Review Summary: The line of best fit.
I’m in this habit of perpetually listening to music, and judging by those around me, so are a lot of the people I know. Thing is, I always find it extremely difficult to tell if we’re either a) incredibly lucky to somehow be able to engender a connection with sounds forged by individuals working thousands of miles away, or b) just the tragic conclusion of the ease at which self-isolation is afforded to the smartphone generation.
But this I know for certain: my ideal world is one in which music sticks like Velcro to its surroundings, with each song capable of recreating a set of thoughts, emotions, and even memories unique to it. As a result, the vast majority of the records that I own are constantly availed with every possible opportunity to make themselves ubiquitous to my psyche: I jack in my headphones while writing daily geological reports; turn up the car’s speakers whilst embedded within the 5 pm Kuala Lumpur gridlock; and don’t start ironing my shirts until my iPhone’s playlist has gotten underway. It’s a passionate, prolonged attempt to make something – anything
– stick. In a nutshell, each day is a continuation of my search for what Robin Pecknold of the Fleet Foxes called the transportative ability of music, and these routine, even mundane experiments are how I’ve come to identify bands like Iron Maiden as the perfect accompaniment to being behind the wheel of my Proton Saga, or successfully pigeon-holed someone like Eluvium or Mount Eerie to the role of elevator musician (which should not be seen as a diss in the slightest).
And this brings me nicely onto the subject of A Great Big Pile of Leaves’ (AGBPOL because that name is a mouthful) sophomore release, You’re Always on My Mind
. While the album has spent the last week showing me how it can make puns out of its deceptively simple title, I still can’t seem to figure out how to best make it work – I’ve jammed to this beauty of a record in just about every setting readily available to me and it still feels like a work ready-made for all seasons. At first I thought it was down to a profound lack of identity within the music that so many bands struggle with on their sophomore releases, but then again, an album’s ability to slot neatly into just about any mood that I ask it to should probably count as a feather in the cap as opposed to a black eye, no? In the end, despite my aforementioned worldview on how I’d like music to operate within the confines of my life, I’m finally coming around to the realization that You’re Always on My Mind
’s dissociative trait – its aversion to being cuckolded, if you like – is important, because having started out on it with zero knowledge of ABGPOL, I now feel like I’ve listened to the four-piece all my life, or at least, can sit down at a bar and have a drink with the lot of them without feeling too awkward.
AGBPOL lead singer Pete Weiland’s stately, often introspective vocal work probably has a lot to do with that. His is a voice that is perfectly suited for storytelling, a gift which is repeatedly used to great effect on You’re Always on My Mind
’s thirty-three minutes. On album opener “Snack Attack”, he dreamily muses that, “Late at night/You and I/Never work out quite right,” capturing an entire summer’s worth of failed relationships and dashed hopes in one fell swoop. Elsewhere, album highlight “Pet Mouse” sees the Brooklyn native spinning a charming yarn about his new found friend that never fails to endear (“We got a new pet mouse/Came free with the apartment/Wasn’t too fond of him at first/But we’re starting to get along"), while the cheekily-titled “Pizzanomics” features nothing short of a diatribe on the everyman’s disillusionment with the modern rat race.
Instrumentally, You’re Always on My Mind
refuses to be a subject of easy taxonomy as well. While there are songs like “Snack Attack” and “Flying Fish”, which propel themselves along on the back of guitarist Matthew Fazzi’s chiming riffery and drummer Tyler Soucy’s busy, hey-look-at-me fills, there are also cuts like “Egocentrism” – which starts off by making extensive use of its copious amounts of negative space before blooming into an out-and-out band jam, all in the space of two minutes – and "Slumber Party", which I can totally see accompanying the local farmhands’ weekly jaunt through the community barn and around their skyscraping bonfire. That’s not to say that the songs themselves are not malleable, though, for the truly remarkable thing about the whole affair is how You’re Always on My Mind
still manages to sound thematically consistent despite the subtle auditory changes perpetually taking place across the board. I’m not one to set much store by what bands say about their music (ever notice how the “next record” is always described as having a “more organic” recording process or sounds more “direct”?) but I think Soucy has a decent point when he commented in a recent interview that,"I feel like with this record we've finally figured out how to make each song sound different from the one before it but still keep the collection sounding cohesive.” Seems fair enough to me, mate.
So while AGBPOL haven’t exactly reinvented the indie rock/pop wheel with their sophomore release, they’ve still managed to come up with a collection of songs that are more than deserving of your attention – especially if you’re a fan of stoic, jangly music in the style of bands like Bad Veins, Beach Fossils, and perhaps even The National. In the face of such pure and simple auditory entertainment, I guess it matters not if the Velcro don’t always stick.