Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review: "Rise Ye Sunken Ships" by We Are Augustines

We Are Augstines' "Rise Ye Sunken Ships" receives
a physical release August 23rd on Oxcart Records.
Click above to listen (requires Spotify).

Deriving its name from the birth months of members Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson, We Are Augustines have crafted a sonically rich and emotionally dense record for their sophomore effort. We Are Augustines were formed from the ashes of the band Pela, whose album Anytown Graffiti wound up on more than 30 "Best Of" lists back in '07, including Yahoo! and indie mainstays KEXP out of Portland. KEXP even placed it at #112 of the best 903 albums of all time. Two of the primary members of Pela (the Augustines) moved on to form this band after some fairly intense professional and personal struggles, audible now in the straight-forward intensity of We Are Augustines' "Rise Ye Sunken Ships."

This album will grab you, immediately, and not request, but demand your attention. The quick build of "Chapel Song" with its persistent beat and urgent, dysphoric vocals draws you in to the record and to the stories contained within. This song sets the tone of the album in a large way: disquieting, intense, personal, well-orchestrated and executed to perfection. On the flip side of the coin, this song (as the album) languishes lyrically at points, but not to the level that would leave you unable to fall in love with it. In fact, sometimes when the language and rhyming schemes are at their simplest, you are able to hear the core of the song, and find that its simplicity has a positive correlation with its ardor.

What's most impressive about We Are Augustines is the deftness with which they wrap these heavy themes around immediately accessible musical decisions. While the music itself may be dark, they find a way to frame it around an effortlessly listenable indie-rock sound, guitar heavy and rhythm focused, but with enough flourishes of horns and synthesizers to create epic backdrops to simple songs. That's certainly a strength of the album, where a song will lyrically ebb, it manages to musically flow. There's no bad song and a large part of the reason why is the sonic landscape it creates is so perfect that even if you manage to miss the lyrics, you can determine the tone and feel the story through it (Barrel Of Leaves is a perfect example).

When I say lyrically ebb, you certainly should not mistake it for writing poor lyrics. It's only an indication that their lyrics are so well-crafted that it's very easy to look at a line and say, "You could've done better, guys." It's something akin to your child coming home with an A-: you know in your heart they're A+ and they're just not working to potential. As I've mentioned, the simplicity of their lyrics is a blessing and a curse, but occasionally it hits on that curse a tad too hard, though by no means does it damage (in any serious way) this album's impeccable quality.

Whatever the album lacks, it more than makes up for. Sure, sometimes it seems that words are used simply because they rhyme, and sometimes McCarthy's vocal imperfections can drag a song down, but the simple rhymes and haunting voice are crucial to the high points on the album. So naturally, this album matches every low with at least a half-dozen highs, and the end product winds up being a fantastic example of the caliber of music that's been coming out of Brooklyn in recent years. Where searing intensity and emotionally dense themes meet rhythmically intense indie-pop with dark swirls of electronics, you can find We Are Augustines, and where you find We Are Augustines, you'll find me.

You can keep up to date with We Are Augustines via their awesome website, their Facebook, their Twitter, and find this album "Rise Ye Sunken Ships" on iTunes or get a hardcopy from Amazon, starting August 23rd.

Editor's note: They may've gotten a couple tenths of a point added for album art, because, well, look at that album art. Here's a hi-res image.

Rating: 8.9/10
Standout Tracks: Strange Days, Augustines, New Drink For The Old Drunk, Barrel of Leaves, The Instrumental

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