Ages and Ages
Divisionary (Do The Right Thing)
Divisionary (Do The Right Thing) is available from:
The album, Divisionary is released in the U.K. by Partisan on March 24.
Oregon gloom-eradicators have a mandate built around consideration and elevation of the human spirit. Their (seemingly increasing) membership are determined to put a smile on everyone’s face. You’ll be powerless to resist.
I am going to begin today’s feature with a couple of charming psychotic rants.
I’m probably being hard on myself, but it may appear that way to the casual outsider. The first ‘point’ concerns the geographical distribution of new musical talent. I have postulated before that the music media is remiss in pointing out international flavours and delicacies. It has been pleasurable helping to foster and aid home-grown talent, and I am always keen to help enable their growth and ambition. After a while, one looks farther afield and is eager to seek out foreign influence and wonder. Over last year I was lucky enough to survey some bands and acts from around the world, including Swedish electro-pop; Australian hard rock- as well as plenty of U.S. music. It is America that is producing some of the best new music of the moment. Historically-speaking, it has been the U.K. and U.S. whom have produced the greatest musical output of all time. The previous couple of years has seen this trend continue, yet to my mind I have not heard many U.S. counterparts come forth. I know that the music being made across the pond is something special, yet I have had to dig for it and happen upon it by serendipity. It has been a fortunate and somewhat fluke-laden discovery, and it always leaves me asking the same question: why is it so difficult to come upon these acts? The established music publications and websites seem to focus too wholly on established music, and proffering the merits and plans of the status quo. If you expand this theory outwards, there is a helix of vague attention in the musical atmosphere. The likes of The Guardian are dedicated to seeking out great new musical talent, and there are other websites which do the same; yet to my mind there are still too few whom spend very little time doing so. I have written (in great depth) about the music acts from our shores; concerning the geographical location of the very best; the various sounds one can encounter- as well as the greatest acts to watch for this year. It is a daunting task when trying to do the same with regards to the U.S. In the past year I have come across some great talent from L.A.- mainly sunshine pop and intelligent electro-pop. Within New York, there has been some great and staunch rock acts proffering their gold, as well as fascinating soul movements. Towards the Canadian border in Minnesota, I have heard some cerebral, pastoral acoustic sounds; and the southern states have offered up a mixed bag of sounds (and genres). This still leaves a large chunk of territory unaccounted for, and a huge swathe of land awaiting the manifest destiny of the musically ambitious.. If everyone thinks about it for a second, how many can say that they have heard a lot of music from the Midwestern realms of the U.S.? This is an area that I shall be looking closely towards over the following months; over Kansa and Nebraska- wondering what music is currently being made here. My featured act emanate and play the western climbs of Oregon. The state of Oregon is situated in the Pacific Northwest region of America, and has California directly beneath it. Because of the situation of the state, it is synonymous with a wide and diverse landscape. Housing glaciers, volcanoes and the Pacific coastline, Oregon has a large proportion of German, English and Irish inhabitants. The city of Portland is the most populus in the state, and the ‘Rose City’ boasts marvellous skylines and scenic views; as well as a rich heritage and history. I shall examine our featured band a little later, yet for the moment, I want to switch to a different subject. This particular topic concerns the audio mood of new music. When I hear new bands and solo artists come forth, I am often struck by the same feeling: there is a lot of introspection and sadness. I understand that a lot of artists are writing from a personal perspective, and when it comes to the nature of love and relations, a great deal of what is being written concerns dislocation, fracture and heartache. This is all very well, yet it seems that over the course of however many years, we have probably heard more than enough of this. There are few bands or artists whom can offer any new tangent or perspective on the well-trodden themes of love, loss and personal anxieties. Few take the time to originate something fresh and bold (in terms of musical and lyrical themes). I have reviewed the likes of NoNoNo and Issimo, whom between them, write songs about jubilation and sunshine; witty romantic by-play, as well as vivid and memorable scenes of city life- and drunken nights out. Some bands have tempted forth playlets around financial crisis and objective tenderness, yet there is still a huge gap in the market left open. In a time- and season- that offers little in the way of comfort and positivity, it is crucial that music offers