Next year marks the twentieth anniversary of Second Story Man, a measure that is without peer in Louisville, or at least none that immediately springs to mind. In fact, their career as a band is only approximately one year shy of my own furtive fumblings with music as a whole: their entire lifespan is just a little short of being my cumulative time spent playing music publicly, something I think that many of us (of all ages) can say. It’s not for nothing that they have persevered finding common ground throughout the years, a feat that should humble anyone who has ever even lived with someone, let alone worked with them on a creative endeavor.
I look at a movie like V for Vendetta that ends with a scene showing public unity and laugh; if you put four people together, it takes like half an hour to figure out dinner plans, let alone spend near two decades together creating collaborative art. And that says nothing about their shared evolution, which, like an excellent wine or barrel-aged brew, only improves with time. Think to yourself how many musical acts are more creatively vital after years playing together than they were when they started. That’s likely a small number, or at least it is for me, and SSM is right there in that list.
With their newest, the eponymous Second Story Man, the band have matured into an often muscular, reverb drenched powerhouse of confluent interests, from shoegaze, to dream pop. Imagine if Slowdive, Low, and later-day Nirvana formed a project together and here you are. The riffs are huge and the production is thoughtful. Everyone is firing on all cylinders here, from the playful bass lines on tracks like Harvey, to the brooding plod of album closer 011001101, visceral and angry, but still harmonious and considered. Album opener Blame sets the tone immediately, melancholic and dreamy, moored by vocalist Carrie Neumayer’s wonderful tenor. There is an almost southern gothic quality to the music, dark, but with hints of brightness, hope in the spite of great odds, a reassuring presence in often grim times. It’s in that way that their newest record comforts, familiar but different, a fresh take on classic tropes in neat packaging.
Let’s talk about the production here. The guitars sing throughout the album, singed with overdrive that breaks like an ever crashing wave. Ever single vocal sounds like it was recorded in a fever fever dream, a codeine soaked symphony of melodies. The drumming is stellar, typically playing in the pocket with the bass work and with limited cymbal interference to the high end, to the extent that that stripped down approach seems intentional, like each sonic element was considered even during the compositional phase of writing.
It’s interesting to note how at a lot of points, the instrumentation blends into one blissful whole, with the guitars dovetailing into one another, and the tonality of the rhythm section operating in close lock step. Likewise, the vocal work, shared here with drummer turned guitarist Evan Bailey. It’s a remarkably symbiotic record, exceptional here not only for the duration of the project, a nice nod to their longterm relationships, but in how those relationships have evolved into a cohesive musical whole.