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Album Review

SOCC Writers’ Albums of 2022

It’s been a big year for new music. Check out what some of our DJs and writers here at the SOCC consider their favorite albums of 2022.

Sexy by Coco and Clair Clair

Although everyone I know would likely expect to see Crash by Charli XCX as my top album (and I don’t blame them!), I have not been able to get Sexy by Coco and Clair Clair out of my head since its release. This aptly titled album is full of witty disses, hedonism, and most importantly, fun, that makes the pop duo so special. The playful rejection of men and self-centered attitudes play a defining role in these tracks, like in “Bad Lil Vibe“: “I just wanna party baby, I don’t want a man. Don’t want you, want a couple more bands”. Much of this album offers remnants of nostalgia for previous internet eras; “Pop Star”, the closing track, could fit right in on the wall of a celebrity gossiper/sparkle addict’s MySpace page. With lyrics like, “Girl built like a vape pen and think that she compare”, need I say more? As pure confidence exudes from every second of the short half-hour runtime, the listener is reminded that, although this is Coco and Clair Clair’s world, they can be a part of it too. – Lillian Fuglsang

Ants From Up There by Black Country, New Road

Working your way through this album is utterly exhausting, but once you’re done the only thing you want to do is jump back in headfirst. The catharsis provided by stellar almost theatric instrumentals polished by months of performing and improvising these songs in front of crowds for months, and the hauntingly beautiful lyrics written by Isaac Woods littered with little gleaming metaphors that you won’t decipher until your fourth listen, is exhilarating. Those two sentences were a mouthful but I could talk my mouth off about this album any day of the week. While it is disappointing we may never see this band in this form again due to Isaac’s totally understandable absence (he often cried while performing this album), you can’t help but be excited for what’s to come after such a masterpiece. -Issa Nasatir

NO THANK YOU by Little Simz

NO THANK YOU is Little Simz’s timely followup to her monumental Sometimes I Might be Introvert album last year that won her multiple accolades, including a BRIT and a Mercury Prize. I couldn’t stop listening to her last album; it was on repeat wherever I went. Simz, whose given name is Simiatu Ajikawo, grew up in North London to Nigerian parents and has been developing her musical career for a little under a decade. NO THANK YOU promises consistency with her recently developed sound and feels like the mark of an artist detailing and shaping her craft. The inclusion of dramatic orchestral sounds between her flow creates an entirely original and emotional sound. This album deals with themes of racial inequality and Black power, as well as her own personal struggles as an artist. It entirely sucked me in, just like the last one did. Give it a listen and I promise you won’t regret it. -Sadie Fleig

Get On The Otherside by Bobby Oroza & Cold Diamond Mink

Bobby Oroza is a BRAZEN VOCAL GOD with an incredible voice. You can hear the heartbreak and the passion in this man’s timbre on all twelve songs. With the talented, soulful musical stylings of Cold Diamond Mink in the background, this album is sealed as my top album of 2022. -Robby Brooks

Ants From Up There by Black Country, New Road

BCNR’s Opus blends the passion of Bowie, the animal rawness of Conor Oberst, and the behemoth goals of Godspeed You! Black Emperor into an hour of emotional surrender. This monolith has amended itself into the music canon quicker than any record in memory. Repeating themes lodge themselves into your head just to tighten your pull into the album’s space. Agh I just feel like I’ve listened to a band sacrifice themselves to a higher power in order to create something more powerful than the Elephant’s Foot. – Jack Madison

American Heartbreak by Zach Bryan

I know country might not fall to the top of many people’s list, but on the pure fun scale, this album topped my year without any question. This album completely changed my perception of country music- that is showing it is incredibly listenable, and was a perfect summer album. Although it’s a little long of a project, coming in at a whopping 34 songs, most of them are deeply replayable. It’s just easy, fun, and exciting; perfect for summer car rides, backpacking, and really anything in the warm weather. It’s my favorite album of the year for the memories its accompanied, and how it does a great job moving far, far away from hyper-commercialized trucks and republicans mainstream country. I’d recommend a listen. -Theo Tannahill