up some respite and escape. The great artists of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s produced their fair share of uplifting songs, yet the current generation seem to be entrenched in a quagmire of gloom and stress. It is essential that songs are written concerning the nature of broken love- it provides assurance to many and is eminently relatable to many. There are plenty of examples that can produce this type of music, so I ask myself why so few are trying to be different and positive. When you look back at the greatest bands of the previous decades, their catalogue contains plenty of upbeat and diverse music. If you take a band like Radiohead, for instance. Many have written them off as masters of the depressive love song, yet if you examine their back catalogue, there is plenty to bully the soul. Albums such as Amnesiac and In Rainbows contained some lovely and hypnotic music. The ’90s masters such as Blur and Supergrass were notable for their augmentation and inspiring music, and of-the-moment acts such as Arcade Fire and Daft Punk are going some way to keeping this legacy alive. It is largely solo artists whom are guilty of penning too many blue tunes, yet the band market is not entirely blameless. We are comfortably in 2014, and I have examined a few bands and acts that have given me comfort and reason for re-examination. It is true that constant caffeine-infused Technicolor can be cloying, yet the right amount is tantamount when building music that is inspiring and durable. This year will make or break quite a few new acts. I am hoping that the well-known and beloved acts continue to show the world how it is done, but I am equally keen to see new music take a foothold, and challenge the masters of song. There will be some depressive musings on love; I am confident there will be some fragile tales on broken relationships, and there will be a metric tonne of tracks relating to themes of a darker nature; yet I feel that we shall see some of this: positive and sunshine-infused music that can bring a smile to our faces.
Concerning this previous topic, one of the bands that is most likely to replace rain with sunshine is the Portland ensemble, Ages and Ages. On their Facebook page, they are described thus: “Ages and Ages is more than a band. It’s a collective of like-minded souls that believe in the power of music to change the world and elevate the spirit. Their music is bright and uplifting, with lyrics, penned by bandleader Tim Perry, that deliver serious introspective messages full of insight and consideration for others”. That description may bring to mind a scary cult buried deep in the woods of Idaho, yet the band are collective that are determined to re-appropriate any dour negativity; buck and infuse tired minds, and create music of the highest order. When one looks around for comparative music acts, your mind is perhaps drawn to The Polyphonic Spree. I admit I was never a fan of the Texan clan. I found their music to be uplifting and happy for sure, yet I was never struck by the quality they offered up. There seemed to be a spiritual and almost religious aspect to a lot of their music, and being an atheist, that is perhaps why they never really connected with me. In addition to the fact that they often wore white robes and seemed to have a crystal meth-level of effusiveness about them, they came across as a little strange. I am not sure whether Ages and Ages are directly inspired by the group, yet I find that the ‘negative’ elements have been stripped away, and the essential and wonderful core remains: the positivity and consideration for the human race. The roll call of Ages and Ages takes a while to get through, as at the moment, the core membership contains: Tim Perry, Rob Oberdorfer, Sarah Riddle, John McDonald, Becca Schultz, Annie Bethancourt, Levi Cecil, Jade Brings Plenty. There is no Polyphonic Spree/White Stripes rigid uniformity and dress code; instead each member has their own distinct personality, fashion and mindset. The group portray themselves as a close-knit family, whom bond over their mutual respect for humanitarian themes. The group also have an ‘extended family’, too: Daniel Hunt, Kate O’Brien Clarke, Jay Clarke, Lisa Stringfield, Graham Mackenzie, Wolf Carr, Liz Robins, Tamara Harris, Lewi Longmire, Ben Nugent, Kevin Robinson, Jenn Dolan, Chase Garber, Sharon Cannon, Roberta Gannett, Samantha Kushnick, Teri Untalan. I am not sure whether this year will see more progeny enter the happy household, yet it seems that there is definitely strength in numbers. Their album, Divisionary, is released in March, and the band have described it, thus: “When we made this album, we wanted a word to describe how we felt and what we were going through as individuals and a band,” Perry says, “so we made one up. ‘Divisionary’ signifies a group whose vision of ‘right’ is upsetting to the existing power structure. It includes a philosophical, spiritual, and physical ‘breaking off’ from the status quo. It also references the individual inner conflicts that arise as you struggle to make the right choices in life. Visionaries don’t always create conflict, but they challenge the establishment with new ideas and with the threat of change. Where there