To me, there are three gritty cities on the Eastern seaboard of this ROCKING Unites States of America that starts with the letter “B” – Baltimore (my home city), Boston, and Brooklyn, and each tough as nails urban jungle spins out lots of creativity from within their concrete walls – the type of creativity that comes out of the gate already fearless! An act that has left a footprint in Boston and has landed in Brooklyn who classifies as such a creative force to be reckoned with is American Authors.
No stranger to the masses, American Authors have already won us over with such studio albums like “Oh, What a Life” and “What We Live For,” but now after taking the time to decompress and create solely from the soul, Zac Barnett (vocals), Dave Rublin (bass), Matt Sanchez (drums), and James Adam Shelley (guitar/ banjo) are back with “Seasons” a collection of music that fully embodies the complex meandering of emotions we humans display in life that resembles the changing of seasons. “Seasons” hold 10 tracks that harnesses this theme:
- Stay Around
- Say Amen
- Calm Me Down
- I Wanna Go Out
- Can’t Stop Me Now
- Deep Water
- Bring It on Home
- Before I Go
- Real Place
This is my interpretation of “Seasons’” 6 highlights.
In keeping with the above musical theme of human emotions reflecting the seasons, the opening track “Stay Around” encompasses that heighted heat of Summer with its Emo Pop edginess blending with Modern Rock’s passion. And it’s not the lyrical component of the track that solely illustrates that summery vibe but the music and the vocal prowess.
The music of “Stay Around” is aggressive, explosive and commanding – it covers every piece of your listening ear like the haze of summer and takes you from zero to 60 in a fever-pitch in just three minutes and 41 seconds. Nice thematically elevated bass lines easily become the spine of the track taking it to higher ground, while that fabulous boom-clap effect (that we grew to love with Queen’s “We Will Rock You”) takes you all the way home to the streets. Moreover, those drums that are in your face, like, boom, boom, boom, gets you hooked on this track as if it was a drug.
As the lyrics spell out the story of having that ride or die person in your life to ride the waves with you in shallow or high water, those hot “ahhh” FX personifies affection. Zac Barnett’s smooth falsetto melts all over this track riding the peaks and valleys of instrumentation like butter. He brings the heat! It’s arena pleas meld with grit making this a fresh progressive track in its production. The only thing missing is the fire hydrant opened on full blast giving us a cool down!
And when you think of the rising from the fall or awakening the new, you think of Spring, and “Say Amen” personifies this theme very well. Opening with dark piano chords and a Gospel bottom, this track’s message is about never being alone in life and having a hand to hold through life’s twists and turns. The lyrics sing: We could start from the top before we were hopeless / I'd be lying if I wasn't hoping / We could lie 'cause it's been quite a while / Since I've seen your light / Since I've held you, my friend / I don't feel alright / If you were with me, I could say Amen.
Featuring a Dirty South Hip-Hop swag fused with Alternative Pop, “Say Amen” comes off as so RIGHT and TIGHT. This song is tailored to glory with innovative lyrics and the rain down on me vocal, synth, and backing effects. In addition, the Gospel chords positions this song right at the edge of Soul. Matt Sanchez’ percussions are in full effect on this track giving that nice bottom, and I loved the choir and the addition of Billy Raffoul which adds the right touch of liquor (so to speak) to the inspirational shot. Stomping our feet on the floors of the church with this cut!
The musical theme of human emotions reflecting the seasons reaches its midway point with “Neighborhood,”a moderate tempo track about maturation. Opening with James Adam Shelley dexterously touching the stings of his acoustic guitar, this honest Alternative Pop track features Bear Rinehart of NEED TO BREATHE and is easily the season of Autumn set to music as it displays growth and change. This track keeps a steady beat and places an impending piano as its bottom, paired with dense uncompromising percussions, a whistle effect, and dreamy soundscapes. The arrangement of this track is so pretty and light and easily recalls the statement “it takes a village.” I enjoyed the feeding-in vocal technique used on this track as it helps in bringing in that feeling we get when our thoughts are rushing as we transition from childhood to adulthood.
The first single released off “Seasons” brings the chill-effect and is very inspirational and shows how in life we crave to be chiseled out of the ice and bitterness of life by a positive stimulus. Showcasing instrumental stylizing of Gospel, fused with Rock and Soul, “Deep Water” introduces the theme of winter. Creatively, American Authors utilize instrumentation that depicts audible imagery of chill and hope: the plucked violins, deep-snow foot-printing 808s and additional heavy percussions, elusive piano, and an organ. These instruments are all married to a full choir and a strong lead vocal.
