 6 records, including recently released The Amulet). Thrice covered a wide array of their discography, including a song from each album except (sadly) 2011’s Major/Minor and choosing a B-side from 2009’s Beggars in favor of album cuts, including a mid-set from each element of the now-10-year-old The Alchemy Index (and announcing a soon-to-be-released vinyl repress!). The set was mostly high energy, with only a few of the Alchemy Index tracks bringing the tempo down. The band was as tight as they’ve ever been, and Dustin Kensrue’s voice was in top-form, although I could tell he was holding back a little on the scream-heavy portions of some songs, either because he was saving his voice or wasn’t as interested in the guttural growls found on the recorded versions of some of those earlier songs. They even included longtime fan favorite “Deadbolt” without audience prodding (even though I would be fine if I never heard it again). The set was unsurprisingly heavy on songs from their most recent album, which leads to the only downside of the show as it was: the co-headling designation forced the band to decide how many deeper cuts they played versus new songs; the band obviously decided to focus on the latter. Not a bad thing, since To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere is a stellar addition to their discography.

Circa Survive closed things out for the evening, and this is where I have to admit something: I think I’m kind of done with these guys. I’ll probably still pay attention to their albums moving forward, but the days of making their shows a priority are likely over. I wasn’t floored by The Amulet, as it feels like the band is in a bit of a rut, and it’s becoming harder and harder to differentiate the band’s songs from album to album. I’m not even sure a novice listener would be able to tell any major differences. That’s fine, because there’s a lot of music out there, and I don’t think being a cursory fan of Circa will hurt me in any way. The biggest thing is the live show. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen Circa live, but it’s a lot (sneakily, I remember seeing them open for Mae, of all bands in the world, back when Circa was getting started and just thinking they were super weird), and it’s turning into a law of diminishing returns. Anthony Green, in contrast to Kensrue, doesn’t feel capable of pulling off the high pitches and screams of his records live all the time, and I couldn’t tell you if that’s vocal fatigue or merely lack of ability, because he’s all over the map, even within the context of the same show. My ear tells me that he’s capable (and I’ve heard him be more successful than he was last night), but there was a lot to be desired about his performance last night. I get that he puts a lot of importance on the performative element of the show, as he dances and jumps around stage like a maniac, but it also prevents him from fully delivering on the songs themselves; this, to me, is a detriment. To be honest, I’d have preferred about half an hour less of Circa and thirty minutes more Thrice last night, not only because of Green’s struggles, but also because the latter was forced to cut a lot of great songs from what could have been a 90-minute set, whereas Green needed to focus his energies on a shorter group of songs.

And now I feel better having said that. I don’t feel bad for feeling that way; it’s an opinion. My sister and her friend love Circa more than I ever could, and they were ecstatic about their show. They probably could have done with less Thrice in the same way I could have done with less Circa. I’m trying to turn my emotional response into logic (one of my favorite things to do), when really all I have to say is “that’s just how I feel about it.” Thrice’s deeper feeling and easier means of expression has always connected more with me, and nothing about last night did anything to change that.

Thrice, 11/14/17

The Earth Will Shake

The Window

The Artist in the Ambulance

Hurricane

Blood on the Sand

Firebreather

Open Water

Broken Lungs

Come All You Weary

Deadbolt

Silhouette

Red Telephone

Black Honey

Of Dust and Nations

The Long Defeat

 

Circa Survive, 11/14/17

Child of the Desert

Glass Arrows

Lustration

Strange Terrain

Sharp Practice

Rites of Investiture

Tunnel Vision

In Fear and Faith

Stop the Car

Premonition of the Hex

Frozen Creek

The Difference Between Medicine and Poison is the Dose

Get Out

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.

IMG_1740

  • 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)

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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Essential Set List–Relient K

This comes from an idea that I borrowed from the fine folks over at Chorus.FM (formerly AbsolutePunk.net), although their’s was an Essential Playlist, so I’m altering mine ever so slightly. I’ve decided to kickstart my blog with music, something that is, for me, akin to food and sleep in terms of necessities in life. This is an idea I’ve been working on for a few weeks now, so it works in that regard. Look for more review-based systems going forward, mostly albums, but shows, too. This, however, should at least get people thinking, and maybe talking.