Time Skiffs by Animal Collective

As a longtime Animal Collective fan, I was so excited to hear some of their initial songs from this album on the radio at the beginning of 2022, with hits such as “Prester John” and “Strung with Everything” that were palatable enough for the avg. indie listener but still had traces of their signature experimental sound. The organic instrumentals throughout are reminiscent of a favorite AnCo album Sung Tongs, but offered even more meaning behind their songs thanks to Josh Dibb’s thoughtful lyrics. Not going to lie, I was not liking the trajectory of their discography before this album… BUT I know Time Skiffs is going to be a classic that I will keep coming back to. Favorite song: “Royal and Desire” -Emily Faulks

Florist by Florist

Florist opens up with June 9th Nightmare that is an eerie ambient tune that sounds like spiderwebs and creaking doors, yet you feel cradled by its cyclical nature. The two duets feel as if a waltzing battle is spiraling in and out your ears. The album pans out in a very beautiful way, much like how a flower blooms. Florist was made on the porch of a rented house in the Hudson Valley where the band focused on collaborative creation nestled into their daily routine and outdoor endeavors. The retreat into nature and intuitive processes make up the album’s dominance of raw elements. Ambient music outnumbers those with lyrics which requires the listener to be patient and invites them to move into a space of retreat, much like the creation of the album. The dominance of ambient sound forces a personal interactive experience that feels like flower petals reaching out like dangling intrusive arms rearranging your brain chemistry. The short abstract wording and ambience allows you to connect with it in just the way you want it to; if you allow it to be, it provides reflection of self. Though the album is about loss, homecoming, grief, and healing, Florist has mastered the art of saying a lot without saying anything at all which forces individualized interpretation. Just when you think the album picks up, it shoots you back down with beautifully nurtured hums, chirps, wind, fingerpicking and crickets. It plays with your mind and places you into pockets of your brain you have never visited before. Florist is an experience. It is spiritual, free, intuitive and alluring. Favorite songs: Spring in Hours and Red Bird Pt. 2 (Morning) -Marina Malin

Reset by Panda Bear and Sonic Boom

As members of Animal Collective and Spacemen 3, respectively, Panda Bear and Sonic Boom’s first album as co-songwriters was a big splash in psychedelia. But the album doesn’t call attention to itself as such: the yipping and screaming of AnCo’s early albums and the drones of Spacemen 3 are relinquished for easygoing melodies and arrangements. But as pleasant as is the spiraling music and its sampled foundations of 50s-60s hits, the lyrics detail a frustration that would be fit for sonic frenzy if its source wasn’t in the stillness of indefinite languishing. Reset is hopeful and bright with its darkness in plain sight. Released in August, I listened to it as this school year approached and found an album suited for beginnings and for staying in place—an encouragement to grow and a comfort in stagnation. -Tate Gibbons

Super Champon by Otoboke Beaver

Super Champon is the band’s third album since forming in 2009, in Kyoto. Its rhythmic and fast, and super exciting they are preserving the same feeling as the 2019 release Itekoma Hits. The album comes in at 20 minutes of super punchy and girly sound. PARDON? is my favorite track. – Isabella Garcia

Dissolution Wave by Cloakroom

It really comes down to the guitar tone. This album rolls through expansive distorted sounds built on simple song structure. It’s slow, heavy, and intentional, more shoegaze than metal. Many songs feel like a guitar-centered symphony, others are more pared down, fringing on indie, but overall the record swims between genres and tempos in an exploration of sound and texture. -Asa Gartrell

Ants From Up There by Black Country, New Road

The dissonant cacophony of sounds that introduces Black Country New Roads’ debut album, Ants From Up There, rightly sets the tone for the next jam-packed 58 minutes. This album, like nothing before and never will be again, brings together the unusually melancholy sounds of the 7 young British band members. The band’s first and last album together brings you on a pilgrimage to a not-so-classic breakup album. It is the breathless emotion throughout each and every one of the unparalleled tracks that made this album stand out as the best album of 2022 for me. -Meleah Silverstein

Bin Reaper 3: Old Testament by Babytron

Bin Reaper 3: Old Testament is Babytron at his best. It’s the third album in Babytron’s Bin Reaper series, but this album shows him in a whole new light. Songs like Silly Me, Wake Tf Up, and Airtron are reminiscent of the sample-heavy beats that gave Babytron his initial claim to fame. Tron doesn’t stay beholden to this style though, as songs like Drake & Josh and 8th Wonder of the World sound unlike anything he’s put out previously. Whatever the beat’s style is and whoever is producing it, his rapping is always fast-paced and entertaining to listen to. -Peter Gottsegen

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Album Review

Album Review: Weyes Blood – And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow

And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow is Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood’s second album in the trilogy that may well become a generational trinity. Its monumental predecessor, Titanic Rising, saw Mering beg and plead for some stable ground beneath her feet. With her cries answered only by the feedback of despondent tides, Mering swam through shipwrecks and salvaged memories just to look at the corrosion that had spread all over her desires. On In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow, Mering can no longer indulge in the past, and the future is no refuge either. The second act of this apocalyptic trilogy is birthed as Mering clings onto a romantic desperation to guide the way through a moonless night.

