Here at Deep Cutz, we provide you with pure, unwound inspiration, brought on by extended, thorough headphone sessions and musical study. A dialogue with music. It's never really much gossip or hot-off-the-presses news items. No, simply unadulterated analysis..., or really, musings, on the many intricacies of a piece of music (typically recognized here, as the album format.) We're not here to continue some of the unhealthy symptoms of the internet music community or to let the fact that we listen to a lot of music allow us to believe, for a second, that we know more than anyone else. Nothing is flaunted. Nothing is torn down just so we can look cool... Headphones, an album, pen and paper...discourse...dialogue.
Today, and in the months to come, Deep Cutz features its own style of the review, brought to us in this edition by music writer Thomas Matich, as he unpacks, dissects and explores the epic/dreamy-folk pop of local band The Silent Years and their new album: The Globe.
Spinning The Globe:
The brilliant new album from The Silent Years
by Thomas Matich
I first met Josh Epstein in a limousine riding up to Ann Arbor on a frigid February night en route to a Vampire Weekend concert. As flurries of snow blurred by the windows during a winter blast, we put our lives in the driver’s hands. I leaned into Epstein, the lead signer of The Silent Years, telling him how much of a fan I was of their live show (if you let them open for you, prepare to be overshadowed). Always dressed dapper in a blazer and usually accompanied by his equally fashionable Icelandic flame, Birta, Epstein cordially thanked me and returned compliments my way. Then, our party arrived at The Blind Pig, as we began pillaging through pitchers and swaying to the Graceland grown ska grooves of those doll faced Ivy League lads.
Shortly afterward, an unmixed copy of The Globe, the upcoming new record from the local band, found its way onto my iTunes. There was a listening session in the offices of Real Detroit. The tunes didn’t immediately resonate with me. But, based off their previous work and stellar concert repertoire, I was thinking that the finished product had the potential to be fantastic. The band recruited Chris Coady, who previously mixed TV on the Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain. And like TVOTR, The Silent Years have jettisoned their debut, delivering an album where the melodies and hooks linger in one’s memory as just singing a few lines to a fellow fan elicits gleeful chatter of how fucking great The Globe is.
(by Silent Giants)
After getting acquainted with these splendid songs for a few months, they’ve become as cozy as an old blanket, as not just the ears, but the entire body is wrapped in a cocoon of compositions that light the way through a darkened cave. These are tracks that bleed as blood brothers lost at sea, united by ships crashing on top of the most mystical and terrifying tidal wave that ironically washes the castaways onto a glorious tropical isle. The suitcases full of glistening treasures and belongings are floating far away, some haven’t survived and no man is an island to himself. The Globe spins on the axis of our iPods, where the world is a scary place, and even when the youth culture strives for manufactured individuality and apathy, Epstein reminds us that in the end, we are all in this together.
Through the tingling treble of an old telephone, Epstein cautions: “you could arrive on any city on the globe and feel alone. ” With hints of Radiohead at their most potent and rock (The Bends with bigger balls), bookshelf speakers don’t do justice to this elevating arc of a symphonic powerhouse jam. One of those ignorant codes of manhood is that it’s taboo to ask for help, that men must fend for themselves. If The Beatles begged for a handout by chiming “Help! I need somebody!” than Epstein displays the internal struggles of guardian angels or those psychologists that are more fucked-up than their patients (“my hands became a wishing well and people started throwing change/ you know I want to change”) as the lump-in-the-throat chorus erupts and begs to be echoed by anyone whose ever had someone help them get back on their feet: “climb on! climb on! climb on! my back!”
Detroit can be viewed as a microcosm of this country, where its industrial base reflects the health of the economy as a whole. With their self-titled debut, where Epstein sang, “I won’t complain if this town caught fire,” on “This Town,” there’s a familiar glow of backyard barbeques in Motor City suburbs blaring throughout. Although it’s a fine first record, it lacks the unison of vocals, melody and instrumentation that The Globe masterfully meshes. Compared to their latest, it seems like a local band gushing with talent that is just waiting to have their passport stamped. When Barack Obama has become an international superstar appearing on Access Hollywood, Rolling Stone covers and drawing thousands for speeches in foreign lands, he’s become, as the New York Times recently opined, “the acting President.” And the world is paying extra close attention to our upcoming election and, as always, pop-culture. In tough times where Americans are seeking a “change,” the rest of world seems to be waiting in the wings. Therefore, The Globe does turn with this planet that some say is in peril.
But this world doesn’t revolve around us, even though we are its keepers during our lifetime. What mark we will leave? Could Epstein be hinting at Global Warming, war, poverty or gluttony on “Pay It Back,” when he warns “don’t you think that it’s yours, because maybe it belongs to everyone”? With World’s Fair horns bellowing in the background that could’ve come from the caboose of the cherry-cheeked conductor on Mr. Rogers’ tranquil trolley, another smiley sing-along ensues simply to the tune of “da, da, da, da.” The juxtaposition of cheery carols and bleak lyrics could subscribe to the fact that on this spinning globe, where there’s always night, somewhere else there’s sunshine. And I’ve had several discussions about the dark subject matter of this record, and although death and gloom are a driving element, the album reaches its zenith in moments that highlight hope and triumph over adversity.
Iceland’s influence on Epstein isn’t limited to romance. While their Radiohead sprinkles are morphed by Epstein’s vocal dexterity and clarity providing the juicy cherry on top, there’s an interesting relationship with Sigur Rós on The Globe. However, Epstein doesn’t sing in Hopelandic (although any sensible music fan knows most lyrics are open-ended). But the stellar, crackling, thumping hollow drums of “Ropes” could be compared to Sigur Rós’ first single, “Gobbledygook,” from their newest album. While the Icelanders worked with Flood and perhaps gone “Sigur Lite,” The Silent Years are heavy and they pack The Globe with enough nuclear nuances to spark another Big Bang.
The record’s rousing finale, “Open Up Your Eyes,” begins with an orchestration of those beautiful, glacial and stirring break-beats that Sigur Rós perfected on ( ) and Ágætis byrjun. As plucks of hazy distortion build, Epstein purrs about catching a break in life and needing to straighten up his spine, recollecting on his grandfather’s belief in him as a newborn. If The Globe is about focusing on the negative and how to change for the better (“you know I want to change”), than maybe remembering those words from Grandfather serve as the moment of insight, a sudden turn of the corner to a path leading to light at the end of the tunnel. The song explodes into furious handclaps and chants of “Open up our eyes! Wide! So we can see more!” During a recent performance at St. Andrews Hall, the crowd sang and clapped along to those words with the spirit of a church choir. It was one of those moments of unity. However heavenly Sigur Rós live might be, don’t hold your breath for audience participation on the scale of sing-a-longs or The Silent Years handing out noise makers, spraying silly-string or calling for an impromptu slow-dance to Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
When I recently read that Paul Simon’s Graceland was on the band’s current playlist, I was reminded of that Vampire Weekend romp and thought of the similarities and differences between the two bands (musical, socioeconomic, hype etc.). If Vampire Weekend have released one of the best albums of the year that is drenched in the details of worlds some may never know, The Silent Years have crafted a classic that speaks volumes on something everyone on this planet can relate to: what ends first, the world or us?
(next week: exclusive, Josh Epstein in a Deep Cutz interview)