Essential Set List—Relient K

  1. Sadie Hawkins Dance

I understand this song is “essential” early RK for most fans, so we’re going to kick this show off old school and give the sillier moments their due up front. It’s a fun song that would get the show rocking from the outset.

2. Mood Rings

Keeping the old school train rolling, a song about the, shall we say, uncertain moods of the ladies in our lives feels like an appropriate follow up to a tune about getting asked to a school dance. For all its silliness, though, the song does pose some interesting questions and, at its end, bring up not the worst idea of all time.

3. Over Thinking

This is an overlooked song from Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right, but Three Do, and for our purposes, it helps to turn the tide a little bit towards the more thoughtful part of the show. It didn’t take long, I know, but for my money, this is an interesting song that points at the band’s ability to play with time and speed, all while beginning to hint at more serious lyricism. All the while, it doesn’t kill the early set momentum too much, which is really about to pick up the pace for a while from here.

4. Devastation and Reform

The set kicks into another gear with this song, from the underrated Five Score and Seven Years Ago, which features likely the best opening guitar riff of Matt Hoopes’ storied career. Thematically, it moves nicely from the set up of the previous number, and begins to push the pace of the set even further. By this point, the set is really moving, and this song, one of the band’s all-time highlights, is a good one to bring up at this point.

5. Forget and Not Slow Down

The title track and opener for, in my humble opinion, the band’s best record comes in next, with its distinct and unforgettable piano riff to get things rolling in a slightly different sonic direction. Part of what makes FANSD such a stellar record is how eclectic the sound space, turning the standard RK sound on its head more than a little bit. The song is effective in its continuation of the thematic idea set up so far, too, as its message of pushing forward through the hard times is an essential part of the band’s catalogue.

6. Local Construction

Likely the best song of their most recent album, Air For Free, this driving piano-driven tune is also one of the strongest works of the band’s career, so it makes sense that its one of the few inclusions from that record. The flow from the previous song into this one works well—Matt Theissen wouldn’t have to move from his piano, for instance—and while it slows thing down a little, the construction of the song (pun intended) makes sense as a follow up to the song before it. It also sort of answers the theme of “Forget,” with a reminder that we are all always works in progress.

7. The Lining Is Silver

This is the only B-side on the list, but it also stands as one of the band’s best. It picks the pace back up a little bit, and also utilizes probably the best use of the phrase “kumbaya” outside of the original song. Again, though, we have a nice through line of lyrical ideas that started with “Devastation” and moves forward to here. It’s also one of the songs that gets a lot of air time in RK live shows, so it works out well in that regard, too.

8. Don’t Blink

Let’s be clear here: 2013’s Collapsible Lung is by and large not a good album. It leans too heavily on boring pop trends, and is as far away from the elegant and interesting rock record that came before it. That said, there are a few solid songs on here, and this is one of them. It hints at a strong pop sensibility, without completely sacrificing the guitar-driven rock sound that catapulted RK into the mainstream a few albums before. It fits nicely next to “Lining,” too, with a similar vibe and message.

9. Candlelight/Flare

This tune is another from the band’s seminal record, and continues the fun, upbeat vibe of the last few songs. A perfect love song if there ever was one, it stays away from overtly obvious tropes of the love song genre, instead coming at the subject in a fresh and interesting way. The tag of “Flare” feels appropriate, too, since it finishes the song out effectively, and allows for a nice move into a slightly different sonic space.

10. Failure to Excommunicate

After a few less rock-and-roll moments, it’s time to kick it back up a notch; and this under appreciated tune from The Anatomy of Tongue in Cheek is the perfect song to do so. While the recorded version maintains a little of the band’s early career cheesiness (mostly because of the clearly synthesized string section, I’d say), it is a wildly honest song that showcases Thiessen’s witty lyricism in a way that wasn’t often seen on those early records—still clever, but also incredibly sincere. The sonic chance is nice, too, as this song as more hints of a modern rock sound, something the band would explore more in this album’s follow up. It also alters the focus of the lyrical content a little bit, something that will be a theme for the next several songs.

11. I Need You

Continuing on both the sonic and lyrical theme, this tune from Five Score is one of the band’s more interesting and, dare I say, heavier outputs. On the record, Thiessen’s voice has a previously unused edge to it, perfect for the heavily distorted guitars and pounding drumming. The dueling vocals are a highlight of the song, too, making Dave Douglas’ role in the band—both on the kit and as the second vocalist—even more essential.

