So I used to do this feature called Horizon, where I would review an album that I knew had promise but wasn’t quite there. In 2011, this band I’d just heard of named Afterlife Parade got a Horizon article. I started by noting, with some amount of puzzlement, that “subtlety is not a prized element in Afterlife Parade‘s Death.” 11 years, several releases, and various side projects later, Afterlife Parade is back. I can say enthusiastically that subtlety is not a prized element in Afterlife Parade’s Belonging. Instead, this is giddy, bold, mad-rush pop-rock that shows off the fruits of more than a decade of work in a variety of genres. This release is five songs of smiling, clapping, stomping, laughing, singing, shouting, whirling, and dancing music. It’s a huge triumph.
Quinn Erwin & co. start off Belonging with an enormous group whoa-oh-oh that perfectly calls back to Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up.” The verses have a kick-clap backline that is 100% 2010s folk-pop. But these touchstones are just that: stones that add up to a bigger house. Erwin’s euphoric vocal performance, the jaunty piano, the jubilant horns, and the deeply life-affirming lyrics transform the raw materials into one huge party. I want to see this song live so bad. After 3 years of horrors, just hearing “so alive / so alive / so alive / SO ALIVE” is cathartic. Being able to scream it out in a room full of people doing the same would be even more wonderful.
The quartet crashes right into “Good Times Roll,” which is equally as giddy. (More whoa-ohs! The phrase “So alive” is in this song too!) There’s a touch of Ben Rector in here, but really this is just a big ‘ol Afterlife Parade pop-rock song. Let the good times roll, indeed. “Belonging” leans into the folk-pop tendencies that AP has always had, without neglecting the glowing background synths that give AP songs such a pop. Erwin’s vocals are a touch less roaring, but the simple and powerful chorus of “you’re here where / you belong / you belong / you belong / you belong” is as deliriously fun as it is touching. (Who doesn’t want to be told “you belong”? Who doesn’t want to be told over and over? It touches a deep vein.) The nicked-that-off-Mumford bridge arrangement (rolling banjo!) sends this song into the stratosphere. I can’t imagine how I wouldn’t love this song. “These Are the Good Days” reprises the vibes of “Belonging.”
“Togetherness (Take My Hand)” features Erwin’s most complex vocal melody of the set, matching it with an arrangement that leans more on dynamics and groove than the rest. (There are still “woo-ooo-ooo”s, don’t you worry.) It’s a love song. You might have guessed that there was going to be at least one of these on an absolute firecracker of a pop-rock EP, and you’d be right. It’s a solid closer to a soaring, triumphant set.
Belonging is the sonic equivalent of being shot out of a meticulously crafted confetti cannon. But don’t let the incredible joy of this release mask the fact that these are carefully constructed, deeply arranged, thoughtfully developed songs. Afterlife Parade has put together some of their best work ever. If you are coming out of some rough years (or, perhaps even more importantly, if you are still in them), Belonging is a roadside flare that you can pick up and run with through the night. Highly recommended.
Belonging releases tomorrow, November 10.