Closer has always been one of my favorite songs by matt pond PA. So I was pumped when it was the first-released single on their new album, A Collection Of Bees Part 1, 12 tracks of rarities, demos, and a re-recording. It’s impossible to improve on the 2002 version of Closer, with the strings from Rachel’s, but the just-released demo is great, too. It took me right back to my Chicago suburbs 2003 existence where I first heard it.
It’s the strongest track on the new album, but the whole thing is great listening.
I lost track of mpPA after their 2007 Last Light. That album didn’t hit me the way The Green Fury and The Nature of Maps (both released in 2002) did. It didn’t feel as cohesive as Emblems (2004) or Several Arrows Later (2005), although all four of these albums are hard to top. I got back into mpPA again withThe Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand (2013, released by just “Matt Pond”). And I just bought Last Light at a used CD store the other day! I like it now more than I first did.
I reminisce because A Collection Of Bees Part 1 is a perfect opportunity to re-visit the band’s discography. The album spans quite a few records. I haven’t seen this anywhere yet, so here’s the track listing, followed by where (as best as I can tell) one would have first heard that track, or a version of it:
1. Starlet (Acoustic), The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand (2013)
2. Stopping, Threeep (2010)
3. Blue Fawn (First Light Demo), called “First Light” on Auri Sacra Fames (2008)
4. Love To Get Used (Demo), The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand (2013)
5. Wild Heart, Fleetwood Mac cover
6. First Fawn (Brooklyn Fawn Demo), called “Brooklyn Fawn” on The Dark Leaves (2010)
7. Lily 3 (Acoustic), bonus track from The Lives Inside the Lines in Your Hand (2013)
8. Remember Me, Threeep (2010)
9. Closer (Demo), The Nature of Maps (2002)
10 .The Colour Out of Space, Threeep (2010)
11. Round and Round, Free the Fawns (2016, obscure release!), maybe somewhere else, too?
12. The Wrong Man, Threeep (2010)
Even tracking down where these songs come from, I realize how much music this band has put out over the years! It’s awesome to revisit it all because of this new album, which itself holds together quite nicely.
You can hear the album here, and visit mpPA’s site here. I hope there is more where this came from.
Thanks to the powers-that-be for the advance release download of this fine album, so I could write a review.
Disclosure of Material Connection: One time when we were in college, hanging out outside Caribou Coffee, I put my hand on Steve’s forehead and started to fake push his head against the brick wall. But I didn’t let go soon enough, so caused him “actual pain,” the same safe words I had to employ another time when I was roughhousing with his friends in the chapel backstage area, and they broke my glasses. I don’t mean to suggest these two events are connected–just that, well… Steve and I go way back.
Disclosure of Material Connection, cont’d: Even at barely 20 he was a ridiculously gifted guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Some of my favorite college memories are Steve Thorngate concerts. Steve may remember most the time Abram Jones and His Loud, Loud Band opened for Steve and His Chair-Sitting Whispercore Corps, but the Steve concert experience I most remember is one he played at (now razed and rebuilt?) Pierce Chapel in Wheaton College. He and his band were loudly rocking an epic rendition of “If I Find You“, and Steve was, as the kids would say, absolutely crushing the major 7 intervals in the melody, as he scraped his pick–top string to bottom string–across an Fmaj7 with the top two strings open, walking the shape up two frets over the same melody, then sitting on an A minor while the melody resolved. Emo Abram was–and still is–in awe of that song. And I believe I may have witnessed its best performance that night.
One night as part of my kids’ bedtime routine, I played and sang them Steve’s song “The Thick Darkness Where God Dwells.” I introduced the song by saying, “This song is by my friend Steve.” At that point they’d heard After the Longest Night a few times. Two lines in to the song, I was interrupted by a resounding chorus of, “You KNOW HIM???” and, “Wait, is he famous?”
Steve has foregone the fame that was certain to be his, in service instead to the church. Last Advent I had to try hard not to quote Steve’s lyrics in every sermon. Listening to this album–and dialoguing with him about it over email–profoundly shaped my preaching last Advent, as well as stretched my understanding of light, darkness, and just where God resides.
Here are some highlights of this album:
A wide variety of musical arrangements
FIVE Thorngates for the price of one
The melodies are immediately memorable, which bodes well for congregational singing, if you want to try some of these in that setting
Speaking of leading these songs with a congregation, Steve has you covered: the album comes with a PDF songbook
“The Thick Darkness Where God Dwells” was an early favorite track. For one, I love seeing a song based on such a moving Bible verse. For another, it’s a fresh exploration of themes of light and darkness… more than just light=good=God, dark=bad=devil, but a meaty exploration of what God-in-the-darkness looks like
I mean, just check out these lyrics:
Winter days are so short. In the nighttime keep watch for the Lord, Who reverses our vision With new order that we can’t see. Yet we cry, “Jesus, come! Here’s who needs to be saved; here’s who from!” Learn to trust in the darkness, Where our God of mystery dwells.
