It isn’t out of the ordinary that we often seek refuge in words and sounds. Whether we are looking for mere comfort or a much more significant healing, music has, willingly or not, been a source for such recovery. And for those who pen and create these vessels of refuge, it is a most personal form of catharsis. It is difficult to discern the ideology or motives behind a band’s work – its raison d’être usually known only to those who created it – but in a case like this, it seems endlessly more difficult.
Feeder lost their drummer Jon Lee to suicide in early 2002 and this album is the studio work that followed his untimely departure. Aptly titled ‘Comfort in Sound’, it is more than just an album of reflection or homage, it appears to be the resulting cathartic experience of primary song writer Grant Nicholas. The album in its entirety is effectively a well-written emulsion of rock inspired pop sensibilities. While the album on occasion feels overly grief-stricken, it is when we take a look at the finer parts that we finally see a band ultimately reaching its potential.
The instrumentation is mostly simplistic – but it is conducive to some of the album’s less melancholic moments. The opening track “Just the Way I’m Feeling” is a juxtaposition of reflective lyrical humming (“Love in, love out / Find the feeling / Scream in, Scream out / Time for healing / You feel the moment’s gone too soon / You’re watching clouds come over you”) with savvy pop friendly rock. Its vocal driven verse is a prelude to its immense sounding choral release – symbolic of perhaps, just the way Nicholas was feeling.
While there is certainly an underlying tone of healing, some tracks mask this with a more strident approach. In the single “Come Back Around”, the expressive gloom (“Bruised with all rejection / we suffer the breaks”) is interlaced in a vibrant rock track – louder and far more biting than the majority of the album’s manner. It directs you into the fuzzed out “Helium”, its drum pounding and screeching guitar work is then smeared by the almost sweet chorus. “Child in You” is best a quiet ambience; sorrowful and intuitive with seemingly hopeful lyrics; “Close your eyes and drift away to someplace new / Where the skies are blue brings back the child in you” – but captures a more bitter consolation than anything else.
It is in the track “Comfort in Sound” that Nicholas is at his greatest; the healing musician. Tinged with delicate traces of keyboards, profound vocal work and the album’s strongest song structure, it is with this track that perhaps, they have truly found comfort. The sound certainly radiates a reflective nature and its lyrics, the most poignant, “We suffer love together as one / an empty heart with nowhere to turn / we find ourselves looking / back another way / a brand new day”. In a strange twist of events, there are some moments that feel overly aggressive – take the track “Godzilla” for instance; powerful guitars, grating vocals and those thumping drums are seemingly lost, an odd inclusion in this mostly thoughtful effort. Thankfully Nicholas’ aggressive tendencies fade fast, and in the album’s last four tracks, that willful, somber approach is once again adopted; from the distinctly sullen “Quick Fade” to the more vocal “Love Pollution” and the gracious ender “Moonshine”, with perhaps the final mark of respect (“But every time we cry / We wave the sun goodbye.”)
While we cannot say whether or not these lyrical tributes of reflection and healing are of the band’s personal tribulations, it is safe to say that if this album is homage of sorts – it certainly is a noble one; for whomever it is meant for. ‘Comfort in Sound’ is not an innovation or revelation, it is simply what the title states.
(Echo / Republic / Universal)
Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die
Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter
At the height of Vagrant Records’ early success in the late 90s, the label was buoyed by the incredible draw of their two biggest names- The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. And while those two bands took a chunk of the notoriety, there were plenty of great bands that called the label home. One of those bands was The Anniversary. The Lawrence, Kansas band shared musical similarities with both TGUK and Saves the Day, but were unafraid to branch off into slightly more synthesised terrain that gave their songs an added element. Coupled with their super easy to digest harmonies and fantastic male/female vocals, songs like “The D in Detroit” still has a place in countless “favorite playlists” all these years later.
Since their initial break-up, guitarist and vocalist Josh Berwanger has been busy writing and recording a bevy of music under the moniker Berwanger. His recent discography is a talented kaleidoscope of songs that traverse genres from folk and indie, to more rock and straight forward singer/songwriter fare. There was plenty to like on his 2016 album Exorcism Rock, an album that delved into a little bit of psychedelia and fuzzed out indie rock. His 2017 album And the Star Invaders saw a gradual move away from the more electrified to the imaginative kind of singer/songwriter we’ve seen from the likes of Devendra Banhart. True to form, Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter, and his latest, Watching A Garden Die, is the next chapter in his thriving songwriter cabinet.
The gloomily titled record is mostly upbeat and diverse. While he may have shown a kinship to indie/folk songwriting of the Banharts and Obersts of the world previously, Watching a Garden Die features the kind of seasoned and more classic toned work you’d find on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, or even a Paul Simon record. Songs like the softly, almost whispered “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know”, and quietly moody, introspective “Paper Blues” (until that electric guitar solo hits) harks back to a time long ago of unfettered hair and soulful folk music. The album’s best moment is probably a combination of the wistful, pedal-steel toned Americana of “When I Was Young” and the equally effective, spacey indie rock of “The Business of Living”. The latter giving Grandaddy a run for their money in that music department. These two songs in particular showcase an artist fully aware and capable of his abilities to craft music that’s personal but exhibits the kind of draw you want from a record this close to the heart.
The album doesn’t have the more ruckus moments Berwanger exhibited in his earlier work (outside of perhaps, the more upbeat power-pop, new wavy “Bad Vibrations”). At times the album takes just a few listens to grab you. But when you listen to songs like the spritely “Friday Night” and the somber reflection of the twangy “I Keep Telling Myself” a few times more, you find the depth of the record. There are elements that reveal themselves on the second, third, fourth listen, and that’s rewarding.
Berwanger’s songwriting ability was never in doubt, and his new material continues to expand his songwriting reach. Watching a Garden Die, while not a frantic effort, is quiet composure.
Fences – Failure Sculptures
Failure Sculptures is a steady outing
Christopher Mansfield, under his alter-ego, Fences, has made himself well known through the collaborations with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara. It’s set him up with well-deserved excitement for his new album Failure Sculptures. The genre of pop scores a good reputation with artists like Fences. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this album as pop, but Failure Sculptures has catchy songs that will appeal to a large scale, however it keeps the integrity of accomplished music. Each song provides a story that allows you to drift into your own thoughts. He also uses idioms like there is no tomorrow.
“A Mission” is a lower-toned song that launches the album with an echoing sound of voice and guitar, and it sets an example of the whimsical type of music that is shown throughout the album. Mansfield has a way with words and was definitely listening in English class. A+ for storytelling. OK, you twisted my arm, I’ll point out some idioms: “body sways like trees in a storm” sung in “Paper Route” and “lately I just pass by like a cloud” heard in “Brass Band”. It’s a great way to paint a picture in your listeners head.
“Same Blues” exposes a folk side to Fences. It has a lovely addition of cello in the background. It is enchanting and flows so well, which makes a terrific inclusion to the album. The plucking and acoustic sound of “Wooden Dove” has a powerful effect, and suits the song well. It follows the theme of echoes and storytelling. Although “War Kid” is a song about divorce, it is a pleasant way to end the album, and it features more idioms; “tears falling like bombs“.
This type of music allows you to drift and flow in and out of your own thoughts. It’s a friendly haunting and emotionally driven set of songs (and don’t forget about the idioms), and while it is quite predictable in a pleasant way, Failure Sculptures is a steady outing.