Written by: Dave Cantrell
At the heart of American jangle there thrives a tension. On one end lies the chime of Byrdsian optimism, that sound the 8-mile high sound of bountiful youth in sunnier times; at the other the more umbrous undertakings from those of our fellow citizen-musicians that have, over the years, adopted then adapted the rather irresistible mantle of the Dunedin sound, from your Bye Bye Blackbirds to your dB’s to your REM and Refreshments, an end where the ends, so to speak, aren’t always in sync with the means, where often as not you’re bathed in the colors of melancholy even as you dance your jangly dance. It’s a twisting, seemingly endless chain of complexity that betwixt its promise of joy in the wide open air and the darker strains of its minor-chorded madness unspools the whole of our national psyche. Portland band Eyelids know that chain well and in fact may lay claim to greater intimacy with it than just about anyone as it’s been threaded through and around the band’s shared heart for its entire existence. It’s brought them adventures, it’s brought them well-earned renown and, ironically perhaps, it’s the chain that sets them free, a conclusion confirmed by their fourth studio full-length, the aptly-titled A Colossal Waste of Light, released March 10th on longtime home Jealous Butcher Records and quite arguably the strongest, most fully realized burst yet of Eyelids’ particular take on what is one of pop music’s most uniquely complex idioms.
With Camper Van Beethoven/Monks of Doom bass player Victor Krummenacher now officially in the fold, with Peter Buck back behind the glass in the producer’s chair and the pandemic tamed enough to basically ignore it, the band, matured now in the most boisterous manner imaginable, have taken roaring advantage of that convergence of circumstance to conjure an album with a sound that suggests their lives depended on it, a phrase that, while accurate in the critical context, should nonetheless be read, as the band most certainly do, with a healthy dose of irony. In any case let us at least say this: What a way to kick – and we mean kick – off a record.
A dual guitar outbreak with a forceful elegance that had us imagining Roger McGuinn guesting on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ first album, harmonies Hollies-tight (no surprise – ever – with these guys), Victor’s bass making its deft presence known immediately, “Crawling Off Your Pages” stings with a lachrymose joy, the innate torsion in that odd turn of phrase not only underlying the basic truth in that first sentence up there but elevating it to a place of ringingly thematic grace. Ultimately, insofar as this style constitutes a genre, it’s one that lives and breathes on that fulcrum where the contradiction of light and dark play a kind of emotional cat-and-mouse game, the music, its sound, laying its heart at your feet in an act of humble exaltation. Requiring as it does almost acrobatic balancing skills, it’s not an easy task which is why so many shy from the challenge while others through the years have kept at it with a steady determination, devoted to this ideal of a sort that (not to put too fine a point upon it) essentially amounts to celebrating the dichotomy of the human spirit via rock’n’roll. To this aim there is but a tiny cluster that have succeeded and very few that have done so with the elan of Eyelids, an opinion soundly confirmed on A Colossal Waste of Light.
While certainly the praise aforesaid and any that follows owes some debt to the dude sitting in that producer’s chair – Buck also happens to add a touch of 12-string to the delicate psych heaviosity of “Lyin’ in Your Tomb” and an uplifting scorcher of a solo to rousing closer “I Can’t Be Told” (a breathless ‘phew!’ being our single-word review of that track) – the bounteous strength of this latest is purely due to the band themselves. That the album’s songs were assembled remotely piece by emailed piece, primary vocalist John Moen or co-founder Chris Slusarenko sending the scratched-out sketch of a song idea that would return through the interwebs piled high with ideas and structure, speaks great volumes to the intuitive cohesion Eyelids have developed over their near-decade run. As with pretty much all great records, it’s nearly impossible to see the seams between the tracks.
Past that definitive calling-card marker that starts us off, the brilliant “Swinging in the Circus” takes on self-doubt in the face of our world’s performative confidence with an almost majestic pluck, its coruscating guitars more or less singing harmony, “Only So Much” applies the band’s almighty chime to that resignation of ‘how things are’ we’re forced to negotiate every day, “They Said So” suggests there was an accelerator pedal installed in the studio floor collectively stepped on by all five of them while Jonathan Drews’ chipped solos and the record’s most rumbustious romp from the rhythm section – add the fierce and ever clever drumming of Paulie Pulvirenti to Mr. Krummenacher – ensure the song’ll rip the boards up at every in-person appearance henceforth and here we pause to note exactly that fact: Eyelids are a working band and you should do all you can, connive and cajole, sell a pint of blood whatever to see them live, see and hear them bring these songs and a host of their antecedents to life beautiful life. To hear the likes of “Runaway, Yeah” in all its Chiltonian glory, the defiant vulnerability of Moen’s vocals or the sublime psych wash of this album’s title track, to hear the moment when “Everything That I See You See Better (22)” lays joy atop melancholy like the twin transparencies of life they actually are or the subtly immense build underlying “Pink Chair” that makes the utterly sublime seem as effortless as the Clean at their peak, we swear it’ll be enough to restore, however temporarily, belief in the parts of your heart where it’s gone missing. Should catching them live not be possible, then obviously the next best thing and just as salutary is, of course, to get this record through whatever means in any chosen format and play it often and play it loud, as close to that volume that shatters doubt as possible.
The best art echoes our life in all its tangles and paradox, helps us see – and better yet feel – how (for one example of a thousand) love and sorrow are hopelessly intertwined in a symbiotic relationship. In that vein and not meaning to get too meta or heavy here, it’s clear to us that, in content and method on A Colossal Waste of Light and thereby in the band themselves, vitality and ambivalence not only co-exist but drive the work forward toward the implicit message that despite everything there’s music, there’s something close to hope, there are the pleadings – almost immortal – of the human soul. For all we like to think them separate, dreams exist inside reality, reality inside dreams. This record, besides just being a damned fine listen, is a ticket to both.[get A Collosal Waste of Light here]