Review Summary: Ten Years Gone
Patience is a virtue… My mom would say this all the time. And rarely has this aphorism felt more apt in the world of music than with the long-awaited release of Summer Moon
, There Will Be Fireworks’ third LP, a finished product many fans had given up on ever seeing the light of day. On the subject of those fans - while this Scottish band might be almost unknown to the average underground listener, to hear a certain faction talk about their previous album (2013’s The Dark, Dark Bright
) is to hear it discussed in the same hallowed tones as consensus classics like Loveless
. And, in case you’re wondering, I’d say that faction is 100% correct.
Until now, it felt like The Dark, Dark Bright
might serve as There Will Be Fireworks’ final testament as a band, a purpose for which it’s quite ideally suited, with its amalgam of indie rock, post-rock, folk, and emo constituting a definitive statement on the transition from uneasy youth to uneasy adulthood. In short, it’s the kind of record which never goes out of style, and time has served The Dark, Dark Bright
very well, with its songs feeling only more profound as the listener’s acquaintance with them deepens. Nonetheless, I’m glad that the subject of “final testament” has been put off for another day. After all, There Will Be Fireworks are simply the little band that could, with a small but near-flawless discography, pumping out delicately crafted but utterly emotive tunes to tear your heart apart. And Summer Moon
marks just another chapter.
It seems slightly foolhardy to attempt to assess Summer Moon
’s quality in a release week writeup, given every one of this band’s prior offerings (two LPs and an EP) have grown steadily as the weeks, the months, the years fly by, but even with that caveat, I can already note that this is an incredible album. It has colossal shoes to fill (at least for those in the know), but measures up to an illustrious forebear remarkably well. It is unmistakably a There Will Be Fireworks effort - replete with earnest lyricism, striking melodies, a consistent sense of grandeur, and an unshakeable feeling of “Scottishness”, but also manages to advance the band’s style, both through sonic evolution and through the simple fact that, now a decade more advanced through the journey of life, the musicians involved can’t help but to have a shifted perspective (“still you can’t undo what time has done
”, in the apt words of “Second City, Setting Sun”).
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Summer Moon
is to consider the ways in which it marks a continuation of the band’s lauded record from a decade ago, and the ways in which it marks a divergence. In my view, The Dark, Dark Bright
is about a lot of things, but increasingly I’ve found its most resonant theme that of the dislocation of inevitable change - of painful transitions, the gradual pulling away of familiar faces, the piercing sense of loss which results from that “you can never go home again” feeling. Summer Moon
doesn’t evade these subjects and, indeed, it often leans into them - memories of times long past as pondered, old friends are recalled, familiar lyrics are referenced. But this latest batch of songs (thirteen in total) also place this northern melancholia in a new context - feeling more like the bourgeois existentialism fitting of men approaching middle age rather than the heartbroken murmurings of an earlier stage of life. And ultimately, many of the comforts revealed in Summer Moon
are tied to the stability of classic trappings of adulthood - marriage, kids, the like (as the touching line in “Holding Back The Dark” intones - “while our daughter sleeps so soundly, let the world begin again
” or this wise note from “Staying Gold (Slow Defeat)” - “the love that’s left is the realest stuff
”). But, it’s important to note that Summer Moon
feels less like There Will Be Fireworks’ “mature” record, and more like the band is still navigating the same complexities of life they’ve always contemplated, with its joys and sorrows. They’re just in a different place now - ten years gone - and their artistic expression of that new reality is as compelling as ever, particularly given many of their fans find themselves on similar stages of the journey.
The decade which separates Summer Moon
from the band’s last dose of music brings with it some baggage, an unspoken expectation that There Will Be Fireworks probably have moved in a more gentle and mellow direction. After all, that’s what most artists tend to do as they age, gaining in reflectiveness in exchange for the dimming of youthful fire. In this instance, though, there’s a strong case to be made that this latest offering is actually a heavier effort than its predecessor. If there aren’t any moments here quite as explosively elemental as perennial fan favorite “River” (although Nicky McManus comes close to screaming during the climax of opener “Smoke Machines (Summer Moon)”), plenty of these tracks lean into a kind of methodical alt-rock bombast which is, in a different way, as powerful as any of the sonic elements this group has previously utilized. Overall, though, this is a sonically diverse full-length, with a tasteful mixture of rockers, ballads, and sparse tearjerkers, while still feeling entirely coherent.
If there’s been one specific charge that’s been leveled most against There Will Be Fireworks’ previous output by those skeptical of their formula, it’s that their songs can veer into overwrought sentimentality. As a super fan, I’m not even sure that idea is wrong, per se, but something about the combination of McManus’ passionate vocals, the sweeping backdrops, and the artful songwriting coming together makes the end result poignant rather than saccharine. I’m doubtful this new album will disappoint the fans or convince the haters, with mid-album track “Old-Time Tunes” a fitting litmus test, given it’s not only the record’s most stripped-down song with its bare-bones folk stylings, but also its fairly basic lyrical construction (ending with the mundane line “that’s all I wanted to say, I hope you are ok
”), but the delivery is pure gold and deeply affecting, making it a prime representation of the band’s craft. Elsewhere, these songs often slide into the kind of ennui-tinged waters which wouldn’t be out of place on one of The National’s prime-era records (if less abstract in tone) - such relatable tidbits include "in the television light, I am not myself tonight
” (from “Smoke Machines (Summer Moon)" and “do you lie awake at night wondering who’s this by your side
” (from “Something Borrowed”). But, overall this is an album which balances restless fears and anxieties (a la the “something in the darkness, it’s staring at me
” in “Our Lady Of Sorrows”) with a persistent sense of perseverance and hope inspired by those around them (“you’re a summer in full bloom
” in “Holding Back The Dark”).
Every record which reaches fantastic heights needs to feel like more than just a collection of songs, and while Summer Moon
might not be a true concept album, it is bound together with common themes. These concerns are already richly textured for most of the runtime, but truly find their voice in the final two songs, which form an absolutely gobsmacking duo. The penultimate track, “Second City, Setting Sun” is one of the ages - not only falling among the band’s most sprawling compositions, but also serving as a love letter to the band’s adored hometown of Glasgow, and standing as a shimmering piece of nostalgia achieving sonic form. It’s also a thesis statement of sorts for Summer Moon
, honoring the past (“still there’s magic in this old gray town
”) while meditating upon the disparate paths that members of their set have trod since the halcyon days (“some of us walk a real rough road, and there but for the grace I go
”). This band’s fans simply could not ask for better. Then, in contrast to that drawn-out and grand piece of balladry, closer “Bloody Mary” is markedly slight and reserved. Upon initial listens, it might pass you by, but ultimately proves both essential and stunning. Over a gentle piano-driven backdrop, McManus croons out some of Summer Moon
’s most captivating thoughts, among them “the same air, the same sky, but everything has changed
” and “it’s not like there’s such a thing as fate, you make your own way
”, leaving the listener to ruminate on one of the most powerful indie releases in recent memory (and probably click play on Summer Moon
Ultimately, it’s too early to say whether Summer Moon
the equal of The Dark, Dark Bright
, which is, for all intents and purposes, a flawless album in the eyes of this reviewer. But, if I’m unwilling to slap a perfect score on this LP (at least yet), then at least I can’t deny that There Will Be Fireworks have now released one of the finest records of the 2010s, waited an entire decade, and then released one of the finest records of the 2020s. You don’t see that every day. Yep, gotta love this band.