Better Off

(I Think) I'm Leaving

Written by: TL on 08/01/2014 23:20:15

While 2014 is only slowly starting to get rolling in terms of releases, many of us are still going through End Of The Year lists in a desperate search for any great, remaining 2013 releases that we somehow missed over the year. And while doing so myself, I stumbled over a comment or two that suggested that "(I Think) I'm Leaving", the debut album from Nashville group Better Off, was missing from one such list. Intrigued, I made a point to check it out, and I'm glad I did because as each January tends to send me at least one record from the past year that I will curse myself for not reviewing in time to consider it for my own list, the way "(I Think) I'm Leaving" opens has had me recently thinking it might just be that record this year.

Instead of putting on a charm offensive as befits a new band, "Hello (Blues)" opens with down-beat piano notes and the defiant attitude of someone who's had just about enough. In a mellow tone of voice that reminds me of Citizen's Mat Kerekes, Better Off starts out hailing critics before suddenly sending the opener to dizzying heights, soaring on a wailing melody upon which the suddenly sharpened vocals eventually cry "Live life like you were born to leave it!". The quiet/loud dynamic of this break is through the roof, and before you can catch your breath from it, an electrifying guitar, thundering over well-timed piano chords, takes you into the following song "The Price Is Never Right". This track dives to a bass-driven, Jealous Sound-ish verse before rising back up to the elated vocal style and some muted guitar strums that accentuate the "What to do with our wasted time?" hook brilliantly.

At track three, it's already time for another slow-burner, but as soon as the guitars start to channel "Futures"-era Jimmy Eat World in the chiming bridge that's A-OK, with the vocals settling down upon a bed of sleigh bells on an equally Jim Adkins-like note, before setting up a final, belting "You'll never find what you're looking for!". By then you should have gotten an overview of the endearing components Better Off bring to bear on "(I Think) I'm Leaving". The vocals follow "the Brand New dynamic" with one being muttered and with-held and the other being crooned full power, just at the edge of hysteria, I'd liken them to an American version of Scotland's The Xcerts. Meanwhile the guitar-work is clearly Jimmy Eat World-inspired, marking one of the few occasions on which I've ever conceded a reference to the masterful Arizona-band, while the bass-lines veer between there and a potent big-rock sound. Finally the keys appear sparsely, yet organically and efficiently. with an elegance that's reminiscent of Mae or The Rocket Summer, adding a poppy naivety that joins the bass and give several verses a Jealous Sound/Knapsack-ish sheen.

As magnificently as the band begins though, you do eventually start to notice that all of their ideas haven't been resolved with equal levels of success. "A Fool Walks Into A Bar And Cries Wolf" and "1991 (Alive)" are both more straight-forward, up-beat rockers, and while they work well enough they also clearly thrive mainly on the detailed arrangements and particularly on the minor guitar heroics towards their ends, the former ending in sort of a "stadium stomp" while the latter concludes after a wailing solo that has the sweetest tone/effect combination I've heard in a while.

As we move down the second half of the album, the experience regrettably feels more "solid" than "great", as the massive hooks stay absent even if the arrangements are nice and diverse. To their credit, Better Off have clearly tried to not just milk the same formula their opening numbers were written by, which gives us opportunities to hear that both their vocal styles can carry a song without switching the lead role halfway through, yet while this and the variety is appreciated, you can't but notice that the lyrics and melodies have stretches of slight inconsistency. It's a bit like going from listening to some of the best songs on Have Mercy's "The Earth Pushed Back" to some of the more anonymous ones from Citizen's "Youth". You could do much worse in any case, but clearly, one is on a noticeably higher level.

Still, for a band I hadn't even heard about until I stumbled over them in some online comment, Better Off far exceeds any reasonable expectations one could have had for them. Their production is the kind that immerses you completely when you let it fill your headphones and their style references plenty of respectable influences while sounding personal enough to make you want to hear more as soon as possible. So if these guys can maintain their high level composition technique and just come up with striking vocal melodies and captivating lyrics on a more consistent level, the Music City might have another miracle cooking for us - One I'll be keeping my eye on for sure.


Download: Hello (Blues); The Price Is Never Right; Sick, Sad, Sons, 1991 (Alive)
For The Fans Of: The Dangerous Summer, Jimmy Eat World, The Xcerts, The Jealous Sound

Release Date 27.08.2013
6131 / Blood & Ink

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