|Disruptive Patterns #43 by Harrison Haynes|
Review - Falling Off the Sky
|Special thanks to Daniel Coston for this & most of the photos here|
Was it only a dream?
Tell me please, can it be?
All the things that we’ve seen,
All the things we believe:
Tell me please,
Is it only a dream?
Falling Off the Sky)
Chris Stamey is looking through a kaleidoscope.
No wonder he gave a similar title to one of the songs he composed for The dB’s new album, Falling off the Sky. He and his band mates seem to know instinctively that you don’t reach the ripe age of 50-something — after experiencing everything they have, separately and together, musically and otherwise — without it shaping and coloring your perspective.
Kinda like a kaleidoscope.
The dB’s have decided not to pretend they’re exactly the same people or musicians they were when they made their last album together — three decades ago. And the music they’ve now created is all the richer for it. Falling Off the Sky is an immensely satisfying collection of alternative pop music. It beguiles you, it draws you in, and sounds better and better the more you hear it.
|These poor slobs slaved away in the dead of winter to create a great summer pop album for you.|
As with all great bands, there’s some mysterious X-factor at work here. Call it “musical group chemistry” if you like. Or you can adopt Peter’s explanation — the “shared hallucinogenic background” of a band that grew up together in Winston-Salem, N.C. Whatever it is, this extraordinary something makes Falling Off the Sky a far greater achievement than the mere sum of its parts.
When Chris and Peter Holsapple first cooked up the idea of The dB’s getting back together to make new music, they gave themselves a big challenge. Half a dozen years ago, they had little to gain and a lot to lose by recording and releasing another album. Being critics’ darlings meant The dB’s legacy was secure as the great (but popularly unappreciated) link between Big Star and R.E.M. After four albums of stellar music, a lousy fifth collection this late in the game would have prompted many of the same critics to lament, “Why did they have to go and mess up a good thing?”
Not to worry. Some seven years in the making, Falling Off the Sky assures everyone that The dB’s sterling reputation remains unblemished. Really, “unblemished” isn’t the right word. FOtS not only preserves, but extends and improves the group’s well-deserved legacy as creators of uniquely wonderful music. Is the new album “jangle pop”? Is it 1980s “New Wave”? Or, to use my preferred term, is it masterful “alt-pop” music? In the end, it doesn’t matter. FOtS transcends whatever category you might choose.
|The dB's - far away & long ago|
By now, you’ve heard the lead track, “That Time Is Gone.” It borrows heavily from the garage rock The dB’s knew and loved growing up, with combo organ, bluesy guitar riffs, and a maniacal drummer firing on all cylinders. Lyrically, it’s classic pop music fodder: the guy is trying to forget the woman who keeps occupying rent-free space in his head. Thus, the gotta-getta-hold-of-myself refrain: “You’d better wake up, wake up, wake up — that time is gone.” This Holsapple-penned song announces two things to the listening public: first, the new album is not going to replicate 1980s jangle pop, but use whatever type of music that best serves the songs. Second, the past really is over and done. As much as we might yearn nostalgically for that woman, that vintage musical sound, or our youthful past, this album is about refusing to be “stuck in the 1982s,” to quote a character from Napoleon Dynamite.
| "What'd you call this one, Chris? |
Pop prog psych rock?"
Track 2 is Chris Stamey’s “Before We Were Born” — a song that’s musically more buoyant and thematically rosier than its predecessor. In his joy, the singer revels in the idea that he and his love knew each other “before we were born.” The music itself is straight-no-chaser pop rock, done to perfection. Mitch Easter, longtime friend of the band and unnamed “fifth member” of The dB’s, shines here on electric guitar as he does on several other tracks.
While the first two songs highlight the delightful sound of Holsapple-Stamey vocal harmonies, the next three let each singer in The dB’s have his own turn in the spotlight. Peter’s “The Wonder of Love,” Track 3, is white boy Philly Soul, complete with shuffle groove and punch-drunk horn section. Though it’s a departure for a dB’s record, this isn’t new territory for Mr. Holsapple: he recorded the similar “Live On Love” years ago with the Continental Drifters. Lyrically, Peter is up to his old self-described “smart-ass” tricks — but charmingly so: “It isn’t metallurgy / It’s not rocket surgery / It’s not as hard as you make it sound” and, “Sometimes I wonder if the wonder of love / Is ever enough or always too much / And then I figure that it all levels out / Homeostatic and soft to the touch.” (There’s only one false step here, which is Peter’s use of the now-passé “that’s how we roll.” But I think we’ll forgive him that.)
|Will: "No; it's called a knuckleball!"|
|The other Fab Four|
|We humbly suggest a format you can touch|
|The world should hear "World to Cry"|
With Track 8, Falling Off the Sky starts to get pretty weird — in the best, most surprising sense of the word. Chris composed and arranged two songs in the second half of the album with several things in common. “The Adventures of Albatross and Doggerel” and “Collide-oOo-Scope” (Track 10) both have two protagonists, non-linear lyrics, and a mixture of music that’s head-spinningly uncategorizable. One might venture to say they’re pop-prog-psych-rock. But that doesn’t begin to suggest how outlandishly good they are. It’s as if Chris decided, “I don’t care if anyone understands or likes these songs; I’m going to write and arrange these for our enjoyment. If anyone else digs them, so be it.” I hope he does it a lot more often.
|Chris, recording songs to please himself & band mates — thank God!|
|Take a bow, guys. The album's amazing.|
Lyrically, “Collide-oOo-Scope” might be a veiled account of two friends starting a band. Or it could be about growing older and meeting the Grim Reaper “down the road” one day. Or the reunion of The dB’s. Or it might be all — or quite possibly none — of the above. I really have no clue. But it’s great fun to puzzle your way through lyrics like these: “Walking backwards to cover our tracks / Singing hidey-hidey hey / There’s a fire brigade through a tall Marshall stack / Singing hidey-hidey hey / Trespass the border of fiction and fact / Singing hidey-hidey hey / Reversing the engine without looking back / Hey, hey.”
|She won't. But, then again, that's what he's here for.|
Finally, we come to Track 12, “Remember (Falling Off the Sky)” — the song that pretty much had to close the album. On first listen, it sounds like a litany of memories set to a pretty, straight-ahead rock tune. Give it a few more spins, though, and you might start hearing something else: a meditation on memory, mortality and the finality of death — accompanied by an upbeat, energetically-played melody.
|"You gotta use these to appreciate the low end!"|
Whatever’s it’s actually about (and I bet Chris isn’t telling), the music has a nice twist at the 2-minute mark. I’ve never heard an album’s final song actually speed up midway through, but that’s exactly what “Remember” does. It’s as if the four dB’s are trying to tell us, Age-wise, we may getting long in the tooth; but musically, we’ve never had more fun. So maybe we’ll just keep on playing.
IF ONLY, guys, if only…
*Will’s organ solo in “Write Back,” as described by Chris.