Back in March I reviewed one of 2016’s best indie rock releases, “Rot Forever” by Portland, Oregon’s Strange Ranger (formerly Sioux Falls). In tandem with Pinegrove’s “Cardinal,” it looked as if the best alternative rock albums of the year had been frontloaded. Then, on the other side of the country, as the calendar neared its end, Burlington, Vermont’s Tyler Daniel Bean entered the fray to establish a trio that has more in common than it initially appears on the surface. While Isaac Eiger re-directs through a witty, slacker aesthetic and Evan Stephens approaches with folksy earnestness, Bean uses raw, direct poetic catharsis to reflect upon themes of self-doubt and emotional turmoil. The result here is an impressively mature emo album that goes to very dark places, but ultimately presents a robust, complex portrait of an artist waging a battle within himself that is measured in small but meaningful successes rather than sweeping victories.
RELEASE DATE: 18 November 2016 LABEL: Skeletal Lighting Records / Tor Johnsons Records
In the four years between his debut LP Longing and this most recent effort, Bean dealt with major depression and the very real possibility of giving up music entirely. In fact, the mere act of songwriting left him shaken by what his subject matter suggested about his own frame of mind. Only after altering his focus – crafting his lyrics as Confessional Poetry during his pursuit of a Master’s Degree – was he able to realize that the best way to control fear, anxiety and sadness is to capture them in art. As a result, the songs that would become On Days Soon To Pass were finally given life. Renewed, and backed by a strong band of fellow Burlington musicians, as well as the strong presence of supplementary vocalist Jessica Lynn McDermott and cellist/violinist Shannon Stott-Rigsbee, Bean has put forth what is by far his most compelling work to date.
Musically, On Days Soon To Pass recalls classic emo stylings from the second wave and beyond, sometimes within the span of a few short minutes. “Loon Lake” begins with Sunny Day Real Estate-esque twinkling guitars and ends with big, ringing chords, crashing drums and a chorus of voices reminiscent of The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die. “FFFA” touches down in the foot-tapping, indie-rock-inspired territory inhabited by a number of bands around the turn of the millennium, while “Willow II” may be the most viscerally engaging track, with its desperately pulsing, fist-clenching climax that harkens back to Mineral’s most inspirational work. The real key here is the addition of McDermott’s vocals and Stott-Rigsbee’s strings, which add valuable textures that help the songs to differentiate themselves. A significant boost in arrangement and production since Longing reveals an artist with increasing confidence and unlimited promise going forward.
Songs like the companion-piece standouts “Willow I” and “Willow II” (versions of which appeared as a single song on a split with Au Revoir earlier this year) go beyond the expected romantic heartstring-puppeteering that characterizes a solid portion of the emo landscape, focusing on the loss of Bean’s beloved dog and how it has informed much of his thought process going forward. Both songs represent a part of the process of dealing with love and death. “Willow I” ends with the despairing resignation of “I want to be where you are,” while “Willow II” suggests recovery, growth and re-birth, with the final lines repeating “there’s a life outside my body, calling to me. Today I want to take it seriously.” Splitting these sentiments into separate tracks gives value and weight to both, recognizing the sadness as an integral part of the process, rather than stigmatizing it as a villainous “other.” Indeed, one of Bean’s growing strengths as a songwriter is his ability to normalize depression, recognizing it as something to live with and understand rather than escape, thus reducing some of its crushing weight and offering comfort to listeners struggling in their own right.
If there is one song that defines On Days Soon To Pass, it is “FFFA,” which anchors the album in its middle much in the way “Run Dry” centered Caspian’s Dust and Disquiet in 2015. “What the hell am I doing here?” suggests a narrator who is unsure of his place in the world, but also rings with smiling self-deprecation, as if to say “why am I so busy tearing myself apart when there’s so much to live for?” That sentiment makes up the core of the record. Sonically, “FFFA” stands in defiance of emo conventions, positively cheery in relation to the surrounding tracks. However, the subject matter features some of the album’s darkest themes, dealing directly with suicide, death and the fear of being alone. The true power of the songwriting here exists in the juxtaposition of opposing tones. Placing despair and hope in the same arena cuts to the heart of On Days Soon To Pass. Bean is not interested in shallow laments or hollow victories, but in objectifying and owning sadness as a piece of life rather than allowing it to silently become a definition. There are no easy answers in the final lines “growing comfortable with myself, so I can be comfortable when you leave me.” But there is wisdom in those words that hints at happiness around the corner, and the upbeat swing of the song deftly captures the sensation of realizing that, as Bean sings in “Willow II,” “it’ll be alright.”
On Days Soon To Pass is a near pitch-perfect slice of modern emo that listeners can simply sit back and soak in for all its sonic splendor. Being a person who is chronically upbeat, I have always loved how emo has provided me a venue for vicarious emotion – the opportunity to intensely experience a feeling that doesn’t come naturally in everyday life. This record stands for much more than just giving listeners “the feels,” though. It helps me to realize how easily happiness comes to me, and more importantly, it acts as a guide for troubled hearts and minds to successfully (and realistically) navigate the emotional minefield that life can present. In seeking to heal himself through poetry and music, Bean has provided tangible documentation for the unnumbered masses of individuals living with depression. Part of this record’s purpose was to own fear by naming it, then to move beyond it. I suspect that this is a wisdom that will pass down to listeners and act as inspiration, making On Days Soon To Pass a release of particular import.