I don’t review modern rock on Independent Clauses very much. This is not because I don’t like it; on the contrary, I like good modern rock very much. It’s just that there’s not a lot of it to be had. I love everything Anberlin releases, because it has the emotional impact that much indie rock and folk has while still retaining the guitar bombast, cavernous drums and throat-shredding vocals. But most other bands just can’t stay artsy when they throw down a double pedal roll.
Thankfully, Athletics is championing good modern rock in an incredibly subversive way. By marrying the power of modern rock to the melodic thrust of post-rock (which is, as a backlash to modern rock’s posturing, one of the most emotional genres we currently have), they created Why Aren’t I Home?, which is a consistently amazing debut.
The press for Athletics gushes “It’s one of those albums that reminds you why it is you listen to music in the first place,” and for once the music lives up to the exuberant PR.
The band starts off with the title track, which lays down a distant atmosphere before bringing in rapidly arpeggiated, cascading guitar work. The drummer rolls expectantly on the cymbals. A second guitar comes in with a building guitar line. A tom pound punctuates the preceedings, leading to a snare roll. The vocals, clear and strong roar out as a bell kit comes in. The music leads to the breaking point.
and then nothing happens. They pause entirely.
And THEN they bring in the whole band, with screaming guitars, pounding drums, thundering bass to create an absolutely triumphant feel. It’s post-post-rock; it’s music to think about and mosh to. At the same time, if you can.
The band spends the entire album messing with people’s ideas of what rock is. “See You on the Other Side” is a straight-up rock tune, with a cascading guitar line on top of the mix as the only sign that this band isn’t on tour with Anberlin. The song whips into a frenzy by the end, and you’re probably dead if you aren’t excited as well. “Fairview” is a slow, churning mood piece that would be in perfect company with Sigur Ros. “Jordan” is a vocals-heavy indie rock song, honestly. “Lullaby” isn’t a lullaby at all, but one of the most tense pieces on the album, complete with distorted hollering and a crushing sense of doom underpinning the piece.
But it’s speaking for everyone that gives the most shivers (and trust me, I had more shivers listening to this album than I have in any other album this year). It’s a hollowed-out tune, with the vocals reverbed and the guitars amorphously shifting the atmosphere in the background. It’s incredibly mournful, put over the top by the devastating cry “Have mercy/on everyone/but me” which takes over the last minute of the song and turns into an emotional destroyer. Haunting isn’t a strong enough word.
I could write about each song here, but that would be doing the music a disservice. If you like adrenaline and distorted guitars in your music, but can’t stand posturing of any variety, you need to track down Why Aren’t I Home? It’s easily the most emotional rock experience that I’ve ever heard and/or been a part of, thanks to their brilliant songwriting and spot-on execution. This band deserves to “make it,” whatever making it means to them. This band is amazing, and this album must only be the beginning. Please, for the love of all that is good and right in music, stay together, Athletics.