is change, there is usually resistance, controversy, division“. The likes of The Guardian are helping to transition the group to Europe; to bring their music over the world’s greatest continent (biased, I know), and help our poor raid-addled heads warm and feel nurtured. This year and this winter will be made a lot more bearable when the Oregon brothers and sisters come play down my way. The next couple of months see the band complete a busy itinerary. They are playing across Germany, Belgium and France- stopping off in London on February 19th. Whilst the likes of Australia have been burdened by soaring and stifling heat; the U.S. plagued by snow and record (low) temperatures, it is the clement and warmth of Ages and Ages that provide balance, restoration and safety. Those unaffiliated with the brand of music pervaded by the group, should not see them as a gleeful novelty or saccarine-sweet group of pointless optimists. Whatever you think about the likes of The Polyphonic Spree, our U.S. wonders are a lot more fascinating and merit-worthy (to my ears). Their music is positive and uplifting, yet it is not bland and anodyne sunshine and twee merriment. Nuance and sophistication can be detected throughout their music, and there is plenty to recommend to music lovers of all genres. The band’s first album, Alright You Restless, was described around “a group of people leaving a selfish, destructive society for a place safe from the madness. That was like starting a band, wanting to establish new rules and a language to put some distance between themselves and the noise outside. Those songs were optimistic, energetic and self-righteous because that’s how a group of people who broke off from society would feel. As the group faces the struggles of actually making their community work, reality sets in and things get more complicated. Divisionary details the second phase of the journey.” The interim period between albums, did see some spiritual contemplation by Tim Perry. Reflection and introspection were called for, and the resultant afterglow saw the bandleader in inspired mood. Together with Oberdorfer, the duo got to work on the focusing and channeling their energies into Divisionary. The group have been through their fair share of tragedy, and it seems that most of its members have encountered some horrors over the years. Cancer, suicide and freak accidents have claimed the lives of sisters, mothers, fathers and grandparents; it appears that a great deal of adversity has befallen the group. Whereas most would use this as a pretence to project music of the darkest order, Ages and Ages instead have turned tragedy into joy; overcoming the cannibalising nature of death and used it to create songs filled with positivity and redemption. Whatever your views of the effectiveness and purposefulness of spiritual mediation, it seems to have at least provided solace and life to the group. Before I leave to focus on their latest track, I will speak a little more about the band. They have plenty of humour and bonhomie in their bones and are a group whom are tangible and universal. Their appeal is not going to come from their music and ethos alone; the personalities and collective weight of the members is of equal importance. They are essentially real and brave people, coming together, determined to make music to uplift people. It is rare that a band takes time to consider others, rather than obsessively fulfil their own demons and demands, yet the Portland troupe are a revelation indeed. The L.P., Divisionary is going to be one of the albums of 2014- I shall assess it more in my conclusion. I am looking at the title track for the moment, and it is something that the band view as: “a secular gospel song with inspirational harmonies, sanctified piano and smooth violin adding muscle to a simple refrain”. Without further ado, let us begin…
Upon the witness of the first few seconds of Visionary (Do The Right Thing), the sense of calm is evident. Beginning life as a gentle acoustic strum, the song infuses the repeated coda of “Do the right thing/Do the right thing“, right from the off. Our hero leads us gently in, his voice awash with conviction and calm as it is said: “Make yourself bright/Never mind them“. When additional vocal support enters the fray, there is a hostile element that creeps in. Although the song has been billed as a “secular gospel song with inspirational harmonies” it is not something that is divine or exclusive to the spiritual or religious. The messages and words are intended for everyone, and as such, are stronger for it. The vocal pace and sound has a sense of The First Days of Spring-era Noah and the Whale. Songs from that album such as Blue Skies and the tile track are comparable tracks, and the vocal sound has shades of Charlie Fink. When the words “Don’t you know/You’re not the only one suffering” are delivered, it is a sentiment that is designed to introduce context and rationale. Although it may be axiomatic, everyone has some hidden trouble, and the band enforce this truth. The mantras and codas are repeated- to great effect- within the first minute of the song. The sense of doing right and doing it “all the time” are elementary considerations, and the repetition