Thursday, July 25, 2013

"In the throws of a stare, I was open": The Dangerous Summer's "Golden Record"

The Dangerous Summer - Golden Record
Hopeless Records, 2013

The Dangerous Summer are one of my favorite bands. I’m not talking about “favorite bands in the pop punk” scene, or even “favorite bands of the past decade,” though both of those descriptions would be apt. No, I’m talking all time, “desert island” favorite bands. Reach for the Sun was my album of the year in 2009 and was the record I played through the last weeks of high school and the summer that followed. War Paint was my album of the year in 2011, and found me at a crossroads in my life and my college career. And now Golden Record is here to contend for a third title in 2013. This band, leaving aside all of the drama and gossip and bullshit they’ve been involved with in the recent past, has an innate ability both to write songs that hit hard and to release albums at times when those songs sound better than just about anything else on the planet. There’s a reason “summer” is in their band name. These guys live and die by the mantra of long hot days and endless nights of promise, and for so many of us, the songs on Reach for the Sun and War Paint rang like battle cries on late night drives and anthems to the power of youth on long days spent out in the sun. Many bands from this “scene” have built careers on writing emotional music, writing songs to soundtrack every romantic disaster any of us have ever been through. But with The Dangerous Summer, at least for me, it was never as simple as break-up albums or songs about love and death, or even as commonplace as lyrics that made me feel like someone was making sense of my world. No, for me, this band was the sound of growing up.

Something about The Dangerous Summer’s records, about the cascading wall of guitars that surrounds each of their songs or about AJ Perdomo’s strained, emotive vocals, it captures the feeling of fading youth more perfectly than just about any other music I can think of. It encapsulates those days in late August, when you’re cruising down a lakeside road, watching the waves crash into the shore as the sun begins its arc toward the earth, and you realize the season is running out. It’s for those evenings during your last week in town, those last nights clinging onto what’s left of the summer before you head back to college and leave your hometown and your family and your entire life behind you to start something new. It’s for those moments where the endless nights of promise I mentioned earlier suddenly don’t feel so endless anymore. And those nights fucking ache; they always will. But there’s something hopeful and invigorating there too, and this band knows how to bring that feeling to life. People can call them limited or mock them for the earnestness they inject into their songs, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt as alive as I have listening to this band on late summer nights, and it’s so, so nice to have them back for another season full of them.

All my essayistic bullshit aside, Golden Record is a great album. Maybe not as good as the two classics these guys have already released, but it still continues to capture all of the feelings laid out above, and it does it in a way that is often more musically compelling than ever before. The late-night drives are there in the propulsive opener and first single, “Catholic Girls,” where lost youth abounds in emotional nostalgia. The power of music is splayed wide open on “Honesty,” where the band can “wear those songs like a burning fire.” The chiming “We Will Wait in the Fog” is this album’s “Siren,” a burning love song of forgiveness and longing, of fights that ruin friendships and of words that should have been left unsaid but weren’t. The album’s core, the five-minute masterpiece that is “Miles Apart,” might just be the best thing the band has ever written, a dizzying anthem of a song that somehow makes breaking down in the backseat of a car sound majestic. And then there’s “Anchor,” the third in a series of flawless grand finales that have so far graced this band’s albums. Suffice to say that the song and its key line—“we should live in the summer for the rest of the burning days”—will be a defining component to many end-of-summer mixes later on this year. If you were wondering why the band decided to hold off on this album until August, rest assured that these songs were made for the season’s dwindling nights.

There are also things about Golden Record that I don’t love, and that’s something I’ve had a hard time reconciling in the wake of two separate album-of-the-year victors. The sequencing, for one, is off. Second single “Sins” is a rush of intensity and reckless abandon, and the bridge, where Perdomo delves into his own struggles with suicidal thoughts, is one of the most emotional parts of any song this band has ever committed to tape. But “Sins” comes too early in the tracklist, following the similarly passionate “Catholic Girls” in jarring fashion. The song could have been the opener, and it could have kicked things off in similar fashion to the title track from War Paint. “Catholic Girls” is the better and more atmospheric starting point, but “Sins” would benefit from a move to the album’s third act. Similarly, the dark and aggressive “Drowning” sounds completely out of place in the third slot. In the age of iTunes shuffle mode, I’m sure we have all stumbled upon pairs of songs that just don’t function well as a set: “Sins” and “Drowning” are those songs, and their tonally awkward clash hinders the flow and feel of the record’s first half.

But even despite its flaws, Golden Record is another solid entry in the Dangerous Summer’s terrific discography. When War Paint released in 2011, it didn’t leave rotation until I left my hometown behind at the end of the summer. It seemed like every night, when I climbed into my car and pulled out my iPod, that was the album my thumb found automatically. Golden Record doesn’t have the same alluring magnetism, but it’s still a record that I’ve had a tough time walking away from—even though I suppose I am, by definition, disappointed by it. Sure, the record may stumble a bit out of the gate, and I’m not particularly enamored by the darker sound the band employs on songs like "Knives" or "Drowning," but once Golden Record hits the halfway point, it never lets up. In other words, I believe I’ll end up ranking this record third among the band’s LPs, almost by default, but every time the chorus breaks through on “Miles Apart,” I stop caring, sit back, smile, and turn up the volume. At their best, The Dangerous Summer simply cannot be touched.

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