Review Summary: A humanizing soundtrack to a dehumanizing epidemic.
On my first listen, I thought Stay Inside
was a quintessential break up album. I caught lyrics like I promised not to kiss you/But I made a mistake/I promised not to miss you/But what can I say
(Weak Days) and So many ways you know she’s not right/So many things that I could dream up/But that’s just too heavy, my heart weighs enough
(Earthbound). While nothing unique, they were true to me in a vulnerable moment. My second listen solidified that feeling.
Then I listened for a third time.
First, some background: Elder Brother is the side project of Kevin Geyer (vocalist/guitarist of The Story So Far) and Dan Rose (vocalist of Daybreaker). Much of the lyrical content for Stay Inside
was inspired by a trip to Rose’s hometown of Cape Cod, one of the cities most impacted by the American heroin and opioid epidemic.
With this fact in mind, nearly everything about the album changes, from the couple surrounded by poppies on the album cover to the album starting, rather on the nose, with a sombre instrumental track called “Greatest Hit”.
Following “Greatest Hit”, the frantic “No Reason” kicks in. Rose sings with urgency, both as someone witnessing and experiencing an overdose. With a catchy chorus and captivating vocals, “No Reason” is a clear highlight and the heaviest song on the album. Other songs such as “You & Me Forever”, “Wish You Were Here”, and “I Don’t Miss You” also show traces of the pop punk influence of their creators, with the lyrics making them outliers of the genre. While all could be interpreted as break up songs, it only takes looking at the song titles in terms of the opioid crisis to find the darker meanings. This cognitive dissonance and subtle playing of tropes makes “You & Me Forever” an interesting highlight.
The rest of the album falls into the realm of emo and alternative rock, with a brooding and generally downbeat atmosphere. Geyer’s guitar is brilliant and just as important to the final product as the lyrics or vocals. Rose’s vocals and Geyer’s intermittent guitar licks come together perfectly in “Sway”, and a bluesy, float-on-the-air feeling is created by Geyer on “Weak Days” (which also has brilliant lyrics with double meaning). With a number of choice solos throughout, more layers of Geyer’s guitar playing are revealed on subsequent listens.
And then there is the beautiful final combination of “Earthbound” and “I Don’t Think It Stops”. “Earthbound” is a melancholy song of realization and loss -
When we were kids we would play in the dirt
Now twice a year we bury our friends
This is God’s work, so why does my back hurt"
Holding hands now because we didn’t back then.
Suddenly the chorus of So many ways you know she’s not right/So many things that I could dream up/But that’s just too heavy, my heart weighs enough
means so much more. With “Earthbound”, Elder Brother manages to do something incredibly important: Humanize drug addiction.
Finally, we’re ready for the ending. We’re ready to have hope and to acknowledge that, yes, this opioid crisis is bad, but we’re going to conquer it. Instead, we’re given this unfortunate, yet important, truth in “I Don’t Think it Stops”:
I don’t think it stops but I can’t feel it
Think I’ll turn it off if you don’t mind
Hope it isn’t broke because I can’t fix it
I don’t want to have to prove I’m right