of these lines ensures that they are not easily forgotten- and that their meanings are burrowed within your brain. There is a feeling that the lyrics are more of a sermon than part of a song; the way in which the vocal builds and multiples puts one in mind of a choir. After the chorus is delivered, vocal duties are switched, as it is said: “They say formality/This is what they really meant“. Backing the vocals is a single percussive slam (a tambourine, I think), interspersed between wordless vocal accompaniment. Before long, the chorus returns, and more vocal elements and additions are built-in. The combination of male and female voices lends weight and range, and the conjoined effect is one of uplift and melodic harmony. Whether there is any personal relevance or background to the song’s themes is unsure, yet one feels that personal history from the band enforces lines like: “But we know better than/Not to take them serious” and “Don’t let them make you bitter/In the process“. A percussive beat tees up another build up, and you get an immediate sense that things are going to become bigger, brighter and more epic. Vocal backing harmonies adds a blood rush through the veins; the sparse but effective percussion adds a metronome heartbeat, as a forceful and effective vocal core implores: “They say it’s nothing/But that ain’t the reality“. Our hero’s vocal is effective and direct; when combined with female vocals the lines “If you love yourself/You better get out/Get out” take on different meaning. It has its roots in inspirational implore, yet almost takes the form of a call between lovers, perhaps. There is almost a romantic element to the sound and sensation, and not only does the sound and intensity build, so too does the meaning and interpretation of the lyrics themselves. Again the chorus comes back in, but on this occasion in the form of a round. The line “Do you right thing” is sung; it is repeated; the line “Do it all the time” comes in so that it is layered and duets perfectly. Step by the step the song builds, and you always get the sense that something huge awaits. Again- inevitably- vocal elements are built-in; the chorus is repeated, and new lines are introduced. The mood lifts even higher, and the dizzying effect intensifies. It is impossible to forget the central message that is being delivered. In the way that Hey Jude is synonymous with its infectious and mesmeric wordless refrain, so too is Divisionary (Do The Right Thing). The final 90 seconds of the track is a slowly building structure. The vocal rounds are seeped into your consciousness; the bare but stirring musical backing makes its way to the forefront, and the hairs stand up on end. If you watch the accompanying video for the track, it is built around a story that the band explain: “For the video, we decided to portray this struggle through the story of a bunch of young kids who set out to make things right, but lose a part of themselves along the way. They may have started off on the same path and with good intentions, but their struggle reveals varying agendas and leads them in very different directions“. It is a compelling and original direction, and it adds an additional weight and merit to the song. Keeping yourself true and straight in the face of adversity, darkness and struggle is a hard enough thing to do, but the track implores the listener to do so; its simple message and effective delivery goes a long way to making it a reality- for everyone. In around about four minutes, the Oregon group whip up such a storm of memorable song, that it is hard to forget. The track builds up from base foundations and grows step by step. By the closing moments there is a sense of exhaustion and slight wonderment, and the abiding sense of jubilation and redemption is palpable. It is clear that the ensuing L.P. will be a memorable collection of songs. The sound and sensations differ, yet the overall sense of positivity and reflection are a constant. “A stomping, exuberant bass drum pushes the giddy pop vocals of I See More, as it reassures listeners that, “It’s all OK, I’ll be on your side.” The jaunty folk pop of Big Idea holds a flickering candle up to the darkness with intricate hand clapping, gentle harmonies and the candid admission that, “All of my ins are on the outside. And I want you all to notice, cuz I have no will to hide.” On Over It, acoustic guitars played in open tunings dance across a complex musical landscape to Eastern melodies and counter melodies, leading to the group declaring over a swaying 6/8, “I have no remorse for the way that I am anymore. No, I feel no shame.” The band’s funky hand clapping folk rock rhythms move The Weight Below as Perry and the band belt out a soaring chorus to release the feelings that cause stress and suffering. “And the weight that we left behind, we’re all better off without it, and it ain’t even worth our time, so I ain’t gonna worry about it.” The complex structure of Light Goes Out, bounces along on a stomping bass line, bright, piano shenanigans and the band’s joyously dislocated vocals: “I kept up with the verses in my head, running right along beside ‘em all day. At some point, well I found myself wondering if I was even running or just running away.”
