Review Summary: Pardon the mess.
Memory can be so inopportunely powerful. I’m referring to those moments before sleep, wrapped up in the comfort of warm blankets, when moments thought to be buried—trivial moments, perhaps, in the general scheme of things—suddenly reemerge as awkward reminders. Don’t recall that terrible story written in eighth grade that was essentially a wish fulfillment fantasy? Not to worry; that file was cleverly tucked away out of reach of any self-destruction mechanism. Remember flirting with that one girl and she didn’t understand what the genre ‘emo’ was, and through explaining it you saw the light leave her eyes as though her consciousness was desperately trying to flee the conversation? Memory’s got that one on demand, too, just so that every detail can be scrutinized and overexaggerated through the twilight hours. It becomes so impossibly overdramatic that perhaps it never even happened at all, or whatever happened has been bastardized as a tool my emotions use against me. Why mention any of this? It’s partly due to the fact that my mind dredges those things up whenever it feels inappropriate to do so. The other half of the dilemma is that, sitting in the supposed coziness of my own home, I still have this sense of not having a plan at all with regards to the rest of my existence. Some rational section of being wants to don some sunglasses, invent a smoking habit, pull off the best imaginable Nietzsche impression and go well, f*ck it—no meaning inherent to life itself, right? Might as well just do my best to live. The benefits of this are multiple.
- I will manage to sound far more intellectual than I actually am.
- I can finally take advantage of smoke breaks at work.
- I’ll have an excuse on-deck to explain why I’m still discontent with where I am and the person I’ve become.
Barely Civil constructed their debut record on being disconnected. Primarily, it narrowed on the concept of being disconnected with wherever you lived or where you came from. On I’ll Figure This Out
, however, the Wisconsin quartet have now discovered a tiny spot on this big ol’ globe that can be marked as their domain. What they’re supposed to do while they’re there, what’s expected of them, and how to clean up the mess around them, remains an open question, and it is the unease surrounding that inquiry that serves as the disc’s impetus. And as I continue to recline at the dining room table, presumably enjoying the familiarity, I wonder what precisely is assumed of me; having uprooted my life as I had known it two years prior, I can’t help but notice the scenery changed but the lurking mental glitches held steady. It is in that state I currently find myself, which is perfectly mirrored by the Midwestern gents behind the record presented here, which is then
perfectly mirrored by those intrusive memories that only wake up when I’m trying to fall asleep. It is a comparatively more atmospheric venture from the Milwaukee troupe, and the audience is all the more grateful for the refined expansion on their established sound. While this is certainly a Barely Civil record—the indie and emo motifs endure as encountered previously—it plunges down an introspective path that makes an overt attempt at excavating the insecurities of the listener.
“I awoke on the rooftop—
wondering if I jump,
will you catch me?
I don’t think so
so I’ll go.”
It was this lyrical conclusion of “Hollow Structures” that made the aforementioned revelation—Barely Civil embarking down a gloomy street—a difficult reality to stomach. Perhaps it may have occurred to me earlier on “Graves Avenue.” Judging completely by its immediate presentation, the tune features a threateningly ominous aura about it. Connor Erickson’s gentle vocals, though restrained, never felt absent from the narrative being spun, yet he adopts a detached quality here as if apathetically sinking into discomfort. The progression of the guitar’s gentle strumming into a shockingly heavy finale is a captivating spectacle of powerful songwriting. But no—the gorgeous subtlety of the former track was what triumphed, though not in a way that diminished the success of the latter’s incredible, mood-soaked arrangement. Maybe those bothersome, intrusive thoughts perked their ears up at the very mention of ‘rooftop’ and ‘jump’ as if that was all that mattered. Maybe it was how Erickson utters “Will you catch me?” in such a remorseful, resigned way as though he already knew the answer. It’s also impossible to ignore the brief trumpet that sneaks halfway through, longingly calling out before the band erupts into a post-rock jam session spearheaded by a melodic lead. I’d contend that what ties all three of these ideas together is the simple fact that Barely Civil excel at making these frequent instances of compositional brilliance personal
. There was an air of nostalgia that surrounded the duration of We Could Live Here Forever
, owing somewhat to the thematic content and the nature of the debut’s sonic identity; it was reflective when regarding than life, a focus placed upon what was years ago instead of the present or concerns of the future. What “Hollow Structures” does is serve as a microcosm of how the sophomore LP is meant to relate to its listeners, as it takes an emotional core—not knowing whether or not to stay in a relationship or drive far away—and paints it in painful honesty.
