A few months back, Justin and I both wrote about some records that were the direct product of or exemplars of a lineage of experimental music from the heavy underbelly of the recording industry. Speaking for myself, that glimpse into personal listening history was brief and it did not take long before I would find myself turning to more familiar standbys. I would not say my tastes are stagnant as, though I have frequently bemoaned my own laziness in seeking out new music lately, I have lobbed my fair share of criticisms at “genre” music; by which I mean those bands that often swirl around the eddies of every buzz band(take your pick).
Don’t get me wrong, I try my best not to be any kind of snob because I use to be that guy big time and he was a loser, but I personally have longed for a real good wow moment for a while now. Those moments are always their most impressive when gilded by astounding surprise–when there is no time to allow expectations to formulate–they have, in my experience, become so much more enduring. I hope this whole preamble adequately sets up the atmosphere in which I have experienced Dreamliner, the latest from the Midwest Emo young guns Brighter Arrows. I say young guns with a little cheek as the four piece are far from green being that some members have something of a decade of experience making music(including Lautrec, Mans, and Phoenix Bodies in their lineage) and as a whole the group has already put out a fantastic debut album; Division and What it is to Abide and a split with Ohio’s Locktender. Only a very brief teaser informed my anticipation before Dreamliner hit the web for free streaming so it caught me somewhere between looking forward to a promising new record and total surprise.
My initial reaction and indeed the first thing most people are already saying about Dreamliner is in regards to how much darker it sounds compared to their previous work. Instead of sitting around postulating and projecting my own biases and tastes onto what I was hearing, I thought I would reach out to Jake Norris about these changes in sound and what heavy influences, if any, pushed these new songs into this noisy new territory. “Fundamentally, Dreamliner is ‘darker’ because Colin (the other guitarist) was at the helm for the record. I was the primary songwriter for both Division… and our split with Locktender. He had a guiding concept for the album of experiencing insomnia as a child. The themes emerging from that heavily influenced the musical arrangement of the songs. As far as specific bands, Colin cited Black Dice and Swing Kids as notable influences.”
Indeed, dark is not even a strong enough word to describe the palpable aura of the record and with that concept outlining the musical and lyrical direction it seems wildly inappropriate to label this record with such innocuous adjectives and all the cheesy baggage that accompanies them. Dreamliner does not just dabble in screechy guitars or chug on way down tuned E-strings to generate some false sense of brooding but instead dives headfirst into huge waves of feedback and ambient sound. Before you think Brighter Arrows have completely bucked traditional song structure and have become some boring drone ambient band they are still very rooted in that gloomier-Pinback sound from their previous recordings; simply expounded upon with new layers of sound. Also, keep in mind that Swing Kids influence, it really shines during the more intense post-hardcore jaunts with sharp, angular guitar parts and emotive shouting. In fact, even before Jake confirmed it for me, my first impression of Dreamliner was heavily informed by the sound of early Gravity Records in particular bands like Clikatat Ikatowi and Unwound. There are moments all over with chiming guitar strokes and and a see-sawing rhythm section, off keel jam sections that swell and break. Dreamliner is not a totally bleak mess though, while it certainly holds its weather-beaten shape based on some very intense emotions it is also supported by a yearning and hopefulness that peeks out from the solemn shades of its timbre which barges out in full force on the closing title track.
While we are on the topic of influences and Emo legacy I would like to point to one of the best aspects of Brighter Arrows so far in their career–they have managed to play a sound that could easily fall into trite “Emo-legacy-act-worship” patterns but instead transcends their roots and direct influences. Such traits are increasingly dangerous for a nascent band with all those big names reuniting to cash new checks and play to new, more appreciative audiences. Jake told me that he is “a poor forecaster” but noted his doubts as to how much these historic band reunions are likely to influence how people our age write music. “I feel like the limited life span of bands shrinks the potential to explore. Ideally, one would think we or following generations could pick up where the former ones left off, but that appears less common. Colin is nearly ten years older then me. If we really have pushed boundaries it is because he brings insightful experience to the table, as well as the fortitude to experiment, the combination of which is generally lacking. This really focused the elements and ideas the rest of us had to offer.”
Yet, the fact remains that the Midwest has been a refinery throughout the evolution of Punk with bands like Husker Du completely revolutionizing what a Hardcore band could sound like or the hey day of 90s Emo with bands like Braid or The Promise Ring. So it is no surprise to me that from within the circles that Brighter Arrows has emerged that bands such as their split-mates Locktender as well as the likes of Jowls and Droughts are exploring new sounds within their genre and pushing the logical limits of what Emo and Screamo can do in 2013 and beyond. Jake also pointed to Cloakroom who just released their debut EP and “also, the band Animal Lover from St. Paul seems to be one of punk’s best-kept secrets. Hate to spoil peoples’ cred, but they deserve some serious attention.”
Unfortunately, Brighter Arrows have encountered some big set backs, having to drop off of a European tour just recently due to border problems, but their spirit is not broken and the gears are already turning to continue pulling them forward. “We all love the idea of getting out more, but we don’t have any extensive tour plans currently. We hope to promote the LP with weekend tours later this summer, and we will go from there. We also hope to knock out a covers 7″. And Colin and I have half-joked about writing an EP processing this whole Euro tour debacle, so we will see what shakes loose.”
Watch a video for the song “Visitation” with visuals by Zach Harris.
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