The future will be a prosperous and bright one for Ages and Ages. The music industry is one that is bustling and constantly evolving. There is far too much vague imploring and generic sounds out there, and when it comes to distinguishing the best from the most boring, it is a difficult and frustrating task. I hope that the music press get their act together, soon. There are more than enough publications and websites operating, yet it seems that there is scant consideration for international new music. The links between them and social media is tenuous, with poor tensile strength; the link between social media and the general public weaker still. It has been said: “The harmonies and intricate instrumental interplay on Divisionary are carefully crafted, but never sound forced, with complex arrangements that are naturalistic, invigorating and free. The clash between the band’s stirring folkadelic sounds and emotionally thorny subject matter makes for a bracing listen, which, according to Perry, it is “if the internal conflict is happening in real-time,”. Music that offers up this kind of substance and fascination should not be discovered by happenstance. I always consider myself fortunate if I come about music like this, but angry that I was not made aware sooner. The band come to Europe soon, and will be enlivening and trying to convert the uninitiated masses. I hope to catch the group play, and am excited at what is in store for them. It is going to be curious to see what foreign bands make their way to the airwaves of the U.K., and which remain in the public consciousness. There will be a smattering of music from Europe and Australia coming this year, but it will be the sounds emanating from the U.S. that will be the most fascinating. I have already witnessed a few new bands and solo artists offering up some tantalising colours, and Ages and Ages have added their name into the hat. The Divisionary L.P. will showcase the troupe at the height of their power; songs will feature plenty of serotonin storm; elliptical brilliance, as well as some glorious sounds and orchestrated wonderment. It is always gratifying and rewarding finding a new music act whom provide temporary appeal. Those which arrive and offer up sustained quality and appeal are a rarity: yet Ages and Ages do just that. There is going to be a lot of tough competition when it comes to winning the public’s hearts; those willing to be different and bold are always more likely to succeed. Our Portland heroes are going to be a name to watch this year. It is not just because of the music on offer, but the way in which the band think and operate. It is their kinship, as well as their theories which compels and draw you in. It is probable best I leave you with some apt words from Perry: “We live in a country where a substantial amount of the population would rather discard science than admit climate change is happening. A culture which, more and more, considers higher education to be some kind of liberal indoctrination. A culture that does not value critical thinking and a power elite that perpetuates misinformation, apathy, and ignorance because it preserves the status quo. I don’t blame people for feeling daunted, apathetic, powerless, and overwhelmed, but I believe that facing the darkness is a necessary step in overcoming it. These songs reflect that optimism, but they don’t do so lightly or try to dodge the struggles we’re dealing with individually and as a band. It was an exceptionally long, hard road this time around but in the end, we’re all really proud and excited to share this record.” I hope that people snap up their L.P., and take to heart the examples within Divisionary (Do The Right Thing). It is only February, yet we have truly witnessed…
THE start of summer.
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