Advent, Christmas, Epiphany: they are all here
One of the songs is called “The Night is Long (But Not for Long),” which I think beautifully captures the “already-but-not-yet” aspects of waiting
This is Steve’s first full-length album in 14 years, and I hope we’ll get to hear another one in less time. There’s more to say in praise of this musical offering, but I’ll stop there so you can go listen for yourself.
A couple dozen listens in, here’s how I was feeling about American Football’s new LP3, released last Friday through Polyvinyl Records. These are messages I sent to a good friend and guitarist I used to rock out with:
Five stars. And—you heard it here first—it’s not only American Football’s best album, but the best album this genre has produced to date.
The other reviews I’ve read or skimmed talk a lot about the lyrics. This one is more about the music itself, all written when I first listened a month and a half ago.
American Football’s third full-length LP has my new favorite album beginning. The band released the album’s first track (its first single) well before the album’s release date. I remember when I first heard its sparse, gradually building intro. Xylophone, vibraphone, then bass. The first LP didn’t even have bass… was this even the same band? Then, and only then, does the band come in, sounding fuller, tighter, more confident, and more creative than ever before. The string swells, chimey guitars, fat (phat?) bass line, vibraphone, silky vocals, and totally perfect drums make this the best American Football song I’ve ever heard. Easily. Its 7 minutes and 22 seconds passed in an instant.
I felt like Bill and Ted must have felt when they went up to heaven and heard the future Bill and Ted’s new jams. If there were a Platonic form of an American Football song, “Silhouettes” would be it. Steve Holmes, Mike Kinsella, Nate Kinsella, Steve Lamos might be my first choice for the soundtrack of heaven.
Where do you go from the epic opening track? To vocal duets! The next two tracks feature Hayley Williams (Paramore) and Elizabeth Powell (Land of Talk). Mike Kinsella’s vocals and the interlocking guitar parts—whether as Owen or as American Football—are already so full and so good, I’d never even considered what an outside-the-band singer could do for them. It’s an awesome sound. (Track 6 features another vocalist: Rachel Goswell of the just reunited Slowdive, and it’s an amazing song.)
The flute on track 4 (“Heir Apparent”) is about the last instrument I expected to hear, but, man, is that a cool song. Just as it starts soothingly hypnotizing the listener at the 4-minute mark, in comes… well, I won’t spoil it for you. It’s yet more sweet instrumentation I never would have thought to have in an American Football song, but it works great (even if the instrumentation and the lyrics feel like a mismatch).
Thank God there’s another nearly 8-minute track on this record. The fifth track (“Doom in Full Bloom”) begins with a reverb-y trumpet (just like old times), which gives way to more ethereal goodness, this one with layered vocals, guitars, piano, and a smooth, laid back drum beat. It’s not hard to imagine this song—with its syncopated rhythms and detuned guitars—being covered by a metal band. In its current form, though, it’s smooth and beautiful.
They could have stopped after five songs and still had a genre-changing album. But the sixth track (“I Can’t Feel You,” with Goswell) is just nuts. The drum and bass combo calls to mind my favorite Radiohead track of all time, “Where I End and You Begin,” but this is very much its own song. I wouldn’t be surprised if it got radio airplay.
The last two tracks are awesome, too. The closing song “Life Support” is spellbinding.
The only thing I don’t love about this album is—years later—I still can’t tell if I think of some of Mike Kinsella’s lyrics as “overly dramatic” or if he’s just speaking openly and “honestly.” Maybe somewhere in between. Either way, the sublime music more than makes up for any impatience the listener may have with continued reference to “relentless adolescence”—a theme which, in fact, Kinsella treats beautifully in the last song.
American Football is making music on a whole new level right now—both compared to their previous stuff and compared to the rest of what’s in the emo and indie rock scene. Nothing else is close. There are few better musical experiences than putting on headphones and listening to a brand new American Football album for the first time (and it’s been two years since the last time), so once you’ve downloaded this album via the provider of your choice, block out some time and space and enjoy.
I made the mistake of not checking the van stereo’s volume before pressing play on “Letting Go,” the first track on Wild Nothing’s new LP Indigo (released August 31 on Captured Tracks). The kids and I all nearly jumped out of our seats at the opening sixteenth note hits on the snare. The keyboard, bass, and interlocking guitars join in to make it a great opening track (the album’s first single).
