November 23, 2009

Record Review: As Tall As Lions - You Can't Take It With You

Press play. Hear the music swell forward, anxious and wanting, elevating your heartbeat with every stomp and clap. Finger-picked acoustic guitar smoothes the edges of the music as it crests into a wave that thrusts your ears into the many, many thick, calm and serene rewards of You Can’t Take It With You. An album overflowing with moments that feel so very lush, with moments that are here and now and nowhere else.

This is As Tall As Lions.

This latest album from the Long Island quartet, nearly two years in the making, achieves sonic landscapes as arid as desert and dripping wet as jungle – all encompassed within a flow that feels as natural and evolving as the passing sun. There is a sensibility in the writing and production that evokes images of closed eyes and shared smiles in the engineering booth. They worked hard, that much is clear. Did they get what the worked for? Well, it’s difficult to throw full support behind something, but it must be said: yes. You Can’t Take It With You by As Tall As Lions is a positively stellar work of music.

The opener, “Circles” is an immediate departure from the wintered cityscape texture of their previous, self-titled album. The song is kinetic and it is a statement piece. It immediately comes alive with a pulse that feels like a more organic nod to Radiohead’s “15 Step.” The coarse rhythm of the stomps and claps flower into a satisfyingly thick harmony-laden chorus. Pulsating harmonies and a guitar solo that absolutely screams mounts the energy higher and higher, culminating in an abrupt ending. It leaves the ears suspended mid-air to be utterly smacked by the entrance of the next track, “Sixes & Sevens.” This is Rock Music, ladies and gentlemen.

The title track, “You Can’t Take It With You,” with its glistening textures and opening Spanish Phrygian melody, is a desert mirage in the heat of this album’s mid-day sun. The heavy verse precedes a lush chorus drenched in the sweat of an acid trip. By the end, a dramatic color change triggered by the line “give me your consciousness” may very well dilate your pupils. “Duermete” is where the labor becomes that of love. The song is warm and damp, a deeply personal celebration of introspection. It’s a love song for the present, no matter how difficult it may be. Its delicate, piano-driven hits bounce into the thick of four-part harmony to close out the first half of the album.

The split in You Can’t Take It With You is quite apparent from the four-minute ambient interlude that follows “Duermete.” From here on out, it feels like the B-side with its enjoyable, but alas, significantly less memorable tracks (excluding “The Narrows”). While this album was perhaps abrasive on the first listen, it was compelling and on fire from minute one. Since that first listen, it has aged well as its distinctly foreign flavors soon became familiar and ultimately soothing. The music stays warm until the nightfall of the B-side, and even then, remains endearing. As they are not profoundly technical musicians, As Tall As Lions rely on their natural gift to turn what in lesser hands may just be sounds into pure music. In their lyrics, they are hopeful where others are lonesome – even in their darkest of subjects such as existential crisis:

“What a life, what a lie
We’re living here on borrowed time
And life’s what happens in between the planet and the…
You either live it up
Or don’t live it down
So don’t be giving up
Or let it bring you down”

It’s hard to say how far-reaching this album will be. It’s melodically driven pop-rock, but with a very distinct flavor. One can only hope this album spreads to as many heads as possible, since those are sure to become home to expanded minds.

-Will Cady

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