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Friday, 05 April 2013 09:37

Album review: With 'Everything's Fine, America,' Last to Show First to Go finds beauty in the underbelly of hypocrisy

Album review: With 'Everything's Fine, America,' Last to Show First to Go finds beauty in the underbelly of hypocrisy
Written by Will Kyle
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While the album's title, "Everything's Fine, America," may be ironic, the music of Last to Show First to Go is anything but.

Formed in 2007, the five-piece, genre-bending St. Louis band has been working tirelessly ever since. "Everything's Fine, America" marks the group's third outing, showing off players at the height of their musical prowess lyrically and instrumentally, while utilizing a host of complex arrangements rife with crescendos and codas.

A guitar tone, which sounds like a siren, or perhaps the end-of-the-capitalist-work-day-bell marks the opening of the record and the beginning of "When We Are Up." From that single tone, a swell of distorted guitars and bluesy trumpet begets singer Bredon Jones' clean, tight vocals. The story elements Jones folds into his lyrics are impressive. He narrates the great highs and lows and notes individual emotional states in vignette form along the way. Muted trumpet sparkles above the track, adding a light ska-rock-vibe to Last Show First to Go's sound.

Throughout the course of "Everything's Fine, America," Last to Show First to Go nestles itself in the listener's heart, playing off influences familiar and foreign at once. "Subtle Blend" depicts this notion excellently, opening with palm-mute guitars in an indie fashion a la Andrew Bird.

But the track quickly departs from this style, unwinding with scaling guitars, crazed electric picking and Jay Lewis' cello plucking. Drummer Phil Valko's brushwork pushes the song toward crescendo, but never dominates. The focus here is on Jones' lyrics and desire for his love to return. The images are rich and vibrant, Jones' sings, "Once we've said our goodbyes I look forward to our hellos. Please promise me you'll save me a few of those."

Last to Show First to Go's five tracks on "Everything's Fine, America" each clock in over four minutes, packed to the gills with flourish, swagger, rich textures and a certain Midwest style. This is a maze you will be happy to get lost in.

My personal favorite, "Delivery Day," begins with swipes of thick cello, syncopated drums and jazzy trumpet. The whole thing feels sexy and nearly burlesque, like a Gothic outing to a ritzy, swankified lady show. Jones' poetry is tight, shining light on the sadness of hypocrisy, without being overly judgmental: "The soul of a house wife ain't worth the bill on delivery day." The track's bridge is an orchestral masterpiece, complete with cello, muted trumpet and a bass-drum-led tempo. Lewis' cello work sparkles as Jones' vocals reenter the mix with provisions and warnings: "So empty out your pockets if you want a place to bleed."

The EP's title track closes out the effort with glimmering guitar strums, serene backing vocals and a laid-back-disquieted-essence. There is a nice paradox at play here. The music is sunny, relaxed and played at a chilled-out tempo, but Jones' lyrics are vivid, painting a picture of an American landscape where everything is all but fine. "No one is innocent," he sings, "born into poison and sin."

The contrast is staggering and reveals the band's understanding of an America that, through its media, aims to constantly reassure the public that everything's fine, when clearly it is not. Jones' lyrics -- "Never you worry, everything's fine. Nothing to see here, just go back inside" -- stand out as a perfect distillation of what our American media aims to do. Pacify and dope the masses to keep them buying and selling. The nuance here is spectacular and thought provoking, lending the songs an indelible three-dimensionality and resonance.

The production is likewise flawless. R&R Music Labs have delivered a recording that allows the band to shine by way of its own merit. No instrument feels over-dialed, no effect over-abused, no gleam or glitz overly polished on, no fake veneer, everything is in its proper place, clean and clear. That clarity allows Last to Show First to Go to deliver a set of songs that complements its live show with grace and aplomb.

With "Everything's Fine, America," Last to Show First to Go emerges as a local band that deserves a wider audience. These guys are real, never pretentious, no bullshit, always hooky, thoughtful and bursting with creativity. The band will draw you in with its sound and wow you with the provocative lyrics.

Last to Show First to Go releases "Everything's Fine, America" on Friday, April 5 at the Demo.

"Delivery Day" by Last to Show First to Go

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