“Oscillation” is next, which—without taking away from its originality—sounds something like if members of The Cure and James and Amusement Parks on Fire formed a supergroup… in 1982.
The rest of the album maintains a (glorious) 80s vibe, complete with ethereal keyboard riffs and attention-demanding lead guitar lines. I kept thinking: this is what Prince would sound like if he covered early 80s CCM classics! (That’s praise, not a complaint.) The album’s saxophones fit perfectly, even if their first entrance on the album was a surprise.
I took great pleasure in having a traveling companion/listening partner try to guess what year the album came out. “2018” was not the expected answer!
The production is excellent on the album, the melodies are catchy, and all the instrument parts are interesting. It’s got a sweet vibe. I still like 2012’s Nocturne better—it feels a little more effortless—but Indigo is still a great record.
Check out the artist site here, the label site here, and the album at Amazon here.
Thanks to Wild Nothing’s PR team for early access to the album so we could review it.
The gap between the last two Innocence Mission albums was five years. Now, a mere three years after releasing Hello I Feel the Same (reviewed here), The Innocence Mission has put out Sun on the Square (Badman Recording Co).
The album begins with two measures of a nylon string guitar arpeggiating a major chord, which quickly turns minor as the vocals enter, instantly evoking a yearning for connection. This first track, “Records from Your Room,” uses piano sparingly and gorgeously. The haunting high-register melody perfectly compliments the lyrics: “I meet you there out in the air // I’m listening.” It’s a compelling way to link this album to ones before it, setting the stage for something new but familiar.
The second track, “Green Bus,” offers an exquisite interplay of guitars—soft and understated, but precise and tight. “I cannot find a thing beautiful enough for you again,” Peris sings. The song’s strings are beautiful, expressing more ineffable longing.
In “Look Out From Your Window” (featuring a Peris kid on viola!) Peris still wants to listen: “All I cannot say I hope you know // All you cannot say I hope I can hear.” There is a theme of disconnect mingled with hope, acknowledging the reality that we cannot achieve ultimate communion with one another, even asbut that we hold out hope that one day we will. It is on this track that there is (at last!) some percussion.
“Shadow of the Pines” is an instant classic, and easily a top 10 Innocence Mission song. The muted piano is as if they decided to use toy instruments and coaxed all the beauty they could out them. The song is like stepping out of the Metro in Paris on a spring afternoon, encountering a fantasy made real. The instrumental closing of the track gives the listener layers of melodic, moving riffs, which—were this any other band—could have built for another five minutes. (The song is a modest 4:01.)
The spare use of electric guitar on “Buildings in Flower” is a nice touch. Don Peris’s guitar is tastefully employed and never over-shimmery (if that’s even possible!). More drums! (But only for the last quarter of the song.) If “And it’s hard to know, now, where we should go” is the call, the response (in question form) is, “Will the lifting of a window let the Spirit in, and then we begin to vividly live?”
The sixth and title track, “Sun on the Square” is probably the most complex song on the album and maybe one of their most ambitious compositions ever. Loads of string swells as the rhythmic song goes on, which is a great sound for the band. “Let there be more kindness in the world,” Peris sings.
If the next track “Light of Winter” sounds familiar, it’s because a previous version (called “From the Trains”) appeared on a sweet EP called “the snow on pi day.” It could be a Radiohead song. The first version—which we like a little better—had a little more backbone to it—bass and drums where there is piano now. The songs are different enough that renaming it made sense. The new version is still great. The theme of light–and seeing it–continues.
Track 8, “Star of Land and Sea,” is practically brutal in its child-like expression of hope in a dark world. There are echoes of the same two-note, high-pitched guitar riff from the previous track, which ties them together nicely.
The second to last song is “An Idea of Canoeing,” the chords and mood of which are reminiscent of Lakes of Canada. Where else are you going to find a melodica? More wondering: “Will I cross the street to you / in the traffic breaks / in the light of this / in the light of this love / here and now?”
“Galvanic” is a nice way to end the album. She sings in hope, “I believe we are going to see, things will come right this time.”
Overall, this is a very good album (can the band create otherwise?) with a lot to dig into, both lyrically and aurally. The band seemed to write and record this album with a soft touch, not risking too much. But you’ll only find gratitude here for the ways this record returns to the lush notes and tones of My Room in the Trees and Befriended.
