Review Summary: If the weather ever withers up your vine
Sometimes I feel like I dreamt up Rich People. Though little goes on by way of innovation of the emo or alt-rock genres, there’s something about the band’s music that just feels right. Not an ease but a naturalness. Take ‘Cold Sweat’, the closing track on 2015’s Jacob’s Ladder
. What should be a seven-minute snoozer of a song feels more like an impassioned avowal, a renewal of hope in the trope of the soft-strummed closer. It refuses to open up into the enveloping wall of sound that one might expect, that characterises much of the earlier album. But Robert Rich’s narrative is captivating back-to-front; his inconsistent slips into the third-person from the first- are nothing short of charming. So ‘Cold Sweat’ is Jacob’s Ladder
’s deepest, its final breath. It’s the sleepiness, the dreaminess, of a long drive or taxing night. It’s a perfect end to an imperfect album.
likewise is full of imperfections. Like Jacob’s Ladder
before it, it’s far from innovative. Indeed, in terms of songwriting, much of Harmony
feels like a rehash; its melodic and lyrical references to Jacob’s Ladder
run the risk of being lost in equally derivative melodies and lyrics. To the extent that Harmony
does innovate on its predecessor, however, most strikingly in the cleanness, the poppiness of its production, it does so with a disarming abundance of clarity and awareness. On opener ‘Contrast’, for example, which introduces the most pivotal of the album’s dichotomies, Rich asks: “So change, or stay the same?” The answer, of course, is both, or neither: “Let us all be one now”. That the question follows the first of the album’s many call-backs, however—lyrically, the song references Jacob’s Ladder
opener ‘Perfect Friends’; sonically, it harkens back to that album’s emotive, soft-loud dynamism—is striking. That it’s succeeded by the first of the album’s excursions into a poppier alternative sound is no less significant.
At times I wish Harmony
had the narrative clarity of an Albatross
, or a mid-era Menzingers album. That isn’t to say the album is void of highlights: the aforementioned ‘Contrast’ calls to mind ‘Post Virgin’ (to my mind, a perfect emo song) from the too-much-mentioned Jacob’s Ladder
; ‘Fairmount’ is a heartbreaking ballad that details the aftermath of an overdose, and on which Rich’s vocals are at constant risk of falling through the cracks of dissonant piano (miraculously, they never do); the seamlessness with which the band move into and through ‘Downtown’’s various parts is some sort of magic... I could, of course, go on; that the album manages this unity without any obvious unifying narrative is absolutely impressive, and not at all beside the point. Harmony
is rambly and discursive, neither stuck in the past nor fully able to escape it—and why should it? There’s an honesty at the heart of it—a deep, deep empathy, for itself and those around it—one that makes up for, fills in the cracks of, even the most obvious of flaws. It’s a dreaminess, a naturalness, a richness.