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In terms of attention to detail and atmosphere, the band is akin to The Flaming Lips, Elliot Smith and Radiohead. The music is well structured and catchy, but not exactly formulaic; charisma is coupled with well-maneuvered breaks and turns. Primary vocalist and guitarist Josh Epstein delivers compelling and fervent vocals that are as energetic as they are emotive, and those are laid atop the intricate musical knit, summarized in a fine piece of work.
The rest of The Silent Years' line-up includes brothers Jeremy (drums) and Jonathan (guitar, vocals) Edwards, Pat Michalak (bass), and post-album touring member Rosalind Christian (keyboards, vocals). The band probably sounds so good because they've been honing their relationship and their sound since adolescence, all of them, save for Christian, having grown up in the same suburb of Detroit. The DIY band went official as The Silent Years three years ago and released their first full-length album this fall via the No Alternative label, an effort deserving of a 9.5/10 rating.
Epstein's voice often holds the sinews that make the album cohere. His literary leanings are reflected in his powerful vocals and lyrics, which tends to render them entrancing. (Personally, I enjoy the metaphor, "Love's an SUV that's bent to shit.")
Consider "No Secrets": "When we're naked we see our secrets all disappear/ when we die, we'll all have no clothes on." Epstein's potent wordplay does not go unsupported; the band makes it über-catchy.
In "Someday," Epstein sings, "I'll be your bride and you'll be my best man," which brings to mind the quality of Epstein's voice - simultaneously vulnerable and resilient, gender bending. He's got some damn good vocal chords, ranging from a full tenor punch to a high alto swath. With superb vocal control, manifesting in a variance of volume, smooth transitions and subtle vibrato, Epstein's voice holds some of the same qualities found in the calls of Devandra Banhart and Thom Yorke. You may hear elements of Banhart's playful manipulation of words and heavy vibrato alongside Yorke's almost scientific technique working in tandem with the ability to not just sing the music, but to sing the music, with passion. His vocals are placed within strong instrumentation-the guitars are clean and intricate, be they electric or acoustic, the beats are solid and dynamic, and the various smaller, yet no less essential instruments on the margins are handled well.
The twelve tracks comprising the band's eponymous debut continually shuffle genres - it is the Age of iPod, after all - hitting indie rock, folk, soft acoustic ballad, and genres in between, and each has a harmonically-focused pop finish. In the end, an amalgamation of atmosphere and diverse instrumentation become the Silent Years' atlas, contouring the album's hilly terrain.
A collection of disparate songs both moody and melodic in their own right, the album as a whole is something of a map (in the classical sense); as in, The Silent Years provides the listeners with lines, images, a general gist in 2D of a defined space, but in terms of direction, well, that's up to you, bucko.
In the end, the band lets the songs take the wheel, according to lead singer/guitarist Josh Epstein.
"I think songs have a life of their own, a direction they want to go in. If you try and rein that in, force it into being something else, it doesn't work," Epstein elaborated from the road, in the midst of the band's three-month U.S. tour, which just came to an end.
The album bears a sense of freedom within musical structure - at first listen, it's hard to capture, in words, what the free radicalized element is, but in listening to the music with your ear close enough to the ground, it's possible to discern - the band is pushing musical/lyrical bounds rather than staying safely within them.
After hearing Epstein wax poetic on music-making, The Silent Years' intentions become clearer.
"I think that too many bands fall into a rep of trying to have a style, genre or sound," Epstein commented. "We're trying to focus on songs. We want to make sure that each song is treated with respect and individuality and in doing that, it opens us up to being criticized for not knowing what we're trying to sound like."
An anticipated criticism that may confine certain bands' musical direction, Epstein and his band mates eschew it - this is one of the places where the band's sonic expression of freedom rests, with the agreement of resistance and flow.
Each of the album's dozen songs maintains its own structure, tone and emotional setting, yet somehow the conflicting tonal shifts make for interesting contrast rather than a disjointing experience. In the end the album is a collection that is not so much linear as it is encompassing.
"It's not really bound together," Epstein confirmed. "I would like our albums to flow. I'd like them to all have their own feel that's kind of a theme… There are a lot of themes running throughout this album."