String arrangements reminiscent of “A Lot’s Gonna Change” give rise to a stairway of piano notes on the intro track. Mering’s glowing voice shines light as we approach. As if reaching her hand out through the music, she sets the scene for Hearts Aglow with a bittersweet reminder that every one of us gets lost in the current. Her golden chants proclaim “It’s Not Just me, It’s Everybody” repeatedly, celebrating a revelation that she no longer needs to muzzle the voice of her pain. “Children of the Empire” throws the listener into a music hall located in the eye of a hurricane. She taps into the beauty of baroque instrumentation – I can feel the aliveness of each instrument. Pianos, harpsichords, and bells jump around on top of the “oooh’s” and “aaahs” in the background. Even a xylophone comes in to do his always-pleasant dance (Yes I will anthropomorphize an instrument, this is the Weyes Blood baroque effect). She laments the blood on the hands of herself and other “children” of a globalized era: the time when it is near-impossible to avoid burning oil extracted through invasions and single-use plastics that will never decay. Mering acknowledges that we will pay for our sins while gazing into this cosmic clutter. However, she reminds us that we “don’t have time to be afraid.” This party at the end of our heyday is soundtracked with grim coloring: “They say the worst is done, but I think it’s only just begun.” She continues to frolic beneath nihilistic rain on “Hearts Aglow,” crooning lines like “The whole world is crumbling; Oh, baby, let’s dance in the sand.” During these moments of bliss, the apocalypse is merely a blip on Mering’s radar. 

The psychedelic folk tale, “Grapevine,” is a post-breakup rumination centered around Southern California’s Interstate 5. The soft hums of her guitar mystify the highway – she mythologizes the landscape as a path where one can curve around curves until they’ve escaped the relentless drone of time. It all leads to the nauseating realization that she and a past lover are now “just two cars passing by on the grapevine.” The song and the memory drive us off to become one with a dark blue horizon. In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow treats earthly forms as a foothill to wander up until we’ve entered the romanticized territory of mythos and fables. Mering’s voice can carry the listener away to these spaces, sweeping them up to fly to a world drenched in moonlit mystique. She’s got vocal prowess dripping with so much beauty that it could compel tears from a thirteen-year-old football player who has been conditioned to think that boys shouldn’t cry.

The escape that Weyes Blood seeks on the “Grapevine” has her sunk to her knees on “God Turn me Into a Flower.” She prays to morph into some embodiment of serenity – to be grounded and rooted. Birds chirp and Mother Nature communicates through synths similar to a language explored in Mort Garson’s Plantasia. Slowly, nature’s sounds take over and what’s human falls away, leaving in its wake buds that bloom to reach for the sun. The flowery ego-death that Mering prays for is a desire that can’t last. Resurrection fueled by blind hope arrives on “Hearts Aglow,” an endearing moment in which Mering shoots through the smog above to reach an unclogged sky. As she drifts in and out of white clouds, her voice is followed by harmonies of the heavens; Phil Spector’s ghostly fingerprints can be seen on the Walls of Sound that come from behind.

Photo Courtesy of Weyes Blood

Mering uses instrumental segments such as “And in the Darkness” and “In Holy Flux” as globs of gravity to pull the listener even deeper into the tide of the album. Sandwiched – a bit awkwardly – between these two is the carbonated “Twin Flame.” Psychedelic drum patterns flow up beneath to pop like bubbles in your ears. I’d like to hear more of this weird style from Mering, the song makes me feel stranded in the cold and lightless Aphotic zone of the ocean. Hearts Aglow is bookended with “A Given Thing,” slowing things down Tori Amos style. A solid knot on the tracklist, but it doesn’t tie the project up as tight as she did on Titanic’s “Picture Me Better.” Most Hearts Aglow songs are just a bit less strong than their sequential counterparts on Titanic Rising, but this album leaves a golden wake behind regardless of any memory bias. 

