Fearless Records, 2012
The band's sophomore album, titled Close the Distance, channels that same kind of honest emotion into nearly every track. That will make it a target for people who don't appreciate the kind of heart-on-the-sleeve love songs that Lancaster writes, but it also results in a record that is more personal, thematic, and consistent than its predecessor, and with a more grandiose flair. Propulsive opener "I Won't Lie" is indicative of nearly every aspect of the album, from Lancaster's love-letter lyrics to his increased knack for pure hooks. "Baltimore" is even better, a bittersweet leaving song that builds to a bridge so climactic and indelible it's nearly impossible not to be swept up in its vortex. "I turned off the radio so that I could hear you breathe/And I could watch you sleep/And maybe in your dreams there could be me/So everybody turn down the lights/And forget the fact we're here tonight and tomorrow I'm leaving/'Cause tomorrow don't mean anything tonight," Lancaster belts, taking us back to dozens of our own memories and to the sense of finality that fills the air the night before a major departure. It's the last night of summer; it's spending precious moments with the people you love before you say goodbye, drive away, and start a chapter of your life; it's bidding farewell to your hometown, and Go Radio paint that portrait perfectly.
It's in generating those kinds of scenes and feelings where Close the Distance truly excels. Make no mistake, the band doesn't show off an exceptional amount of versatility here, but with records like these, that doesn't really matter. It's all about the feeling, the emotion, the atmosphere, and in those senses, this record is a tour-de-force. At its core, Close the Distance is an album about separation, and its best tracks burn with a yearning urgency. If "Baltimore" is the last night in town, lead-off single "Collide" is the anthem that plays in the car as you drive away the following morning. "We've both got way too much ahead/To worry about what we've left behind," the chorus goes, a bittersweet statement filled with conflicting emotions of anticipation and regret, pain at the goodbye and excitement for what's to come. The title track is similarly arena-sized, thriving on a sunsoaked aesthetic that floats somewhere between summer and autumn. Lancaster has never sounded better, his voice soaring to the heights of Patrick Stump and wielding the emotional force of The Dangerous Summer's AJ Perdomo. The euphoric "Things I Don't See" is another highlight, with a homerun of a chorus that evokes atmosphere in the way that this band does so well. "And if you wait a little longer/I'll meet you there come June, at the corner of July," Lancaster sings: summer only just ended, but songs like this one already have me yearning for its return.
Close the Distance loses a bit of its punch when the band trades in guitars for piano, though that's not to say that there isn't a certain amount of charm in hearing them tackle a pure pop song like "Go to Hell" or a raw, bare bones ballad like "What if you Don't." The former feels a tad out of place thematically, landing as a bombastic kiss-off rather than fitting with the lovelorn, longing uncertainty of the rest of the album. Adversely, the latter works better on paper than it does in execution, as Lancaster's vocals just sound more at home with fuller textures swelling around him. Beyond that song, the band keeps generally within in their wheelhouse of mid-tempo pop-rock, keeping the energy at a consistent level and delivering massive chorus after massive chorus. That all holds true until the end, when the titanic power ballad that is "Hear Me Out" drifts through the proceedings like a fall breeze to carry the album away. "Watching as the leaves fall down, the colors where we used to run and play/Another year's flown by I fear, It seems to be too soon the seasons change," Lancaster croons during the first verse, finally embracing the autumnal feel that his been lurking on the fringes of these songs throughout. The chorus is full-on cinematic, Lancaster's voice gliding, straining, and breaking over the build. The song begs for a climactic guitar solo that it sadly never gets, but just as "The Truth Is" was the perfect finale to Lucky Street, so too is "Hear Me Out" ideal as the endpoint for its follow-up.
Almost three and the half years ago, The Dangerous Summer's Reach for the Sun came into my life and served as soundtrack for my last weeks of high school, the summer that followed, and the life-change brought on by the first months of college. When I listen to that album, it still plays like a snapshot of who I was and where my life was going at that time. Just recently, Yellowcard's Southern Air became one of my favorite records of the year by striking the perfect chord with me as I neared the end of my last summer in my hometown. Close the Distance lands somewhere between the two, both sonically and emotionally. Like both of those bands, Go Radio don't write songs with a lot of nuanced musical textures or sonic variation. Rather, they go straight for pathos, aiming their nostalgic lyrics and deeply emotive themes directly at the life soundtracks of the people who fall for this kind of music time and time again. It won't work for everyone: music with this level of earnestness never does. But for many, Close the Distance will resonate on a higher level, whether it finds them working through a long distance relationship or moving onto another chapter of their lives. For me, this record sounds like something coming full circle. Just as Reach for the Sun encapsulated where my life was when I entered college, Close the Distance plays like the record that wants to assume that role as I exit it. Only time will tell on that count, but for now, it remains one of the biggest surprises of the year for me, a collection of songs that hits all of the right emotional notes and does so with intense relatability and palpable pop sensibilities.