Review Summary: Army Navy avoid the dreaded sophomore slump with "The Last Place", injecting a tale of extremely personal heartache into their power-pop.
Quick show of hands. How many people here can relate to a lyric like "sorry about your lobotomy, to remove the part that held all of me"? OK, I still see a lot of hands. Everybody has been through a bad break-up, and everyone has had to deal with that awful feeling of the other party moving on. Now keep those hands up. How many of you can relate to something like "said it was only me and you. Except for your husband that was true"? I still see a few hands up. I'm sure plenty of people in the world are familiar with being the "other man" in a torrid affair. Of those with their hands still up, how about this one: "maybe it's your celebrity, that made you want to slum it with me"? And, there go the rest of the hands.
Army Navy first came onto the scene back in 2008, releasing a self-titled debut that was (in my humble opinion) an instant classic of the power-pop genre, as well as having a non-album track featured on the soundtrack for "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist". Filtering bands like Guided By Voices and Teenage Fanclub through the sounds of the indie rock scene of the past 20 years, their album was critically praised and commercially ignored. In the following year, they toured with The Lemonheads, The Arctic Monkeys, and The Dodos, as well as having a video directed by Paul Scherer of Human Giant, all while building a small but dedicated cult following. Some mighty fine accomplishments regardless of album sales. However, during that same time lead singer Justin Kennedy started a relationship with a married actress, which obviously didn't quite pan out, leading to their new album, "The Last Place".
Right from the outset, anyone familiar with the debut will realize they're in for a different sort of album, with the first line of the album being "The last place I wanna be is in my head". And while the pristine, shimmering guitars are still there, the giddy tone present in most of the debut has been wiped away. "The Long Goodbye" is a nice, mid-tempo strummer, and Kennedy's vocals have never sounded better. "Ex-Electric" takes the same formula, adding in pretty vocal harmonizing to the background to nice effect. In fact, most of the songs are done in the same vein, which works when you have a band that excels in that tempo. Luckily, Army Navy is one of those bands.
That isn't to say that they don't have some spiky songs that would have sounded more at home on the debut, it's just that there are far fewer this time around. "Feathered" starts off sounding like Weezer's "The Good Life", "I Think It's Gonna Happen" sounds like a slick GBV track, and "An Ode To Janice Melt" (which features all of the lyrics from the opening paragraph) rides a bouncy piano introduction into an exemplary power-pop song, full of hand-claps and crisp guitar work.
The standout track on the album is the penultimate "Open Your Eyes", which starts with distortion before finding its footing in the same mid-tempo beat from the majority of the album. Then the towering chorus hits, and its possibly the best chorus they've ever done. And for a band that writes the kind of choruses Army Navy is capable of, that's a massive compliment. The album closes with the 6 minute ballad "Pastoral", which is the longest song they've ever written. This leads to the one last thing that differentiates "The Last Place" from "Army Navy". While the lengths of the songs remain almost exactly the same as the ones on the debut, this set of tracks feel like they've had more room to breathe. Why that is, I really can't explain. Perhaps because they seem like they're in less of a hurry to deliver the chorus, perhaps due to the slower instrumentation. Either way, it works, and it makes for an excellent follow-up to a great album. And while the actress who influenced this set of songs remains unknown, here's hoping the album doesn't suffer the same fate.