The most remarkable musical trilogies are often forged in great wildfires, whether those troubles are societal or personal: Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, The Cure’s “Gothic” Series, Dylan’s 14-Month Trilogy. With a cocktail of microplastics and Teflon in our bodies and half a decade left on the Climate Clock, we continue to walk, even if our legs are fueled only by the foolish passion of our hearts. If earth ever goes gradient, this album and trilogy will be a picturesque elegy of the world as a car going downhill in neutral gear. 

Natalie Mering, also known as Weyes Blood – Courtesy of NPR
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Album Review

Album Review: Grouper’s “Shade” LP

By Jack Madison

Grouper’s new LP, Shade, is a collage of her unique sonic styles, where every song falls into its place with gentle sincerity. This variation makes sense, as Shade was recorded over a fifteen year span from Mount Tamalpais in northern California to the oceanside town of Astoria, Oregon. Grouper’s Shade can be a peaceful helping hand to those in need of an intimate conversation. 

Discovering Liz Harris’ versatility as the mind behind Grouper a month ago was an introduction to many new paths, all ethereal and romantic. One night I plugged in my earphones and turned on Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill, her third album, to drown out the sound of the infinitely spinning fan in my dorm that had been blowing since summer. At first I heard the familiar atmospheric melancholy of Mazzy Star and the nature-inspired drones of Phil Elverum. I would realize how special Grouper’s sound was as I drifted off. Her dark-purple whispers and hums were not only sublime, but Liz Harris’ holds enough subdued power to transport her listener to any environment she pleases. 

Image courtesy of Pitchfork

Fifteen years into her career, it is fair to say that Harris is a master of creating atmosphere. On Shade, she first takes the listener out of reality with the disengaging track, “Followed the Ocean.” Similar in feel, “Disordered Minds,” holds reverb-soaked, ambient songs that follow much of Harris’ earlier work, acting as palette-cleansers to remind us of the altered plane of existence we will drift through for the duration of the album. 

In the past, Grouper often sedated the listener with piano ballads on albums like Ruins. On Shade, she uses slow guitars, sometimes to hypnotize us into a world more peaceful than our own. The slow folky guitar on “Ode to the blue” and “Promise” do not create a sense of eeriness, instead one of curiosity and comfort. Like a child seeing the beauty in emotional connection for the first time, Grouper sings “you have the prettiest eyes… and I promise to take good care,” in the most simple, lovely way possible. The lyrics and instrumentals are stripped back, resulting in an intimacy and connection, as if we are in the room with Harris.  

In the soft melodies of songs like “Pale Interior,” a highlight of Shade, connections between Liz Harris and her listener have never been stronger. We hear her conversations at the end of the songs and the somber slides of her chord changes. On “The way her hair falls,” Grouper is at her most human, she makes mistakes and restarts verses, but this vulnerability only brings us closer to her. It takes a lot for me to compare anyone to Elliott Smith, but the intimacy Grouper created on these songs mirrors Smith’s whispery vocal link between himself and his listeners on albums like Either/Or

Grouper created an experience similar to rising and falling tides, where we drift further away during her dissociated songs and drift back during the folk ballads. Although we’ve been comfortable through this whole journey, “Kelso (Blue Sky)” is the final and most accessible song on the album; Grouper brings us back to land here, we can hear the faint hoots of owls. The listener has to allow themselves to feel rather than think while listening to Shade; this works as Grouper knows how to guide us into letting go of reality. Shade is a mosaic of Harris’ styles over the last decade and a half, and she could not have made each song fit with more ease and comfort. This album does not build a haunted environment or grand transcendental experience like some of her previous work, but it does allow the listener to drift away into a quiet state of peace for just a bit.  

Image courtesy of Pitchfork 

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Album Review General In Case You Missed it Interview

Tank and the Bangas announce new album, “Friend Goals”

New Orleans-based band Tank and the Bangas have been blending together funk, gospel, spoken word, and hip hop since 2011. After winning NPR’s Tiny Desk concert in 2017, they accelerated to stardom and received universal praise for their 2019 album Green Balloon. That album, along with the reputation they’ve established for their extraordinary live performances, landed them a Grammy nomination for “Best New Artist.”

Now, the world is anxiously awaiting their next project: an EP called Friend Goals, to be released on November 20th. In a virtual press conference, the band shared some details about the upcoming album.