Referring extensively to Barely Civil as dark reads as a gross misinterpretation. By the outward aesthetic of their sonic output, this bunch appear perfectly upbeat courtesy of their polished, gentle instrumentation, Erickson’s shy delivery, a clean production job, and pop sensibilities. Introductory song “…For Now” and first proper number “Bottom of the Lake” easily fit this description, with the anthemic chanting of the prelude entry transitioning seamlessly into pop-punk jamming. The tune transforms when diving behind the addicting melody that drives it forward. For the entirety of the single, Erickson laments about his current position in life: alone, no place to stay, just wishing to sink away. And that is where he’s found—resting at the lowest depth of a body of water, resigned to drowning until pulled out at the last moment, the sadness shifting to shame as the repeated phrase “all of this was misguided” quietly plays. This narrative is brought to life through the group’s heightened attention to post-rock structuring inserted into an indie motif; there is considerably more care given to the texture of the string instruments, the way a song swells into a crescendo, and the patience demonstrated to reach those culminating moments. “Bottom of the Lake” succeeds because Barely Civil have centered themselves here, which equates to a more focused perspective than their initial work. The track’s dominating melody is the fuel, whereas the layer of emotion supplied by the despondent lyrics tie the entry into the fabric of the listener. It’s difficult to hear the gents bear their souls so openly and not see a seven-story drop, feeling misguided in my actions all the same, the rousing guitar acting as the cacophony building in my own head. For something a la “North Newhall,” the key factor is the repeated indie riff enduring throughout as the rest of the members gradually add in their parts—Erickson’s soothing voice, sporadic drum hits that soon turn to a full passage, and the crunch of the rhythm guitar. Only after two minutes and 30 seconds of this do the musicians launch towards a grander height, a soaring lead resonating alongside rousing group vocals. For a supposedly reserved act, it is an undeniably grand product of songwriting.
These triumphant occurrences are discovered frequently within I’ll Figure This Out
, the post-rock addition promoting tracks that simply sound much bigger, their runtimes capable of covering significant ground no matter the length. It creates a wonderful ebb and flow as the album cruises through its lifespan, the incredible crests connected perfectly with softer creations. Multiple cuts are devoted purely to setting a mood, such as the aforementioned “Graves Avenue” and, perhaps the most notable for its ethereal environment, the chilly contents of “The Worst Part of December.” No exceptional peak looms; an adherence to a wintry coolness—understated ambient contributions and delicate strumming—is the objective, forming a profound sense of disillusionment in the midst of what should be familiar surroundings. Elsewhere, the slow, elegant conclusion of “Hollow Structures” transitions gracefully into the bombastic opening of “Box for My Organs,” a sugary-sweet pop-punk melody coloring the track and highlighting the outstanding refrain. Much like companion tune “Fairmount,” Barely Civil flex another new asset: Erickson’s improved range. Though he is content with his usual methodology, he more readily exhibits a commanding baritone, freely belting out the somber finale of the latter formation as the instruments rise to meet him. Not only does it offer an extra punch to drive home the explosive climaxes that are designed, but it provides insight into how the quartet has evolved in the two years since their first foray into the realm of music. Gone are the comparatively timid days of the debut where inspirations loomed over the effort, the end result being very enjoyable yet caught in the shadow of yesteryear’s greatest hits. There’s a sense of a newfound confidence that erupts in each memorable crescendo, thriving off of the beautiful melodies the band manages to cycle through. Songs grounded in their atmospheric construction similarly progress in a purposeful way that avoids dipping into filler territory.
Such a dynamic inevitably encompasses the existential despair penned for the lyrics. Regardless of where the collective ends up, the prose is static, trapped in a rut between a close companion, what should
be home, an ambiguous-at-best future, and an immense desire to drive from it all. An idea emerges that bouncing from couch-to-couch isn’t a good path to start down, and nor is it worthwhile to stay where one no longer feels welcome, regardless of who inhabits that space. It’s necessary to “go,” and that is the solution I’ll Figure This Out
struggles to reach. The catharsis of “…Forever” is, much like “Hollow Structures” before it, not limited to one catch-all reason that explains its enormous impact. Maybe it is the masterful climax that is developed through the duration of the track, biding its time before reaching a high point of echoing guitars and powerful shouts of the final line, “so I’ll go.” Maybe it’s because of the unexpected bridge that’s been crafted between me and Erickson’s lyrics. I hear him cope with confusion, disappointment, and defeatism for 33 minutes, but I only hear my own voice crying out the melodramatic yet uncompromisingly truthful ending of “Fairmount”:
You’re never gonna fall in love
You’re never gonna find someone
and you’ll find it’s hard to breathe
You know the worst is yet to come
or maybe not, you’re 21
you still find it’s hard to sleep with no dreams.”
When Barely Civil claw their way to “…Forever,” it is a realization that absolutely feels earned, and it’s one that reminds me that going and changing does not have to be a wrong decision. In fact, it’s a necessity when home doesn’t provide safety and too often does one march to the bottom of the lake, waiting for the silence to wrap around, the water the only calm location to find. Beyond all other postulating, I think it boils down to what I’ve described earlier, and it must be reiterated: Barely Civil is, basically, an emo band through and through. The days of We Could Live Here Forever
may be a childish dream referenced in passing—a nostalgia-infused trip built on Erickson’s idealized hopes and outlooks on life—but the self-doubt, constant questioning, and lurking depression remain carried over from that release, as well as the crew’s uncanny ability to deconstruct a listener and open up their mind to their own experiences. The extensive compositional capabilities of the Wisconsin set assist in founding an atmosphere that immerses the audience even further into this philosophical state. Supported by the soulful timbre of the indie-esque journeys or the stunning melodies punctuating those massive pinnacles, Barely Civil’s latest portrayal of a humble, human odyssey is one that weasels into the heart, takes root, and speaks volumes through its commendable musicianship and relatable lyricism. Invasive late-night thoughts can take a breather—I think I’ve figured it out for now.