Furthermore, the lyrics of “Deep Water” outstandingly paints a picture of optimism singing: Ain't even scratched the surface / Thinking I deserve the dream but I don't deserve the hurting / I want the flame without the burning / But I can't find my purpose when I don't know what my worth is / I was going for the title, got hit by your tidal wave, uh / Can't stay in the shallows, please tell me I won't wash away / When it pulls me under, will you make me stronger / Will you be my breath through the deep, deep water / Take me farther, give me one day longer / Will you be my breath through the deep, deep water / when I’m sinking like a stone, at least I know I'm not alone. Such soul incased in one song – wow!
Not only the tempo and overall arrangement, but also that soulful yearning that Zac Barnett places on this track – even down to the low vocal growl hanging on the end of the hook’s “alone” lyric. Likewise, that daunting backing adlib vocal effect and that swing-low vocal styling of the lead mixes well with the choir to paint a picture of hope. The track ends as it begins – meditative and contemplative. The band’s adaptability shines on the seventh track “Deep Water.”
And there are two tracks that are the epitomes of the entire collection: Can’t Stop Me Now and Before I Go.
“Can’t Stop Me Now” is that Super Bowl halftime hit that needs an arena and it illustrates every cycle of life – it IS transition personified with music that is textured and goes from sitting to standing to marching. It all starts with a mellow vocal and piano giving off the feel of a modern rhapsody and soon builds into a fierce chant that goes on to a roaring mantra. “Can’t Stop Me Now” gets the audience involved and becomes OUR SONG with its nice old school vibe and modern command to the beat. Those powerful piano chords, plucked violins, bells, and accompanying drums are magnificent.
In addition, the guys do not disappoint with a powerful lead vocal, outstanding wide-backing vocal, and Dave Rublin’s recurring righteous bass. Arena hooks makes you lift your fists to the air and say, “No you can’t stop me now!” while that distorted guitar in the bridge is the best summit to go to the outro. Not to mention, that whistle adding the right touch of “no care in the world” personality. A song about conquering fears and changing to be powerful has never sound so good. This will quickly become the modern Blue-collar working-man / working-woman anthem.
And, “Before I Go” holds all life’s seasons within it with a storyline about making sure to live before you die. This song speaks volumes. Zac Barnett’s vocal delivery is outstanding – very passionate and honest. You can hear the empathy and heartfelt yearning in his execution. Barnett’s raspy prowess fits the track so well as it illustrates his delving down into the soul and bringing out his laments. The lyrics sing: I hope I find a peace of mind / In all of my woes / I hope the rain, it brings a light / To my broken soul / I hope I lose myself in the city / But find my home / I hope I live my life / Before I go.
“Before I Go” perfectly paints the picture of how in life we sometimes get frozen in time like winter, need the warmth of a higher being, family, or partners like spring to help us thaw out, feel the burn of reality like summer, and then we see the change before we go like autumn. The skill of each member's musicianship is outlined perfectly on this cut too – the swell of the synths, the grounding of the percussions, as well as the cores of the guitars all play their part in delivering a song that interprets that way of just LIVING very well. That is winter, spring, summer, and fall all in three minutes and sixteen seconds. A great wakeup-call to the masses.
And, do not overlook: Calm Me Down, I Wanna Go Out, Bring It on Home, and Real Place.
In art, we have what is known as the Dutch Masters – a collection of artists from Holland who’s work spanned decades and was prosperous due to its practicality and talent. These creative gentlemen had the skills and chops to create work that enthused people’s emotions – made them STOP and STARE and made them question the normal standards of that time in society. That's what I see with American Authors, a new breed of masters in mainstream music – artists who have that pure adaptable creative control that we rarely see in today’s music – the type that just pulls you in and never lets you go. It’s that ability to reach around and gather from the modern while respecting the previous without being archaic.
With “Seasons,” you are left at the end of listening with this jaw-to-the-floor look and you are pondering on the way these guys enveloped your senses with lyrics, music, and a story. You truly were able to feel the winters, springs, summers, and falls of life in one collection. In the same way that we stare at a Rembrandt, or a Bosch, or a painting from Johannes Vermeer, catching every bit of shadow, glare, light, and shine, that’s what “Seasons” instrumentally does to the listener. To put it in a music perspective, this band is delivering the type of music today that artists and bands like Prince and Queen brought to the fans. Like modern chemist in a lab mixing different elements to create a sole product that makes change, American Authors are adaptable and not pigeonholed and are limitless to their creativity.
This is not rhetoric, I am honestly so glad to have reviewed these Music Masters – four guys who are writing their own story, inviting us along the journey, and leaving a large footprint in music. Cannot wait to see what else they put to a studio canvas.
American Authors will be playing at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom on Wednesday, June 5th, 2019 at 8:00 PM - 169 Ocean Blvd, Hampton, NH 03842. There is no excuse not to get out to see these Modern Creative Masters.