12. God

The theme of this section of the show, if you haven’t guessed by now, is most definitely faith, a concept that seemed to disappear from RK records—at least in a direct sense—toward the middle of their discography. The previous two songs in the set are certainly more overtly faith-driven, but none of them come close to the honesty of this song, the second song from the band’s most recent album. Thiessen out and out states a belief that seemed to have disappeared, at least based on some of the songs on Collapsible Lung, in a song that is wildly honest and genuine. It only works, though, because of the quality of the songwriting and the pacing of the music, which feels thoughtful and engaging.

13. Forgiven

As you can probably tell by now, the formatting of these songs is following two major conceits: first, is the flow of the songs in terms of sound and pace and energy, etc; the second, is thematic. With that said, “Forgiven” represents a nice move in both arenas from the song before it. The theme carries over, and the piano still works as the feature instrument, although this tune is a little more a driving, punk rock beat than “God,” which bounces a little more. The piano riff that drives this song is one of the best the band has ever produced, and helps to push the keys—an instrument that felt more like novelty earlier in the band’s discography—into a different mode of operation.

14. For the Moments I Feel Faint

The show takes a little turn here, as these things tend to do toward the middle of things, as the band will strip it down for an old-school jam that does a nice job of closing down the thematic idea of the middle portion of the set list. While this is a simple, very church-y, youth group love song to God, it would also feel criminal to leave it off a essential list of Relient K songs. In a live setting, I could see the band trying to do something different with it, maybe make it sound like a quirkier, Air For Free b-side, while still maintaining its original charm. In either case, the song provides the turning point into the 9-song finale to close out the main part of the set.

15. Collapsible Lung

As previously noted, the album of the same name isn’t very good overall. This tune, however, is the exception to that rule, as it gathers up elements of both Mhmm and Forget and Not Slow Down, with it’s meandering piano and sudden driving second chorus, and makes them work. This is a shorter, yet just as thoughtful, “This Is the End”/“(If You Want It)” from FANSD that stands out in terms of how intentional it feels as compared to the rest of the CL album. Sonically, it plays as a nice segue from the acoustic feel of “Faint,” as the song opens with simply voice and piano, and then pushes the feel forward into the next several songs.

16. Up & Up

Honestly, I’m not sure which version of this song I prefer here. The acoustic version features a different second verse, and has a more textured overall sound; but the original album version fits the sonic mood that is being set up for the next few songs. Maybe some sort of hybrid version will work? Either is a great choice, as the band begins to channel its rosy optimism into slightly more realistic expressions. While this tune conveys the idea of potential for better things, it isn’t afraid to admit that the reason you have to think that way is because crap hit the fan in the first place.

17. Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been

The second in a line of hit singles from the band’s most widely recognized album, Mhmm, “Who I Am” is one of the most essential songs on this list. This isn’t just because the band already plays it on every tour anyway, but because it is an incredibly well-constructed and written pop song, veiled by the crunching guitars and piano that, along with lead single “Be My Escape,” launched the band into the stratosphere for a while. Even though they’d never reach that commercial height again, this is one of the peaks of the band’s songwriting.

18. Sahara

I’ve already stated that for my money, 2009’s Forget and Not Slow Down is the band’s masterpiece, even if Mhmm garnered the most attention and, surprisingly, 2007’s Five Score and Seven Years Ago, is actually the record that hit the highest chart slot, at #6 in the United States, mostly, I’d guess, due to the success of the previous album’s singles. That said, this late album track from FANSD is, for me, one of the strongest and most emotional songs the band has ever written. The building energy of the song, climaxing in an outro featuring a bevy of guest vocals, and the metaphorical lyricism stands out in the band’s catalogue, allowing Matt Theissen an opportunity, for the first time on this shockingly optimistic break-up album, to vent out a most refreshing anger regarding the end of the relationship. It’s a slow death, the song suggests, but it almost hurts more that way. The build up leads perfectly into the next song, too.

19. Which To Bury, Us or the Hatchet?

Yes, even RK was susceptible to the screamo movement, as evidenced by this stellar song from their breakout album. It sets up right next to “Sahara” in terms of energy, even if its aggression and emotion rings a little less true when compared to the wave of the former song. That said, it still feels essential to me, given that if often gets overlooked amongst some of the stronger work the band has put out. Not to mention, it creates one of the better one-two punches of song placement on the band’s discography, which leads directly to the next song.