Tank and the Bangas’ upcoming album, Friend Goals

When asked to describe the album in three words, the band agreed it’s “friendly, featureful, and fantastic.” Tariana “Tank” Ball, the lead singer, added “It’s got a sexy lil vibe to it… It’s sure to keep you moving.”

The new album features contributions from Duckwrth, CHIKA, and PJ Morton, among others. “The reason it’s called Friend Goals is because it’s a collaboration with all of our friends,” Tank said. She especially loves the “creative funness that you get when you hear somebody else’s unique, fresh voice on your project.”

Tank described one of the songs on the new album, “TSA,” as “an essential New Orleans song that everybody could bump” and recalls having “so much fun” creating that song with the band’s three other collaborators: Joshua Johnson, and Norman Spence, and Albert Allenback. The band viewed quarantine as a welcome break from touring. “It’s hard to be on the road constantly… so we needed this time at home to create,” said Tank, adding “We got our covid tests so we could create with each other!”

Photo credit: Jamelle Tate

The album’s lead single, “Self Care,” is a bouncy, trilling song; driven by a bass-heavy beat. The lyrics detail the joys of what you can get away with while spending so much time alone in quarantine. The song features Jaime Woods, a vocalist known for her work with Chance the Rapper, who sings “put a dress on, maybe less on / take a bath for no reason” and later announces “boutta make some bacon then I’ll roll one / so fun.”

In addition to writing songs for the new album, the band members have been making time for their own self care practices. “Self-care for me this quarantine, personally, has been having time to step back and take a look at the type of person I am. You know, refuel spiritually,” said Norman, “It’s important, and I was neglecting it.”

Tank and the Bangas have been hard at work on themselves and on their music this quarantine, and they can’t wait to share their new songs. Allenback said “This is some of the best recorded stuff we’ve ever made. It captures us in a really fantastic way. Our spirit’s really there.”

Watch the music video for “Self Care” below:

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Album Review Interview

Duckwrth on New Album “SuperGood”

Duckwrth, image courtesy of Universal Music

Following the August 21 release of his album SuperGood, rapper and multimedia artist Duckwrth joined Universal Music’s °1824 team to talk creative process, musical inspiration, growing up in LA, and more.

Duckwrth has been a refreshing, unique voice in the rap scene since the 2015 release of his project Nowhere. Recent tours alongside Billie Eilish, Louis The Child, and EarthGang have put Duckwrth on the map—equipped with a tenacity and artistic toolbox rare of upcoming artists, it’s clear that he’s only going up from here. Duckwrth’s musical versatility is vast, enabling a diverse but still cohesive sound with gritty, heartfelt, story-driven lyricism atop a mixture of bass-heavy hip-hop beats and 70s inspired dance grooves. 

SuperGood is comprised mostly of the latter, full of dreamy, buoyant melodies and funky drum riffs. The 16-track span is an upbeat, playful, and honest exploration of experiencing new love—the insecurities, the eagerness to show off a little, and the excitement of the unknown. 

“It’s a rhythm project. So I want people to dance, to groove, to bop, to move,” Duckwrth said. The album was written in January, when Covid-19 was barely a blip on the radar. At the time he was excited for a new year, but as the world went on lockdown the album’s sound and story greeted a new reality—one that arguably needed it even more.

“It’s already its own affirmation, like when you press play it’s supposed to make you feel super good,” he said. “I feel like it came right on time, where people need to feel the best that they can at this moment.”

Duckwrth explained that the project is like “the yin and yang” to THE FALLING MAN, his 2019 EP, which delves into the character of a king who “falls to his demise because he doesn’t know love.” SuperGood, on the other hand, is all about love and what it feels like to meet someone special.

“A lot of it has to do with me taking this girl out on a date. Going to different venues, and like also different fantasies and ideas that I have of her before we actually go on the date… it’s like a story, as if you were watching a Netflix show,” he said. “It’s a story to take you away from your current situation.”

Beyond the love story, Duckwrth explained that SuperGood draws inspiration from the music and aesthetics of the 70s. 

“Such eclectic style… the music was so colorful and the album covers were so beautiful, you know, so I kind of wanted to tap into that,” Duckwrth said.

“I really feel like the 70s, especially for black people, was a time of celebration. We just came out of civil rights, and black people started to gain certain freedoms… you know, it was a celebration. So within that, when black people start going back to who they are, and their original essence, a bit of magic happens.”

