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Album Review

BRYCE LARSEN
Here's To You

If you ever want to have a hard time separating the present from the past, try writing a review for a new album recorded by a member of one of your favorite past bands. In this case, the album is Bryce Larsen's Here's To You, his past is entwined with Stealing Jane whose Signals EP battered my brain into submission some years ago despite my resistance. Here is a look at that past.

“'She's never gonna help me,' the EP begins, voice backed by muted plucked guitar, 'She's always gonna be the backseat driver on the way to calamity' and with those words and ensuing building crescendo of towering Stealing Jane sound, Stealing Jane opens the door to angst, but not teen angst, God forbid. Angst for the masses. Like horsemen riding the romantic apocalypse, they trample every unrealistic notion created by pheremone and/or hormone and leave them crumbled in the dust. And it leaves you exhilarated!”

I wrote those words in a review written about Stealing Jane's stunning EP, Signals, a few years ago. I'm actually proud of those words. They captured everything I wanted to say about this band from Sea Cliff, New York--- how they cut through emotional chaff to the real love we all know and experience, stab wounds and all. It is a powerhouse of an EP, fueled by lyrics riding a fierce wind and a driving daggers into the heart of reality and the music does not seem to want to diminish with age. (Read the review here) (Get a free download of Mess by SJ here)

Indeed, my head and heart is so wrapped up in that music that I struggled to even imagine what Larsen was thinking, going solo and all. Of course, when the riders behind you let their horses have their heads, they are bound to eventually head in their own directions and that is exactly what happened. Years of beating their heads against the musical wall, first with HyJinx and later as Stealing Jane, took their toll and in spite of peaking at just the right time, it was totally the wrong time and they crumbled to dust.

It has taken those few years for the dust to clear (the EP was released in 2009) and while Signals still holds up well (exceedingly well, in fact), I found myself hankering for more and, thankfully, Bryce did too. Hence, Here's To You, a collection of songs not Stealing Jane and yet so close.

Bryce was the voice of SJ and, as far as I can tell, the core of the songwriting as well. It was not just the performance on Signals that caught my ear, trust me. The lyrics steamrolled me as few others have done. There is something magic in having just the right combination of music and words and that EP found the balance perfectly.

That is not to say that the voice did not matter. Exactly the opposite, in fact. The voice was and is crucial. Bryce has a good one. An exceptional one if you match it to the songs he writes. Gone may be the powerhouse of a band but the voice remains.

That voice carries a more acoustic band through twelve outstanding songs. I would say that they were better than those on Signals, but I think they are just different. Gone is the rocking and powerful. This is more sedate. More introspective. With a lot more piano and acoustic guitar, a combination which I thought would not work but once again I was wrong. Bryce Larsen knows himself and his music much better than do I and he proves it.

Make no mistake. Stealing Jane (the sound) is still there, just subdued. One listen to Man Like Me assuaged my fears. It could have landed on Signals easily without missing a beat. For the most part, though, the music parts ways with the past. I mentioned the piano and organ, which add dimensions to Larsen's softer side. He also adds a bit of third world, a very slight Latin influence on a few of the songs and it works amazingly well.

It should be obvious that I like this guy's music and I like this guy, but you don't have to take my word for it. The really cool thing about this digital age is that you can listen for yourself. In fact, I prefer you do. You can access the music on Reverbnation (click here). Go to town. Listen to all of the tracks, hopefully with a beer at hand. You'll get it. Eventually.

This is an outstanding album, sports fans. If you're impressed, you really should backtrack to Signals. It too is a beauty.

Here's to you, Bryce. Allow me to be proud for you. Already I am anxious for the next album.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.


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