Review Summary: By the sounds of it, Augustana have aged twenty years in a mere three years time.
Singer Dan Layus attributes the change to be heard in his voice on Augustana’s self-titled to his own maturing over the time from numerous years of touring and writing music. It’s a stronger, more developed tone, he states in the band’s recent interview with Absolutepunk, that can now be heard overtop a sound that the band says is that of belonging to the true
Augustana on their new album, which is more or less an exercise in contemporary light-weight southern rock, that's all. The soaring anthemic reaches of the band’s back catalogue of adult contemporary singles are long and far gone behind them now, along with their singer’s urgent, developing voice: “Boston”, “Boston”, and “Boston”, where no one knows singer Layus’ name, in place of a more consistent album of tunes, where the band sounds unified as a whole behind the weary, aged voice of Layus as their frontman.
And Augustana sound awfully bored with themselves, too.
Layus has more of a country, weather-beat tone, truth be told, and on record it doesn’t fair well for Augustana at all. Late in the self-titled affair, “Hurricane” ruins its welcome merely one minute into its five-minute length, Layus drawing out another of the album’s unspecified and bored vocal melodies that can’t root itself in the ears quite well enough to warrant later returns. “Burrowed Time” is as slow going as a Sunday afternoon in the spring time when your family does little more than sit around all day. You can imagine the band outside of a farmhouse of some sort, plucking acoustic guitars, with Layus’ legs propped up on a stool, singing out of the corner of his mouth lazily. Whatever happened to the Augustana in the time since 2008’s Can’t love, Can’t Hurt
has seemingly aged the band twenty years, has aged its target audience twenty years or more, being of dull hearing, too, and has noticeably reduced the quality of the band's sincere contemporary songwriting.
The lyrics often stretch here from painfully ambiguous to cliché. Run through the first five tracks, paying careful attention to the hook-heavy “On The Other Side” that is detoured and driven clear into the ditch by cliché after cliché: “I wanna feel you love me at the speed of sound,” is a notable favorite - thanks, Coldplay. Augustana stress that this is the band “raising the bar for [itself]” and “upping the stakes”, yet this is arguably its weakest album so far: it just sounds more consistent sonically than 2005’s All the Stars and Boulevards
and 2008’s Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt
, but that’s because it’s just consistently more bad, not good in the least.
The best song, by far, is pre-released cut “Shot In The Dark” that was played on alternative rock radio months before Augustana’s self-titled release. What gives the song strength is primarily the fact that it isn’t held back by the faults of the rest of the album: the hook is strong; the lyrics are on par with the radio hook supplied; and Layus changes his tone in the chorus, more than a little. You know, he actually sounds sincere when he says, “baby, we still have a shot in the dark”. The same can’t be said for the rest of the album, though. No, not at all: “Counting Stars” is “Boston” without its youthful urgency and a hell of a chorus, i.e. nothing, and first proper single “Steal Your Heart” is destined to never chart anywhere, the band’s relative popularity aside, with its weak forgettable instrumentals and Layus’ broken delivery on full display to be heard in the mix. Augustana sound bored and weather-beaten to death on their self-titled, and if this is how the true Augustana sounds, then it’s fair to say that they're far and away past their prime and could consider calling it quits.