It’s no secret that a sophomore effort tends to be a large trial for an indie-rock band. Once the initial allure of a new act wears off, the artist is less immune to harsher scrutiny. And with a 2008 debut that earned them comparisons to Teenage Fanclub and Dinosaur Jr., L.A. power-poppers Army Navy sure had their work cut out for them if they were intent on topping their debut. Fortunately, their follow-up, The Last Place, does not disappoint.
The focus of The Last Place is the writing of Justin Kennedy, the band’s rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist, but the sound and lyricism have matured in a very real way. The group’s sound is not really surprising or progressive on its own, but the great thing about Army Navy is the way they pull together indie-rock genres from the past and present and combine them together in a seamless manner. Throughout the album, everything from late ’80s jangle-pop to synth-rock to alt country comes to the surface as The Last Place takes the listener on a fast-paced, yet smooth journey as Kennedy gives a glimpse of a sordid end to a relationship he was once part of.
With regard to the songwriting itself, Kennedy reveals a true talent for diverse penmanship that opens his heart to the listener without leaking any blood through one’s speakers. What we have here are 11 concise yet detailed jams boasting hooks that linger long after the song is over. But there are definitely peaks among this steady stream of highlights. “Last Legs” starts off the album with the bang that many of the track’s on Army Navy’s debut had, while “The Long Goodbye” and “Wonderland to Waterloo” are both mid-paced ballads that express a certain catharsis in letting go. “A Circus” is a classic-sounding indie-rock jam with a strong chorus that will remind the listener that Kennedy and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard used to share stages, way back when. “Feathered” and “Open Your Eyes” are strong, feisty, yet heart-on-sleeve rock songs. And the album winds down quite well with “Pastoral” a six-minute confession that starts off slow, brings up the volume, then eases the listener down to that post-album silence.
There’s a lot to like on this album. It is great for an easy listen on a summertime drive, or for quiet mediation at the end of a long day. Army Navy plays each song to its fullest, without ever reaching the point of wearing out their welcome. While parts of this album leave me longing to listen to anything featuring Murray Attaway, The Last Place definitely gets filed as one of my favorite releases this summer.
Guadalcanal Diary – Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man
Teenage Fanclub – Grand Prix
Tokyo Police Club – Elephant Shell
Stream: Army Navy – “Last Legs”