The shifting rhythms and tones can be good and not-so-good, depending on what situation you would like the album to compliment - say a rainy day, a road trip, or a party; if you're playing the album straight through, yay on the first two, and most likely nay on the last.
The album has flow, but also ebb: the sound waves hit the rocks and then recede, until they're lost at sea.
More literally, "Lost At Sea" is the album's closing song and the only one that features guitarist Jonathan Edwards' voice. It's a charming track and a beautiful way to wind the energetic, whirlwind of an album down. The guitar work is oh-so-lovely and Edwards may be lost at sea, but in the end, the listener is left with the sense of propinquity commonly heard in singer/songwriter compositions. The song bodies forth a centering, an eye-of-the-storm, a closing.
"I heard him play it and I loved the song," Epstein said. "I thought it appropriate [for the band] not to get too involved."
In general, Epstein explained, it's important that the band write everything as a group.
"It's very complicated. It's been three years figuring out how to do it... I think that everyone has to be able to feel some ownership [of the song], or it doesn't feel authentic. You have to be invested emotionally."
Serious as it may sound, casual and serious listeners alike can take haven in this album. The experience is fun, full and diverse, and the poppy elements satisfy the listener's desire for hook, line and sinker, so to speak.
So amuse yourself: listen to the songs, watch the music video, pick up their album or catch them live on their next, as yet to be announced tour. I caught the band on the tail end of their tour at The Elbo Room in San Francisco, a quaint joint with a touch of charm that hardly came alive before the band stepped on stage, and I can confirm that they put on one hell of a show. It rocked.
A little about the band:
Josh Epstein: An endearing 24 year old with outspoken enthusiasm, he created his own major in college, focusing on art history, literature and poetry. He describes himself as "really goofy, but also really intense. I take music seriously. We do all of our artwork ourselves, all the booking, all the recording…I'm really focused on that a lot of the time…I have serious feelings and emotions and everyone does, especially the most funny people, they usually have a ton of things going on."
Jonathan Edwards: A sandy-haired 21 year old who seems to have a way with everything he gets into his hands-be it guitar, a random instrument or a pencil (he drew the set for The Silent Years' awesome indie video, "Someone To Keep Us Warm," featured below). He studied classical guitar in college and is the newest addition to the core band. Epstein said of him, "he's an incredible (song)writer. He has a really nice voice. I'm excited to work more closely (and vocally) with him on the next record."
Jeremy Edwards: Jonathan's older brother, a fairly quiet, serious-leaning 26 year old who has a pionus parrot. And, as Epstein informs, "he's really talented and technically gifted at drumming;" (this reviewer concurs-check out "Sideways in Aisleways," where his work really stands out). "He went to music school to study jazz drumming…and he knows a lot about cars and how to fix them."
Pat Michalak: quintessential indie rocker-windswept hair, five o'clock shadow, laid back-looking fellow. Epstein calls him "the most incredible bass player" he's ever played with, and "not because of anything technical, he just has this crazy feel for it. He's the glue that sticks everything together."
Rosalind Christian: an adorable, friendly, fiery Canadian-she's got a stage presence, however subtle, that'll draw your attention. Epstein calls her "completely insane, she's wild and crazy and really talented in her own right. We haven't necessarily gotten to see all of it," though they plan to in the near future.
The Silent Years just wrapped up a massive tour in support of their album but will be out on the road again soon. If the chance arises, be sure to catch them live, as they put on one hell of a show. For now, download an mp3 of "Lost At Sea" (for a limited time exclusively from LAS) below, check out their video, or surf over to their Myspace page to stream a couple of additional tracks. You'll be glad you did.
AUDIO: "Lost At Sea" (mp3)
VIDEO: "Someone To Keep Us Warm" (Youtube) SEE ALSO: www.thesilentyears.com
SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/thesilentyears
SEE ALSO: www.noalternativerecords/
Sara Williams writes and lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her life revolves around music, which she plays, listens to, thinks in, writes of and is absorbed by. She has a degree in creative writing from UC Santa Cruz, a school in a lovely little town between the forest and the sea. She argues a mean leftist politics with a sweet but sharp tongue and is happy to be lost at sea searching for an Octopus’s Garden in the shade.
See other articles by Sara Williams.
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