20. Let It All Out

The end of “Hatchet” is a stark contrast to the rest of the song: a sudden blowing up of the aggression leads to a quiet, lamenting piano/vocal outro, serving as the perfect lead into one of the group’s more honest songs in “Let It All Out.” While the truth of the lyrics is essential, and fits the thematic ideas presented throughout much of the rest of the set, the sonic choices don’t fully kill the mood and flow of the set. The tune starts off quieter, but eventually picks back up to a slow, but forward driving beat, before cascading into a soft, introspective closer, yet again setting up the set for another lovely segue.

21. Savannah

At this point, we’re almost just rocking back and forth between Mhmm and FANSD, and seeing as these are the strongest records the band has put out, this shouldn’t be a huge surprise. The mournfulness of the last three songs—albeit in wildly different forms—gives way to more of the signature RK hopefulness, as “Savannah” serves as a stark contrast to “Sahara,” with the dry death of the latter relenting and morphing into a slight sense of “maybe.” The former song touches on what happens when you first see a former love happy with someone else, especially in a place where you don’t expect to find them: in this case, a place that both the narrator of the song and his ex seemed to have visited together. While still sad, there is a sense that everything is going to be okay, an important part of the majority of RK’s songs. Sonically, this song rolls in from the quiet of “Let It All Out,” building in a masterwork of dynamics and instrumentation.

22. Life After Death and Taxes

This is a slightly unusual selection, as it still maintains some of the band’s early tropes—sugary sweet lyrics laced with puns and pop culture references—while starting to showcase a turn towards more mature themes. In that regard, the penultimate song of the main set picks the pace back up quite a bit (it’s closer to “Sahara” and “Hatchet” than the previous songs), all the while hitting on the main point: in the end, some of these small things don’t matter. Forgive the pun of the title, and you’ll hear an excellent guitar riff and pulsating drums, making it one of RK’s forgotten great songs.

23. Heartache

The main part of the set closes out with another new song, but one that, in my estimation, does an excellent job of wrapping things up in more than one way. Thematically it brings together all of the main ideas presented throughout the essential set list; all the while, the overall feel and sound of the song does a lot of the things that a great Relient K song should do: the driving piano, the changes in time signature and thoughtful lyrics from Matt Theissen. Sure, the song is new, making it harder to argue in favor of how essential it is in the long run, but the overall appeal of it is unavoidable.

Encore:

24. Be My Escape

The encore for a set of this magnitude is inevitable, but I chose to spin the usual means of running the end of a set around and start with the song everyone would expect to finish with. Of all the songs in their catalogue, “Be My Escape” manages to capture the two most essential things: it is immensely good and it was immensely popular at its height. This is not true of many RK songs. They have a lot of good—and some great—songs, and I’d argue that while this song is excellent, they’ve got better in terms of quality; but the massive thing that was this single upon the release of Mhmm cannot be understated. They hadn’t been that huge before and they haven’t been that nationally important since. For that reason, it makes sense for the rapturous clapping and clamoring for an encore to be interrupted—if only for a moment—by the song’s signature and instantly recognizable opening guitar riff, building it to a fever pitch, and then dropping down into its meloncholy (and often overlooked, because, for time’s sake, it was the “talked over” part of the music video) ending, which moves perfectly into the set’s finale.

25. When I Go Down

Yes, I’m choosing to slow it down a little for the end. Rather than finish things out with the biggest hit of the band’s career, I’m arguing that the momentum of that song will work as a perfect segue into this tune, the closer from Mhmm, as well as, in my estimation, the perfect way to end an essential Relient K set list. While not nearly as well-known as “Be My Escape,” this song does so many things well, including the ebb and flow of the music and the movement of the lyrics. Its instrumentation is lush and thoughtful, and if the song wasn’t a little on the long side, it’s my thinking that the band could have ridden the wave of “Escape” and “Who I Am” into a third, slightly off-kilter single from the album. The reason for ending the entire set this way is because, like “Heartache,” it does an excellent job of bringing together all the themes of the set, as well as being a lovely musical transition from the end of “Escape.” For me, it functions as both an essential RK song and the ideal way to close out this essential set.