UP ON THE STAGE In the Audience.
At the end of the album, I had the Gaslight Anthem's "American Slang" in my head.
I'd be fairly happy with that as a one-sentence review of In the Audience's debut eight-song disc, What Lives. It's not as deliberate or derivative as that may seem, nor is much of the album quite that anthemic. And I'd be worried people saw that as a criticism (indie values originality over everything else, after all). But it's the truth, and there are reasons.
The album's opening track, "American Names," is just the most obvious example. It shares not only half the title, the general guitar tone, pacing, and vocal delivery (minus considerable Jersey bravado), but even replicates the sentiment: a self-aware guilty pride wrapped up in self-loathing and a girl who's not quite right and didn't work out.
"So what if you give the kids American names," In the Audience frontman Jordan Stowell belts at top volume, "they'll grow up the same with no one to blame."
In the Audience might be looking forward to family while the Gaslight Anthem rue the first wife, but both are wrapped up in the everyday stuff: friends, lovers, kids, work, the neighborhood.
Really, for kids so young (everybody here was born in the 1990s) they are a pretty mature band, both in the lyrics and in the choice of how to deliver the material. While the album is largely guitar dominated, with plenty of dirty channel and crashing chords, there's some good variety. "For Courtney" has a surprising alt-country twang, a blue-collar aesthetic that is given an interesting spin with gang vocals in the chorus that sound like they were recorded at the local elementary school. "Fun Jungle Playground" is tinged with Simple Minds, reverb on the vocals and Stowell lower down in the register than elsewhere on the disc (perhaps stretching his range). The punctuation of single percussion hits, changing elements each time, between smashing guitar chords is a nice touch.
They let the songs breathe, too, rather than just delivering tight pop-rock songs. "Playground" stretches out toward six minutes, getting contemplative with ethereal "oooh-ooh" vocals, then building out into something kind of thrash, a distortion-filled anger fest, finishing in feedback and wash.
The album-closing "Not Alone" takes that three minutes farther, opening like they're not in any hurry at all and never getting particularly happy. The chorus is shoe-gazing: "Maybe I'll never know what it means to be someone that's happy with what they see/Maybe I'll never grow up to be, a better part of the family."
The extended jam that takes us out of the album has some Built to Spill in it, with guitars mixed completely to the fore, Cam Jones's drums interesting if you listen for them, but somewhat nondescript in the headphones. Finally, everything drops away and a muffled piano is introduced, thrumming along with occasional rattling percussion and some random talking you're not meant to make out.
They are a band that understand how to insert some theatricality, like Arms Against a Sea or Dead Man's Clothes, though they're not as far along as those bands. I'd expect an entertaining live show if Jones and Stowell put the right band together — this disc contains work from at least seven other performers. This weekend, we get a chance to find out.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT LIVES | Released by In the Audience | at the Deering Grange, in Portland | Oct 10 | at the Empire, in Portland | Oct 16 |www.myspace.com/intheaudience