For Duckwrth, growing up in Los Angeles during the 90s and 2000s was beautiful, but difficult. 

“It’s always sunny, the beach is always crackin’… it’s kind of like its own little weird utopia, but on the same flip side, it was a lot of trauma,” he said. 

“Diamonds come from, you know, the roughest type of situation. So I think by being raised specifically in south-central Los Angeles it gave me a backbone—so when I deal with corporate America, I don’t take no bullshit, you know, because I learned to survive duckin’ bullets… it just taught me all the methods I needed to get the things I need to get as an artist, as a man, as a businessman.”

Growing up, he always knew creativity to be part of his DNA—and central to his future, too. When he was young, a stranger approached him at church and told him he had a calling; the message has stuck with him since.

Duckwrth’s knack for blending musical styles comes from his eclectic taste. In the studio, he said, he’s most inspired by the feelings and chord progressions of soul, gospel, and jazz. On stage, however, it’s a different story.

“When I perform, it’s strictly punk. Like thrasher, hardcore. That’s my shit… they just perform with such a conviction, you know, and it riles people up and get’s the fire started.” 

As Duckwrth sets his sights on the future, and starts working on the next album, he said authenticity and self-love have become a priority—especially during the pandemic.

“It’s been a it’s been a really crazy year. So it’s like, I don’t think my artistry needed as much love as my human did.”

 “I feel like there’s a way to portray a healthy artist, and that’s through just being true to yourself, you know, and I think that’s how you make the best music,” Duckwrth said. “And that’s the music that lasts… that’s the music that becomes people’s favorite albums.”

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Album Review Music Video Review Reviews

The Lumineers’s III is an X/X

by Annie Knight

The Sparks family from left to right: (Front row) Junior, Jimmy, and Bonnie (Jimmy’s Wife). (Back row) Gloria’s husband, Gloria, Donna, and Donna’s husband.

When Wesley Shultz and Jeremiah Friates set out to write The Lumineers’ latest album III, they knew it wasn’t going to be conventional. Because of the serious subject matter Shultz (lead singer) and Fraites (drummer) choose to write about, alcoholism and its familial consequences, Shultz thought “it felt unfair to just name names,” he said in an interview with KFOG. “It felt more appropriate to me to tell a story around this. If you tell the truth within a story, I think it has a ripple effect.” Thus, the cinematic musical experience that is III was born.

On September 13, III was released in its entirety, but the group had been releasing portions of the album since May in three chapters containing three songs each, each song accompanied by a video. All of the videos were then compiled into the short film III directed by Kevin Phillips, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in early September. The album follows the fictional Sparks family through three generations beginning with the matriarch Gloria, followed by her grandson Junior, and ending with his father Jimmy. Each chapter focuses on how addiction and alcoholism follows the family across time, and its adverse effects.

III has brought about innovations for the group including their first short film to debut in a film festival, an uncharacteristically moodier sound in comparison to jaunty, boot stepping toons off their first two albums The Lumineers and Cleopatra, and a new relationship between music and film. The distinct music and video styles of each chapter characterize the members of the Sparks family and compare and contrast their individual relationship to substance abuse amidst these evolutionary changes for the folk rock band.

The videos for III are set in a run down, yellow house against an overcast sky. The color of the house and the name of the family, the Sparks, become ironic when compared with the somber content of III. The familial name brings to mind lost sparks, or potential, that was never actualized because of their dependency on alcohol.

The first member of the Sparks family we meet is Gloria (Anna Cordell), in “Chapter I: Gloria Sparks.” The songs of this chapter are characterized by lilting piano tunes like the soft, scales in “Donna,” and percussion heavy songs like “Gloria.” The bold percussion of “Gloria” distinctly mark Gloria as the matriarch of the family and the catalyst for the alcoholism we see affect future Sparks.

While the lyrics detailing Gloria’s descent into alcoholism are somber, the music backing these lyrics, major chord heavy that is generally connotated with positivity in mainstream music, provide an interesting juxtaposition. “Gloria” is perhaps the song off III that sounds most similar to The Lumineers’s earlier work. The fast paced, positive sounding music, however, has been traded as a whole on this album for darker, rawer lyrics. This results in a more touching, emotional album, certainly not something their earlier work lacked entirely, but an aspect more prevalent in III. 