As with all their albums there is an undeniable authenticity that comes through in their music. Amazingly, the band’s songs could produce the same emotional response in the listener, whether or not they produce them with multiple instruments. Karen’s voice and heart-rending lyrics come through with every composition. Also amazing is her ability to write so skillfully (and for such a long time now) about such universally human themes as loneliness, disconnect, hope, light, and vision. The hope is uniquely Christian, or at least one that looks up. It’s this—and the unique and always moving music—that keeps us coming back to them.
Check out the album here at Badman or here at Bandcamp.
Thanks to Badman for early access to the album so we could review it.
It’s not until about 30 seconds in to Amusement Parks on Fire’s beautiful new three-song EP, “All the New Ends,” that you hear their signature, shoegazy lead guitar. It sneaks in and out of the first track, an homage to the band’s heavier sound of previous releases, even as recent as November 2017’s excellent two-song EP Our Goal to Realise.
That APOF would begin their 20-minute (!) EP with a mellow (by their standards), lilting 6/8 waltz is surprising, but this band is so good–and had been on hiatus for so long until last year–that their fans will welcome any new direction. It’s still APOF after all: a beautifully crafted song with melodic vocals and layered but not overproduced guitar parts.
That first track, “All the New Ends,” seamlessly moves into “Temporal Rinse” with a wall of distorted, tremolo-picked guitars, overlaid with high-register, ascending diads that I can only describe as reminiscent of the soundtrack of Final Fantasy IV on Super Nintendo.
The listener expects that the band will, at some point, break through the wall of distortion and into a hard-rocking groove, much as “So More It Be” transitions to “Blackout” on their album Out of the Angeles, or as the final 40 seconds of “Road Eyes” prepares us for the almost danceable beat that begins “Flashlight Planetarium” on the Road Eyes LP.
Instead, the title “Temporal Rinse” turns out to be descriptive of the song’s role. It’s a sort of palette cleanser that moves listeners from the mellower “All the New Ends” to the epic and heavier final track, “Internal Flame.”
Rare is the song that eclipses six minutes and holds the listener’s attention the whole time. I think of the Smashing Pumpkins B-side, “The Aeroplane Flies High,” or Sun Kil Moon’s 10-minute “I Watched the Film, the Song Remains the Same,” or anything from Side B of The Cure’s “Disintegration.”
“Internal Flame” takes longer to build than those songs do, clocking in at an impressive 12:43. (This ought to convince anyone that this “EP” is easily worth its $3 in digital format.) By about the 7-minute mark, I was ready for more musical variation than the four-chord progression, but as the song structure remains constant, the band continues to add tracks: more guitars, more drums, tambourine, still more guitar lines, and probably dozens of other tracks lurking beneath the surface that make the song what it is. As an erstwhile recorder of music and writer myself, I can hardly imagine the challenges involved in tracking a 13-minute song so flawlessly.
“All the New Ends” releases in digital format on April 13, with CD and vinyl releasing likely this summer. Here’s the track listing:
It’s always a little bit sad when a young band with a ton of talent puts out a couple of great records and then stops releasing music.
My brother introduced me to Amusement Parks on Fire in 2005. Their song “Blackout” is a shoegazing classic. They put out a couple of LPs in the mid-oughts, followed some EPs in the following years. In 2010 they released Road Eyes. I was impressed at the time, but the album didn’t impact me as much as their earlier stuff. Still, this is Amusement Parks on Fire, and even a less-than-stellar album from them is really good.
It had been quiet on the APOF front since 2010’s Road Eyes. Now, however, they are back. There’s a two-song EP dropping next week. (I love both songs.) And I hear rumors of a full-length to follow….
A few months ago the band re-released 2010’s Road Eyes as a deluxe edition. The re-release adds some demos, some tracks that came out on other EPs, and the glorious unreleased track “Airstrike.” (How this did not make it onto an LP or EP already is beyond me.) There are other previously unreleased tracks, too, giving you a full nine-track “Side B” that complements the original Road Eyes LP.
There are very few APOF songs I don’t love, and none I don’t like. I bought Road Eyes the week it came out, seven years ago, but it didn’t wow me then as much as the first two LPs. Going back and listening again now, though, I think Road Eyes is just as good as anything APOF has released. Having new music to digest in this deluxe edition is an added bonus.
I’m stoked that Amusement Parks on Fire is recording again. The deluxe edition of Road Eyes will both fill your APOF-less void and get you ready for their upcoming offerings. Can’t wait.
Check out the album here. It’s currently digital-only, but in February 2018 will be available in vinyl and CD formats.
Thanks to the kind folks at Saint Marie Records for giving me access to the album so I could write about it.