Release Date: 4/15
Reviewer: Scott Swan
It’s a cool thing to be able to hear a band’s progression from one album to the next. Did they have a change in style or tone? Is their sound more complex, or did they evolve toward something more basic and stripped down? Where did they go lyrically? What new themes are they going for and what is the connection to the change in their personal lives? It’s those types of questions that were in my mind as I began spinning Naturalist’s new record, Friends. Having the pleasure of reviewing their previous work last year, I recall a passionate yearning for love and something to place hope in. The band screamed out very brooding songs, amid the search for the clues to put life back together.
With this new EP, that theme has now been reestablished into a concept album of sorts, as writer/vocalist Ashton Prescott dives even deeper into the dark waters of abandonment, loss and a very personal struggle with his relationship with God. If read like a book, the lyrics are hard to take at times. Certainly there’s no doubting the transparency in his words, and any filter has been taken off and destroyed altogether. As far as the overall sound goes, I believe it has progressed quite well. We have the introduction of clean vocals, which I believe were totally absent in their first EP (if memory serves.) The guitar work is at times perfectly understated, and at other times beefy and foundational. Included is a nice mix of chimes and keyboards, which also bolstering the arraignment. The songs are cleverly titled, spelling out, “I Wish You Were Here.” Perhaps an ode to Pink Floyd, or maybe just more of a personal statement linked to the underlining idea behind the record itself, either way, kudos.
The opener, “I” starts off with a repeating guitar cadence which then quickly melds to an almost happy sounding lick. However that feeling is quickly overridden with the opening line, “My god forgot about me, I found Him in my backyard buried/He was just trying to get some sleep, died for me once and his hands are too weak.” With this tune, the band wastes no time setting the mood. There is an interesting contrast at times, one of very hurtful, tormenting lyrics being sung over music that doesn’t seem to match the sulking of the words being sung. There’s an art to pulling that off, and the band does that easily in most cases.
“Wish” is a track where the music more closely matches the theme. “Dirty” sounding guitars drive the emotional wave that is heard throughout. Also, repeated here are feelings of being left on his own and the hurt that remains. It seems that Ashton is reaching for someone to blame at times, but then settles back in to the fact that, “I find comfort in this mess I’ve made.” This track is a sure example of the band’s progress musically. There are layers of tones that intertwine, while still following the movement laid out by the guitars.
With “You,” we find the band creating an opening sequence composed of a pop sounding opening verse. But as the song progresses and the emotion builds, the tone completely changes course. This interplay happens a few times as the lyrics paint the picture of a young man trying to step into his new life in Christ, while still dealing with very real pain in grief that still manages to plague him:
“I’ve gave my life to the Lord when I was a kid, I haven’t figure out what he did with it. The mud he carved me from was watered down, I have a hard time keeping it together now. I’m not ready for a new life, I’m not done messing up the one I’m in.”
“Were” turns it’s attention to the failings of many churches that are all show and care only about money. As said here: “Mega-churches filled to the brim, smoke machines wash away the sin. Write a check while you raise your hands, it’s not about attendance but invite your friends.” Through pointing out these issues, the band makes it’s case for a turning back to a more real, honest church that is geared toward the heart and not things that simply don’t matter to God.
There is no shortage of controversial material in this EP. The first line of “Here,” patently states, “I quit believing in hell, you said I’d end up there someday.” Then later the line, “Searched for god in different places, called His name but he hasn’t said sh**” Now, let me say, these lines are not in context, but I do want to be clear about what you are getting into with this record. It’s not for the faint of heart, there’s lots of questioning throughout with very few answers, but maybe thats by design. There are many lyrics that remind me of David’s questioning in Psalms. So, listen for yourself and see the context. Then you might very well feel different, at least about this song in particular. But maybe not.
Overall: This record wasn’t easy to review. It reminds me of the scripture in Romans 12, that includes “…weep with those who weep.” The music, in my opinion, is a step up from their last record. The production is solid and you can tell there was a lot of thought that went into applying the right musical mood for the topic being covered. There will certainly be things here that you will be able to relate to, that all humans can relate to. So, in that way, Friends accomplishes that goal in fine form. With that said, this record carries a certain amount of weightiness that could be quite polarizing. We will see.
RIYL: As Cities Burn, Everything in Slow Motion, mewithoutyou