Perhaps the darkness has come from the band choosing to source their most recent work from personal suffering. The inspiration for the album has, in part, come from drummer Jeremiah Fraites’s older brother’s death in 2001 from a heroin overdose at age 19. Fraites’s brother, Joshua, was also a close friend of Shultz.

Editing is also used in chapter I to separate Gloria from the Sparks family members that are to follow. The songs off of “I,” especially “Gloria” are cut quickly and rhythmically, meaning the shots are cut to the beat of the song. This is most noticeable in key moments of the video highlighting Gloria’s alcoholism like when she unscrews the vodka bottle at the beginning of the video and when the same bottle is seen bouncing between the logs behind the Sparks’ house after she discards it empty. “I” is also heavily reliant on close ups. Some of the most haunting are again from “Gloria” when she throws a vodka bottle at her husband, and the tense close ups between Gloria and a stranger in a bar in “Life in the City.”

Close up of Gloria in “Gloria.”

This sound and filming style is intensely contrasted with “Chapter II: Junior Sparks.” Junior’s (Charlie Tahan) songs have a languid feel to them and use almost exclusively guitar. The omission of other instruments, especially piano, are interesting when considering Junior’s role as the only Sparks that rejects the legacy of substance abuse. The Lumineers choose to highlight this through the omission of the piano that was characteristic of “I” and Gloria herself who we see play piano in “Donna.”

The filming style of chapter “II” also contrasts that of the previous chapter. It’s full of long takes of Junior smoking cigarettes on the porch, and long shots, the most dramatic of which is Junior burning the piano in front of the Sparks’ family home. The piano bonfire becomes Junior’s most overt rebellion against his family legacy. He burns a symbol of Gloria and  replaces her vodka bottle with a match. The is showcased in parallel shots of Gloria throwing a vodka bottle at her husband in “Gloria,” and Junior throwing a match in “Left for Denver.” The alcoholism Junior could have inherited instead becomes replaced with rage.

Gloria throwing her vodka bottle in “Gloria.”

Junior throwing his match in “Left for Denver.”

Junior captivating the focus “II” is a striking choice since Jimmy Sparks (Nick Stahal) comes after Gloria generationally. However, placing Junior’s chapter between Gloria and Jimmy’s, is reflective of Junior being compressed by the inevitability of his family’s habits, until he rejects them.

This theme continues with the music distinguishing “Chapter III: Jimmy Sparks.” The songs of “III,” especially “Jimmy Sparks,” use predominantly minor chords, a sound that is associated with negative emotions in popular music. The choice to make this the sound of Jimmy suggests the antagonistic role he plays in his son’s life because of his alcohol abuse, leading to parties at their house and even a physical fight in “Leader of the Landslide.” The languid guitar of “My Cell,” similar to that of “Leader of the Landslide” from “II,” connect Jimmy with his son as an influencer. Jimmy’s sound is also, however, reminiscent of Gloria because of the piano that makes a re-appearance in “III.” Thus, Jimmy becomes a link in the chain that passes on alcoholism to future generations in the Sparks family.

The filming style of “III” is also reminiscent of previous chapters in the album and short film. Extreme close ups in “My Cell” of Jimmy’s girlfriend and the debt collector echo the editing style in the videos about Gloria. Long shots of Jimmy smoking a cigarette in “Jimmy Sparks” recall the filming style of the videos about his son. Jimmy then becomes a mixture between the past and present generations of his family and a representation of alcoholism at its worst.

Close ups of the debt collector in “My Cell.”

The Lumineers forge a new relationship between cinema and music in III. In cinema, music is traditionally used to influence the audience’s emotions in response to the visuals on the screen. However, in this case, the relationship is reversed and the visuals are supporting the music. III challenges the viewer to pay close attention to the lyrics and how the visuals provide clues to deeper meaning. This creates a more intense emotional experience and a highly effective way to translate the themes that The Lumineers want us to glean from their album.

Parallel scenes of one family member carrying another out of the deceptively positive colored yellow house let us know that across sound and generation family members can’t resist taking care of one another, even if it isn’t in their best interest. However, this incessant need to care for others that will not care for themselves because of their disease, can lead to loneliness and the rage that characters like Junior feel. Like the lyrics of “My Cell” that close to shots of each Sparks family member alone in the frame, the substance abusers and the ones that love them can tragically end up in this cycle “all alone, all alone, all alone, all alone.”


Listen to the album & watch the videos here.

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